As banks expand their technology teams they are especially interested in people who are good at managing new data technology or have project management skills for integration initiatives. But it's not yet time to party about robust job prospects.
"There's a fair amount of positions open and searches going on, but it's still difficult to get people over the goal line," said Steve Landburg, the managing director of Claymore Partners, an executive search firm.
Like most headhunters, Landburg reports increased opportunities this year. "There's activity, but we're still not back to the good times of three or four years ago," he said.
Claymore's most recent survey, conducted this spring, found that 37% of retail banks expect "strong" or "selective" general hiring — that's for both IT jobs and nontech positions — for 2010, up from 27% in the spring of 2009 and 9% in the fall of 2008.
For IT jobs (in banking and other industries), Claymore found 30% of firms expect "strong" or "major" hiring. That was up only 2% from the spring of 2009, but the firm also found that risk management — a function increasingly tied to IT — is the No. 3 hiring area, behind sales and professional services.
Landburg said a typical IT job search took three to four months before the recession, but that is now stretched to six to eight months. But that's better than the past year, in which it "just wasn't happening," he said.
"Banks are being very selective now. They want someone with the exact experience the bank is looking for," Landburg said, adding that resumes are still "flooding in" and expectations for compensation packages should be adjusted. "Banks aren't looking to relocate anyone for a job, either."
Across all businesses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which doesn't break down IT jobs by industry) said there were just over 3.8 million information technology professionals employed at the end of the first quarter of 2010, up about 30,000 from the end of 2009.
"There have been many mergers of institutions, so we are seeing a spike in terms of a need of people to cover mergers," said Kathy Northamer, a senior regional vice president for Robert Half Technologies, who noted an increase in project management positions and developers on a contract basis.
Data expertise is also in high demand. "Those banks that were able to weather the crisis were the ones that had fast and easy access to information," said Christine Barry, a research director at Aite Group.
That means data migration initiatives included in budget reductions put a premium on IT workers familiar with emerging data strategies.
"There's an increase in demand for folks with [server] virtualization experience," Northamer said.
Job categories that did well during the recession should also continue to present opportunities.
"Risk will be a top priority as it has been, and new regulations will make it even more so," said John Challenger, the chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Bank of America Corp., for example, has made a number of other senior hires in risk and development architecture since hiring Michael Dubno as head of global markets technology earlier in the year.
There are additional opportunities at smaller institutions — and outside of financial services — though that requires IT professionals who are used to working at larger shops to make adjustments.
"There's more flexibility at a small shop, and decisions get made faster. But on the flip side, resources and budgets are smaller," said Alexei Miller, an executive vice president with DataArt, a software consultant and IT outsourcing group that primarily serves capital markets clients.