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Human Resources

Human Resources

    Industry Overview
    Love-Hate
    Major Players
    Job Descriptions & Tips

Industry Overview

Human resources (HR) is a general term meant to cover a wide range of activities. Some of the work that falls to HR professionals includes hiring and firing employees, creating organizational charts and shaping corporate culture after a merger or acquisition, managing employee communications, settling employee disputes, creating benefits programs, navigating government regulations, dealing with legal issues such as sexual harassment and occupational safety, and setting up policy and programs for measuring performance, compensating, recognizing, and training employees. In other words, HR doesn’t consist of a single activity or function but a huge network of them; basically, HR refers to everything related to the employer-employee relationship. Both specialists and generalists can find a home here, with specialist tracks ranging from training to pension plan administration to legal compliance. In HR, there’s something for just about everyone.

Long considered a support role, in recent years HR has taken on an increasingly strategic dimension in the world of business as managers have recognized employees as a source of competitive advantage. Companies like Southwest Airlines, Nokia, Intel, The Container Store, Edward Jones, and others have shown that HR practices that create supportive environments for employees and strong corporate cultures can lead to superior returns for shareholders by being more innovative, efficient, and productive than their peers. Meanwhile, globalization has complicated the HR role, creating new challenges, such as managing employees and overseeing employee regulations in different countries and cultures, while technology has created a new array of opportunities for streamlining HR administration and practice—everything from putting benefits programs online to e-learning to automating payroll and other administrative HR tasks.

Of course, the responsibilities and activities of HR practitioners vary depending on the size of company. At a small company, the HR pro will usually wear many hats, whereas at bigger companies you’ll find both generalist and specialist HR roles. Large Fortune 500 companies, for instance, divide HR into corporate and field operations, with those on the corporate side setting policy and those in the field working with divisions to implement programs and handle day-to-day issues. Many smaller and midsized businesses, or those of less than 1,000 employees, are increasingly outsourcing some or even all of the HR functions. A few responsibilities that fall to HR in both small and large organizations, such as staffing and executive recruitment, compensation and benefits consulting, and HR systems, have grown into multibillion-dollar service sectors designed to support in-house HR functions.

The issues facing HR practitioners also vary by industry. Compensation and benefits, staffing models, training, and company culture in the consumer products industry, for example, are very different from that seen in retail or health care. Similarly, “high-tech is very different from a unionized or governmental environment,” says an insider, who advises that “studying up on the industry will give you a leg up when interviewing.”

Whatever organization you work in, HR pros tell us that grace under fire, flexibility, and the ability to quickly switch gears from administrator to counselor to negotiator will all come in handy. Some specialist roles, such as in compensation and benefits, require more data analysis, whereas other roles, such as training, organizational development, and employee relations, require strong communication skills and a high level of emotional intelligence. Tech geeks can find plenty to keep them busy in eHR (sometimes called HRe), which involves putting HR systems online, and HRIS (for HR-specific information systems).

Trends

Demographic Transformations
A number of long-term demographic trends are affecting the role of HR. As baby boomers retire, the workforce is expected to shrink, with the possibility of a corresponding decline in economic output. As an adjunct, more employees now have elder-care responsibilities—with many juggling responsibilities for both their children and elders. Family patterns are changing as well, with a growing number of single-person households and couples without children. The retirement of the baby boomers is expected to lead to a cultural shift in the workplace as Generations X and Y take over, with work becoming more demanding, employer-employee relationships less hierarchical, and employers moving away from long-term employment relationships. In 2003, Hispanics became the largest minority group in the United States, and immigration is expected to rise to help meet the dwindling number of U.S. workers, adding complexities to managing the work force.

Labor Shortage and High-Skilled Workers
Experts forecast a labor shortage thanks to generations moving through the workforce that are smaller than the one leaving it. In particular, high-skilled workers will be harder to find, as job growth will be concentrated in sectors like education, health services, and professional and business sectors that require a skilled labor force. As baby boomers retire, the skilled worker gap is expected to hit 5.3 million in 2010, according to a National Association of Manufacturers study. Other experts expect the effects of this shortage to be felt much sooner, while some suggest that the increasing tendency for companies to outsource work offshore could mitigate the differential. Most in demand will be managers and skilled workers in high-tech jobs. This is good news for job seekers and should create big opportunities in HR. Often companies bid up salaries when labor demand is high, but the most attractive companies are still those with strong HR practices and worker-friendly environments. The strategic importance of HR will only grow as a result. Staffing agencies should benefit from this trend, too, though it won’t be without challenges: “When the economy’s going great,” says one insider, “it’s amazing, but it’s also a challenge to find really good people.”

The Value of HR
For many years, HR was considered an “extra” or a “nice to have,” and HR folks were the first to go in a layoff. In the late 1990s, that changed. Although employees in HR are not generally considered as critical to a company’s bottom line success as those in a company’s revenue-generating positions, management teams have increasingly recognized HR’s strategic importance. Creating a strong, well-defined culture provides a competitive advantage by attracting the best candidates. Strong company cultures have also been linked to much higher employee morale, which, in turn, reduces turnover (and the associated costs of recruiting and training new employees) and increases productivity. The importance of HR should continue to grow. “At the larger companies, HR is moving up the ladder in terms of credibility,” an insider tells us. “HR VPs are increasingly being invited to sit at the executive table.”

How It Breaks Down

We divided the opportunities in HR into in-house staff and service organizations that include staffing firms, consultants, and HR information systems. Within each of these segments, you'll want to think about the specific functional areas you'd like to pursue.

