Now may be the time to try working for a boutique.
Plenty of smaller operations are hiring. Financial News reports that Evercore plans to add 20 people to its European arm this year and says Jefferies is "on a hiring offensive" in an effort to boost non-US banking revenues. Recruiters say Greenhill and Blackstone are also shopping for staff.
The biggest advantages of working for boutiques instead of larger banks are lifestyle-related, according to recruiters in the sector. "Unless the crunch is really on, boutiques won't expect you to work evenings and weekends and won't require you to lose your holiday," says one.
It may not be that easy to leap into a boutique, however. Logan Naidu, a consultant at recruiter Cornell Partnership, says they tend to be more fussy about who they'll hire: "In a small firm a bad hire makes a big difference, so they tend to be very, very rigorous."
Bad career move?
Even assuming you're selected, a move into a boutique may be bad for your career. One headhunter, who declined to be named, says small firms centred around one big-name banker are usually vehicles for them to eke out their days through existing relationships: "As a younger guy, you get to be their bag carrier - but it can be hard to move on to anything else."
To make matters worse, bulge-bracket banks are liable to turn their noses up at candidates with experience from boutique firms. "You'll be seen as a very different beast," says the headhunter. "You'll have more client exposure and more involvement in deals, but you may miss out in other ways."
Naidu is more explicit: "In bulge-bracket banks the emphasis at junior levels is on modelling. If you're going for a role with two years' experience they won't care if you're comfortable in front of a client or not."
The current shortage of analyst and associate hires means bulge-bracket banks are hiring juniors regardless of whether they come from boutiques or not, say recruiters. In a less buoyant market banks are likely to be less forgiving: if you move to a boutique now in search of a better life, there's a danger you won't be able to move back.