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Help wanted on Wall Street

Some workers are actually in demand right now at top financial firms. But the inexperienced need not apply.

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By David Ellis, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- No one would dare go so far as to say that the Wall Street job market is bright.

Through June, financial firms of all stripes have shed an estimated 63,000 jobs over the past year, according to the latest employment figures from the Labor Department. That's due in large part to the housing slump and credit crisis.

The pain is particularly acute on Wall Street. Investment banks and brokerages have shed an estimated 7,600 jobs, or roughly 4% of their workforce during the past year, according to the latest figures from the New York State Department of Labor.

If previous market downturns are any guide, analysts project that Wall Street could cut anywhere between 20% to 25% of its workers if the economy gets even worse.

But despite this, there are some financial firms hanging out the "Help Wanted" sign.

"The headlines may scream gloom and doom but recruitment activity is continuing throughout the industry," said John Benson, CEO of the job site eFinancialCareers.com.

It's better on the buy side

If hiring is happening anywhere on Wall Street, more likely than not it is at buy-side institutions like hedge funds looking to pick up talent on the cheap.

"Whether it is hedge funds or other boutique organizations, they see this as an opportunity to upgrade their in-house skills base," said Benson.

Job postings at hedge funds, in fact, climbed 38% during the second quarter from a year ago, based on the latest figures from eFinancialCareers.

However, most of the workers that land on their feet tend to be those with some significant experience or expertise.

Within that group are senior and mid-level bankers who may boast numerous business relationships.

And in a strange twist of fate, demand is strong for the senior staff who had experience dealing with some of the structured mortgage and credit products that have fueled billions of dollars in losses and writedowns at the nation's largest financial institutions.

Realizing that there could be plenty of opportunities to get good assets on the cheap, distressed opportunity investors want people who can assess the value of these toxic products, notes Pat Wieser, partner and co-head of the global banking and markets practice of the executive recruitment firm Rhodes Associates.

"People who know where the bodies are buried are pretty good hires," said Wieser.

Handling the 'walking wounded'

Even as top institutions continue to trim their payrolls in divisions related to mortgages and fixed-income, experts contend that some are beefing up their staff in key areas, including commodities.

As the cost of oil remains just below record levels and other key commodities such as gold continue to be traded heavily on the futures markets, the demand for commodity traders and analysts is robust.

And with the threat of further government regulation looming for the nation's financial services sector, large firms are holding onto, and even adding employees who are seasoned in compliance or regulatory affairs.

"Those are still growth spots," said Cheryl Yung, Sr. VP from Lee Hecht Harrison, an outplacement firm that deals primarily with prominent financial firms in the New York metropolitan area.

As the number of lawsuits against bulge bracket firms continue to mount, seasoned legal professionals also seem to be in demand - particularly those who have experience dealing with class-action lawsuits.

Even human resources, often thought of as a backwater area on Wall Street, has been in demand lately, noted Paul Bernard, a veteran executive coach and career management advisor who runs his own firm.

"HR generalists who have been through several bear markets who know how to reorganize and advise senior leaders how to handle the walking wounded - those people are in extreme demand," he said.

Still, many say that specialists may have the most luck in this job market.

The current downturn is shaping up to be more painful than some of the market crises of recent memory including the collapse of the dot-com bubble. Lots of people are out of work and may find it tough to find a new job.

"I am seeing talent I've never seen before and they are coming out of the best places and been there a long time," said Yung. "These are not job flippers."

As a result, navigating an already tricky job market could be much more difficult for people with just a year or two experience who are now unemployed.

"You have a have to certain tenacious spirit," said Yung. To top of page

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