Fierce Competition Among Chicago Investment Bankers
March 4, 2008
By Suzanna de Baca
Despite the tight market, opportunities remain at mid-market firms, especially for M&A specialists.
As bulge bracket firms continue to announce layoffs, Chicago-area investment banking job openings are relatively few and the competition for them is fierce. But despite the tight market, there are still opportunities at mid-market firms, especially in M&A.
"There is definitely less activity than we saw last year," says Stephan Renken, director of the Chicago office of Michael Page, a leading global recruitment firm. Renken notes that while there was significant hiring in front office roles during 2007, there has been a marked decrease in terms of the overall market so far in 2008.
Bulge bracket firms with exposure to the credit markets have been hit hard in recent months, resulting in headcount reductions at all levels, adds Renken's colleague Casey Mulligan, manager of Banking and Financial at Michael Page. He observes: "There are more candidates and fewer jobs."
Middle-Market Firms Hiring
For investment banking job seekers, the good news is numerous mid-market firms from New York, Boston, and San Francisco have expanded their operations into the Chicago area. These new entrants, as well as existing mid-market firms, have had less exposure to the credit problems than bulge brackets and are now looking for experienced bankers who can bring business to the table.
"New players mean more open positions," points out Erin Polczynski, division director in the Chicago office of Robert Half International, the executive search firm specializing in financial services. "There is a big range of need, everything from junior level to mid- and high-level positions at these middle market firms."
Mulligan agrees. "Middle market firms are hiring a number of candidates and the competition is stiff," he says.
Generalists, M&A, Turnarounds, Restructuring
Unlike their coastal counterparts, Chicago I-bankers have always needed to be more generalists than specialists, with the ability to do well in the Midwest's commerce- and industrial-focused sectors. This is truer than ever today, as the skill to function across various industries is critical. Candidates who concentrate too much in one size of deal or industry may be too narrow for Chicago, says Mulligan.
Polczynski sees demand for professionals with experience in M&A, turnarounds, and restructuring - not surprising in light of the current economic environment. While the need for specific positions varies greatly from company to company and across sectors, she notices a number of firms looking for candidates with expertise in technology and healthcare, in particular.
While positions exist for younger players in the market, there are more opportunities for experienced professionals with a track record of developing business. There is always a job for those with "good connections … new contacts and new clients, says Mulligan.
"Prospective employers want more than just skills in a candidate," Polczynski notes. "They want a good, descriptive deal list that speaks to the candidate's work experience."
Mulligan cautions candidates to "open your expectations" regarding compensation. Because I-banking compensation is so heavily bonus oriented, the majority of bankers have taken a hit. However, he's optimistic that while initial compensation packages may not be as high in the past, a good employee can make it up in performance. "If you perform, you're rewarded," he says. "This business is heavily incentivized."