Community banks are increasingly hiring people cast aside by the industry's giants.

The trend is hottest in North Carolina, where bankers are lobbying placement officers at Bank of America Corp., which an- nounced plans recently to cut about 10,000 jobs nationwide, mostly midlevel and senior management positions.

"In North Carolina, there is very strong demand from the midtier banks, which have been growing," said Don Cunningham, president of BancSearch Inc., a Tulsa, Okla., recruitment firm.

Thad Woodard, president of the North Carolina Bankers Association, agreed. "Hardly a day goes by when I don't get a call from one of our members asking if we are aware of a senior credit officer or chief financial officer looking for a job," he said in a statement.

Displaced lenders have had little trouble finding work, said Edward W. Schnabel, president of the Genesis Group recruitment firm in Des Plaines, Ill. Bankers let go by Chicago-based Bank One Corp. recently have found "pretty good jobs, and some got promotions out of it," he said.

Bank One in March said that it would eliminate 5,100 jobs. The week before, FleetBoston Financial Corp. said it would trim roughly 4,000 jobs. Other large banks, including Zions Bancorp in Salt Lake City, have announced smaller layoffs.

Phil Coffin, managing partner of the Chicago recruitment firm Coffin Kelleher & Associates, said some skills are in greater demand than others.

"There's still a need for good credit people and loan underwriting people, but there may be an excess of loan originators," he said. "The proven originators will be fine, but the marginal performers will be left behind."

Marketing pros, business development managers, database and other technical managers, and trust officers are also in demand, Mr. Cunningham said.

However, recruiters agreed that the industry's consolidation has created a glut of officers, particularly in operations.

"Because the mergers and the acquisitions created a lot of duplicated functions, some of the jobs on the operations side just no longer exist, particularly those related to the management of loan servicing and check processing," Mr. Cunningham said.

Many big-bank veterans are gravitating to start-up banks, which continue to thrive in Bank One's key markets in the Midwest and Southwest. "There are so many de novo banks popping up, I can't even keep track of it," Mr. Schnabel said.

Of course, not all community banks are rolling out the red carpet for ex-employees of big banks.

Robert J. Gallivan, principal at Bank Compensation Strategies in San Diego, said some former Bank of America people might not have the right training to work at smaller banks or could have trouble adjusting if they do get hired, whether in North Carolina or anywhere else.

"Community banks are relationship- and sales-oriented, and most people coming out of larger banks are transaction-oriented," Mr. Gallivan said. "I don't see many opportunities for them."

In fact, many of those getting pink slips may just leave banking altogether.

Ned Meister, owner of Edward H. Meister Executive Search in San Francisco, said electronic commerce companies, especially those involved in mortgage or finance, are attractive alternatives.

"The money is better," plus ex-bank people "like the freedom from regulators," Mr. Meister said. "And once they leave banking, it's very difficult to get them back."


Laura K. Thompson contributed to this article.

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