Looking for a bank IT job? There's more good news than a year ago, especially for IT workers who are good at managing new data technology, or have project management skills for integration initiatives. But it's not time to party about robust job prospects yet.

"There's a fair amount of positions open and searches going on, but it's still difficult to get people over the goal line," says Steve Landburg, managing director of Claymore Partners, an executive search firm, who like most headhunters reports increased opportunities this year. "There's activity, but we're still not back to the good times of three or four years ago."

Claymore's most recent survey, conducted this spring, found that 37 percent of retail banks expect "strong" or "selective" general (IT and non IT) hiring plans for 2010, up from 27 percent in the spring of 2009 and 9 percent in the fall of 2008. For IT jobs (across industries), the firm found 30 percent of firms are expecting "strong" or "major" hiring. That's up only two percent from the spring of 2009, but the firm also found that risk management-a function with increasing ties to IT, is the third greatest hiring area, behind sales and professional services.

Landburg says a typical IT job search took three to four months before the recession, a time frame that's now six to eight months. But that's better than the past year, in which it "just wasn't happening."

"Banks are being very selective now. They want someone with the exact experience the bank is looking for," he says, adding that resumes are still "flooding in" and expectations for compensation packages should be adjusted. "Banks aren't looking to relocate anyone for a job, either."

Across all businesses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which doesn't break down IT jobs by industry) says there were just over 3.8 million information technology professionals employed at the end of the first quarter 2010, up about 30,000 from the end of 2009. "There have been many mergers of institutions, so we are seeing a spike in terms of a need of people to cover mergers," says Kathy Northamer, a senior regional vp for Robert Half Technologies, who notes an increase in project management positions and developers on a contract basis.

Data expertise is also in high demand. "Those banks that were able to weather the crisis were the ones that had fast and easy access to information," says Christine Barry, a research director at Aite Group.

That means data migration initiatives, part of budget reduction strategies, are requiring IT workers familiar with emerging data strategies. "There's an increase in demands for folks with [server] virtualization experience." Northamer says.

Job categories that did well during the recession should also continue to present opportunities. "Risk will be a top priority as it has been, and new regulations will make it even more so," says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Bank of America, for example, has made a number of other senior hires in risk and development architecture since hiring Michael Dubno as head of global markets technology earlier in the year.

There are additional opportunities at smaller institutions-and outside of financial services-though that requires IT professionals who are used to working at larger shops to make adjustments. DataArt, which has an IT staff of about a dozen people, recently hired an IT executive from UBS, a firm that had about 50 IT staffers for software engineering alone. "There's more flexibility at a small shop, and decisions get made faster. But on the flip side, resources and budgets are smaller," says Alexei Miller, evp of DataArt, a software consultant and IT outsourcing group that serves primarily capital markets clients.

This article can also be found at AmericanBanker.com.

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