If you like receiving a lot of mail, try being a headhunter in the banking industry.

H. Alan Christenson, a former banker and for 20 years managing partner of Christenson & Hutchison Executive Search Consultants of Chatham, N.J., reports that he gets about 1,500 unsolicited resumes a month in these days of rightsizing, including lots from bankers, downsized and otherwise.

Those 1,500 resumes become part of the firm's extensive data base. But since Alan works closely with his clients, he looks only for people who have the specific talents and attributes sought by the company who has retained his firm.

To fill an opening, C&H will make as many as 300 calls to find people whose skills most closely match the client's needs as detailed in the job specification. About 25 of these calls result in in-depth phone interviews, and from them about 10 people are invited for three-hour interviews.

In the end, three or four qualified candidates are sent back to be interviewed.

What do headhunters look for in addition to the skills the clients have laid out in the job specification?

Alan stresses again and again, "We want people who are not only smart, but also are aggressive, participate, and are dedicated. Bureaucratic, autocratic, or egotistic candidates won't make the cut.

"Nor will those who appear 'laid back'" - a frequent failing, he said, "or who fail to listen in the interview, an indication of stubbornness."

My luncheon with Christenson - a former student of mine from the days when he was a new lending officer and I was a teacher with the ink not yet dry on my PhD - brought some insightful comments.

I asked him what banking fields need people the most these days, and what fields lend themselves to executive searches.

"Banks want specialists," he said. "They are looking for private bankers, specialists in personal investment, cash management/treasury services officers, retail bankers, data processing/MIS directors, business development officers, and lending specialists who can fit into a streamlined and 'flattened' environment - i.e., fewer levels between management and the client.

"Banks also want senior executives with a diverse background of skill sets - primarily bank asset and liability management, strategic planning, people management, lending, technology, and experience in profitability and customer satisfaction measurement."

This seems obvious when we remember that banks are trying to build their role as profitable money managers who are close to their clients.

But what about unemployed bankers who can't find a bank to use their hard-won skills? Who else will?

"Career bankers with strong skills in sales and marketing, data processing/MIS, corporate training, corporate finance, and human resources administration will find that their skills are readily transferable to a wide array of industries, such as the nonprofit sectors, which are begging for talent," Alan said. "There is also a need for people to run trade associations, chambers of commerce, and museums.

"The real key to survival, and success, is having an accurate and clear picture of your own skill sets. Then it takes hard work, imagination, and persistence to match those skills with the needs of a prospective employer."

And Christenson had a cheering final thought:

"In the past, if an individual was out of work, few potential employers wanted to see him or her, because they felt unemployed people had some fatal flaw.

"Today, though, the never-ending series of mergers and downsizing has displaced many capable and experienced individuals who otherwise might not have been available to the potential employer."

That doesn't solve the problems of all those bankers who send resumes to Alan's firm every month, but it certainly suggests there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.