Turmoil Has Headhunters Working Overtime

Despite the planned federal bailout, layoffs are expected at banks and investment firms. And that leaves some money wizes begging for jobs from the same people they used to shun.

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On Wall Street, many of the workers who used to chase profits are now scrambling for jobs. As NPR's Robert Smith reports now, that's turned the world of corporate headhunting, well, on its head.

ROBERT SMITH: Michael Yamartino(ph) remembers the good old days: 2006, he was just out of college, working his first job at a French-owned investment firm, and he'd get these phone calls every week from headhunters offering even more lucrative jobs.

Mr. MICHAEL YAMARTINO (Investment Banker): You know, everybody was getting those calls, so you didn't feel like you were part of a very select club. You know, as long as you were sitting at one of those desks, you were getting those calls. And they'd say, you know, are you so and so? And I'd say, well, no. And they'd say, well, would you be interested in this position? Can I get a copy of your resume? It was very much a shotgun approach.

SMITH: You never appreciate that kind of attention until it's gone. As the financial crisis got louder, the job recruiters went silent.

Mr. YAMARTINO: The calls started coming in maybe twice a month, once a month. And then in the last six months, there have been hardly any, really.

SMITH: Yamartino still has his investment job, but he doesn't know for how long. He's been updating his resume. The question is, who does he give it to? That's what Desi Dunker(ph) is trying to figure out. He just lost his position at Goldman Sachs. Those same corporate recruiters were bugging him when he was employed. But now...

Mr. DESI DUNKER (Former Employee, Goldman Sachs): Some of the same ones who were pursuing me, you know, when I was at Goldman, now, you know, it's hard to get them to return my phone call or return my email. You know, it's a completely different dynamic. They're absolutely swamped with resumes.

SMITH: When I tried calling around to headhunting firms, it was hard to get anyone on the phone. Many of them said they were fielding so many enquiries, they couldn't get back to me until next week. Mike Ramer, of Ramer Search Consultants, says the tide has shifted.

Mr. MIKE RAMER (Founder, Ramer Search Consultants): In a very strong job climate, we might have 20 positions for every five candidates. Now you can flip those numbers. There may be five positions for every 20 candidates.

SMITH: But Ramer says that isn't necessarily a good thing for the headhunting business. They get paid by companies with openings. And right now, a lot of the firms in the financial sector are frozen, just waiting to see what happens. On Monday morning, after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, Ramer said he was urging his clients to act.

Mr. RAMER: I was on the phone with senior contacts, a number of banks, saying that in my view this is an extraordinary time to pick up exceptional talent that may be available, and you may be able to get them at a lower price.

SMITH: Sandy Gross also sees this as an opportunity for small companies to pick up big names. She's the founder of Pinetum Partners, a search firm that finds talent for hedge funds. Gross says with big banks expected to shed people, jobseekers have to be willing to give small companies a chance.

Ms. SANDY GROSS (Managing Partner, Pinetum Partners): Put your ego aside. This is about finding a great job, making sure that you're building your brand and able to go to a company that is well-capitalized. Or it's a startup, and you have great passion where you're going to excel.

SMITH: And don't worry, she says, about bearing the stigma of one of those failed firms. Some hedge funds are even looking for workers who are intimately familiar with what went wrong with, say, mortgage securities. After all, the people who drove the bus into the ditch may know how to get it back out, or at the very least help scavenge it for parts. But with fewer jobs all around, jobseekers are figuring out that headhunters aren't the only answer. Michael Yamartino is thinking of going back to school if he looses his job. Desi Dunker, the guy laid off from Goldman Sachs, has started to use Facebook and other social networks for the first time as a way to make contacts.

Mr. DUNKER: Now is the time to really evaluate yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and think what do you really want to do, instead of what should you do, what is everyone else doing, what's the, quote, unquote, "best job"? It's really, what's the best job for you? And I've really, kind of, been going through an introspection over the last couple of months.

SMITH: And Dunker remembered that he always had a dream to live overseas. His plan now is to fly to Dubai for a few weeks to look for financial work. There's no guarantee there's a job waiting there, but at least there's less competition. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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