In Battle for IT Talent, Banks Deploy High-Tech Recruiting Tactics

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Aspiring coders and mobile developers are unlikely to say, "I want to work in a bank."

As they digitize their businesses, financial institutions have to convince talented technologists they make good employers. With trendier software companies including Amazon and Facebook competing to woo their prospects, it's a challenge.

To court elusive tech talent, large financial institutions have made moves in recent months to enhance their career websites, add video to their job descriptions, host coding competitions and use social networks and startup services to seek out some of the most coveted talent: mobile developers and programmers. In their promotional messages, banks say they're international, they have endless software problems to solve, they have employees who smile, and they have openings for the sexiest job of the 21st century.

Such measures are a departure from years past, when banks relied on text-heavy job board postings with little to no detail about day-to-day life at the bank.

"The war for talent from the technology standpoint is definitely more intense today than it was three to five years ago," Ryan King, executive director of employment services at BBVA Compass, tells Bank Technology News. "For the past four or five years, financial services companies have had a bad reputation. We have to be innovative in the way we advertise."

One thing BBVA Compass is doing is spicing up its want ads. "We're in the process of redoing our job descriptions, which have been typical and traditional," says King.

The makeover means less text. In June, BBVA Compass started adding videos featuring employees talking about their career and daily work lives at the top of the postings. The bank has created five videos so far and wants to produce about 500, the number of job groupings available at the bank.

It's not easy. "One video takes about three months to produce," says King. Scripting the video, finding willing employees to cast in the segments, and obtaining the legal and compliance stamp of approval are some of the steps required.

But such efforts are needed.

"Selling and branding our company to recruits is extremely important. We are an innovative company and we are an international company," says King. "That's exciting to a lot of people."

BBVA Compass isn't alone in trying to broaden its applicant appeal by showcasing its culture.

JPMorgan Chase debuted in July a standalone careers website that highlights the thousands of jobs open at the New York bank, while also displaying colorful photography and videos of enthusiastic employees talking about helping families achieve their dreams (sending children to college, for example) and longer-term opportunities for future employees like helping to build the bank of the future.

"Our goal in building is to give candidates a clear look at what it's like to work in the bank — and learn from real employees what makes Chase such a special place to work," Lauren Francis, spokesperson at Chase, wrote in an email to BTN. "We wanted to make it easy for those who want to work at Chase to do so, by providing all the tools and resources they need — business descriptions, job search, interview and application tips — in one place."

Banks are advised by technologist recruiting companies to get creative.

"Banks have to be aggressive about competing," says Sheeroy Desai, chief executive of Gild, a company that helps companies find technology talent. "They need to be a little more open about the [projects] they work on."

Job descriptions are a waste of time while videos have more potential to draw in talent, according to Desai. Why? Technologists want to hear from other technologists that are smart and passionate about what they do, Desai says. Another suggestion: Be more open to open source, as today's coder likes to build off existing code. "A CIO needs to change how open they are," Desai says.

The Mobile Touch

In one widespread recruiting trend, corporations are finding that job applicants want to search for opportunities via their smartphones. Big banks are beginning to accommodate.

Wells Fargo launched a mobile optimized careers site that allows prospects to troll for job leads. Soon, it will let them apply for positions at the San Francisco bank through their pocket devices. The challenge, and opportunity, is designing a way for applicants to do so through a channel with limited real estate, says Aaron Kraljev, employment branding manager at Wells Fargo. The bank also spends time making the job postings at search-engine optimized. Kraljev says more than one billion job related searches on Google occur each month.

Bank of America is also making updates to its career website that will allow job applicants to directly apply to open roles using their mobile devices. By yearend, the site will include responsive web design that B of A says will adjust the content display for multiple platforms. The site's redesign will also include new search tools, revised content and a better interface.

Banks aren't limiting their recruiting revival to their own sites.

Some are trolling online communities where technologists are engaging, including social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and open source communities. Two such services that help corporates patrol the web for technical talent come from TalentBin and Gild.

To catch a technologist, banks also host innovation jams and hackathon-esque contests to show their hipper side, say consultants. That way, "their names are associated with forums where technology savvy folks are likely to come together," says John Plansky, a partner at Booz & Co.

Some firms will buy startups as a way to obtain talent, participate in Meetups to find like-minded individuals and host special events at their trendier locations (think: innovation labs).

Such imaginative sourcing efforts come at a time when the job market for banking looks strong. A September survey from Claymore Partners found that 44% of retail banks are planning strong or selective hiring for 2013, up from 40% in January 2012. In IT, 53% are planning slight or major hiring, which is up from past years. Claymore Partners expects to release a related study in the coming weeks. The firm anecdotally finds that IT hiring growth is in response to regulatory reporting and compliance workload.

Some of the most sought-after roles at the big banks are lead programmers, software architects, LAN analysts, system engineers, people with digital experience and innovative thinkers. In-demand degrees are computer science and computer engineering for development. Applicants need not come from the financial services industry, either. Experience working for the travel industry, regarded for its digital prowess, can catch the attention of a bank recruiter.

What's hot today will likely be cooler six months ahead, especially as computers take more work off employees' hands.

A recent whitepaper entitled "Dancing with Robots" highlights the skills humans need to stay relevant in the 21st century in order to avoid getting replaced by computers.

"We cannot predict with accuracy the occupations that will grow fastest in the future or the precise tasks that humans will perform," writes Richard Murnane and Frank Levy, scholars and authors of The New Division of Labor, in the paper. "Nonetheless, it is a safe bet that the human labor market will center on three kinds of work: solving unstructured problems, working with new information, and carrying out non-routine manual tasks. The rest will be done by computers and low wage workers abroad. It is also a safe bet that most Americans will need to acquire new knowledge and skills over their work lives in order to earn a good living in a changing work world. In this context, the nation's challenge is to sharply increase the fraction of American children with the foundational skills needed to develop job-relevant knowledge and to learn efficiently over a lifetime."

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