With the financial industry pulling out of its slump, on-campus recruiting by banks is back on the upswing. But now, it's the interviewees who are asking some of the toughest questions.

Students coming through college job-placement offices have a much greater awareness of the industry because of the financial crisis, and they have not been afraid to inquire about the prospects for career advancement and job security in a sector prone to such epic volatility.

That's led to some "very frank, honest conversations" between students and recruiters, according to Lisa Severy, director of career services at the University of Colorado Boulder. She says bank recruiters at the school's career fairs have been "really good at not sugar-coating what's happening."

Shawn Harter, director of recruiting at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, says his company's recruiting efforts throughout the financial crisis and the subsequent recovery have been aided by strong relationships with professors, who have allowed representatives of the bank to come into the classroom to talk about all the issues the industry has faced over the past several years. Specifically, Harter and his team have explained how the federal government has been able to earn a return on its investments from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and how new regulations are affecting the industry.

"It gives us an opportunity to combat some of the negativity that has been in the public eye," Harter says. "We really try to provide a balanced view of what is occurring in the industry, the challenges and opportunities. If anything, it's forced us to be that much more clear, more concise, in addressing those issues-which ones affected Fifth Third and which ones didn't, and how that relates to student opportunities as they begin their careers."

There has been much prognosticating around the idea that young people, turned off by the financial industry's role in the latest recession, would eschew jobs in banking to work in sectors perceived to be of greater social value, like engineering or medical research. Isolated cases aside, recruiters and placement officers have yet to see the theory translate into a discernible trend.

"Students more than anything are looking for a challenging opportunity, and banking certainly presents that," says Scott Shane, senior vice president of talent acquisition and staffing at Union Bank in San Francisco.

Historically, Union Bank, a unit of UnionBanCal, did its college recruiting mainly on the West Coast and in the Southwest. But since 2010, Shane says, a significant number of inquiries about job openings have come from students in the eastern half of the country.

Shane says applicants seem better prepared nowadays, perhaps because they know there is intense competition for job offers as the economy slowly rebounds. Though fresh college graduates are entering an improved job market compared with two years ago, many students will be graduating this spring without any job offers in hand.

Of course, one trend working in students' favor is the industry's increased focus on digital technology. Pam Strom, recruiting manager at Zions Bank, says students are fulfilling a relatively new need for people with the type of interactive marketing skills required to attract customers using social media.

But students are understandably skeptical about what kind of security and stability the banking industry in general has to offer. "We had students who had some offers rescinded from banks because of the financial crisis," says Amy Donegan, associate director for career advising at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, which had been a popular recruiting ground for investment banks prior to 2008.

Campus recruitment by the investment banks picked back up for a time, but the resurgence was short-lived.

"Now investment banks are dealing with the crisis in Europe, and this fall, the amount of organizations coming to recruit" for full-time positions "was significantly lower," Donegan says. "It's a very cautious hiring cycle for full-time because of the economy right now."

She says most firms have preferred to select students for summer internships first, and then hire from that pool for full-time positions, rather than making full-time hires directly from campus.

The internship-as-stepping-stone approach worked for Benjamin Rascoe, who interned at PNC Financial Services Group. Upon his graduation this year from Miami University in Ohio, he will begin a full-time job with PNC as a treasury management analyst.

Rascoe, a marketing major, turned down internship offers from several advertising agencies so he could work at PNC, which is known for its conservative style but also for bold acquisitions, like its takeovers of National City and, more recently, RBC Bank USA. "Although the financial crisis in 2008 affected the industry, with PNC, I am still entering a high-growth company," Rascoe says.

For Rascoe and other students who weren't scared off by the crisis, the sector's regrouping would seem to provide a good opportunity to test one's problem-solving abilities. Says Union Bank's Shane, "This is an unprecedented time to come into the industry and learn and develop skills, and I think that is what's appealing to the students today."

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