In-House HR Staff
HR employees deal with all of these issues: staffing (everything from sourcing to orientation to retention), employee relations, compensation and benefits, training, and information systems. In larger organizations, several HR people may work on each of these functions, further subdivided into specialty areas—for example, the comps and benefits staff may include specialists in fields such as payroll, health insurance, and 401(k) plans. In smaller organizations, the HR person may wear many hats, but almost every company in the country has somebody on board to handle HR issues. As a job seeker, one thing you'll want to evaluate is the relative importance of the HR department to the companies you're considering. If the HR office is still down in the basement, right next to the furnace, you may want to cross that company off your list.

Staffing Firms
These firms replace or supplement in-house HR functions. They include companies such as Manpower, Kelly, Spherion, and smaller organizations that focus on temporary positions, adding a fee to the hourly rates of the candidates they place. It also includes the executive-recruitment firms (Heidrick & Struggles, Spencer Stuart, and others) that place higher-level candidates into full-time positions and charge clients a hefty percentage of the candidate's first-year salary. Jobs in these organizations usually require you to be a sharp judge of people and a good salesperson and negotiator. You also need the ability to think beyond the client's immediate needs. HR outsourcing providers may specialize in functional areas. For example, Manpower and Adecco provide temporary staffing; Korn-Ferry International and Heidrick & Struggles offer executive recruitment; ADP provides payroll processing; Right Management Consultants offers outplacement consulting.

HR Information Systems (HRIS)
Players here include service bureaus, such as ADP and Paychex for payroll, and IT firms such as Oracle-PeopleSoft that offer software and systems for operating the company's payroll, employee information, human resources management, and recruitment systems. HRIS has much in common with IT jobs elsewhere in a company, requiring the ability to work with users in defining needs and with vendors in understanding the capabilities and weaknesses of their wares. Success in this division also requires technical knowledge about systems and software and an ability to plan and implement training.

Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs)
PEOs are a relatively new development within HR, and they fall somewhere between in-house staff, consultants, and service bureaus. Basically, PEOs outsource the administrative part of the HR function and sometimes more, primarily from small and mid-sized businesses, handling everything from payroll taxes to benefits to regulatory compliance and tax administration. The point of PEOs is to sell benefits like health insurance and retirement plans along with expertise in regulatory compliance and legal issues to organizations that are too small to afford them on their own. The PEO can save money for its clients through achieving economies of scale while providing higher-quality and more cost-effective service than would otherwise be available to small businesses. This makes its clients more competitive by saving them time dealing with government regulation, reducing costs of benefits, and improving their ability to attract candidates. As with consulting firms, the services PEOs offer vary by the organization.

HR Consulting
Consulting for HR is a huge business. Most of the major consulting firms offer service lines related to HR. They give them fancy names, like “Human Performance” (at Accenture), “Organization” (at The Boston Consulting Group), and “Organizations, People & Performance” (at Booz Allen Hamilton). Consultants in these areas work on everything from creating more effective organizations, to managing change, to developing training programs, to managing health-care programs for their clients. The work is often strategic, focusing on the people issues of running a large company. A lot of it is data-driven, too, such as in actuarial consulting, which involves financial planning based on the company’s long-term hiring projections.

Job Prospects

Prospects for HR jobs are better than for the economy overall. Some sectors will likely see greater growth and, with it, a greater demand for HR professionals. Computer and data processing services represent the area of fastest growth, followed by residential care and home health care. This reflects a general truism within HR: Changes in lifestyle and population trends are reflected in HR opportunities.

One such example, related to the aging U.S. population, is the need for more human resources workers in hospitals and in health allied services. Hospitals ranked eighth in overall projected HR employment for 2010, and allied health ranked eighth in percentage change from 2000 to 2010.

Another area of expected growth isn’t an industry per se, but rather the area of specialized HR business services. The staffing industry is rated fourth by the BLS as an area of expected growth by the end of the decade. Both BLS statistics and SHRM studies indicate that specialized third-party firms dealing in compensation, legal services, and benefits will also grow.



Love-Hate

What's Great

Do Good, Feel Good
Some may have said it was a little trite . . . but aside from those few, almost all of the HR insiders we speak to say they feel good about helping people and, at the end of the day, feel they’d done something positive for their employees. Whether you’re creating a volunteer program, preparing paperwork for somebody who was promoted to a manager position, or determining benefits—really, almost everything you do—your work is designed to enhance the work environment for people in the company, and that feels good.

Finger On the Pulse
HR pros have their finger on the pulse of the company, interacting with people in different departments across the organization. “I feel connected with a large cross-section of the entire organization, and my role allows me to impact all those areas,” says one insider. “I feel connected with what many divisions in the organization are doing.” That your role is contributing toward creating a positive work environment for people in all those divisions just adds to the pleasure.

Secure, High-Paying Job
The Department of Labor classifies the long-term unemployment for this job as being in the low range, between 1.9 and 3.7 percent, and it classifies the salary as very high, which means median annual earnings are greater than $39,660. With unemployment in the low range of 25 to 50 percent of all jobs and salaries in the top 25 percent, what more could you ask for?

What's To Hate

Piles of Paperwork
“The paperwork has gotten pretty heavy,” an insider says. And you may find all of the paperwork to gain approvals getting in the way of helping people—probably the main reason you joined the HR ranks. Many HR pros say they went into the field for the people and complain that paperwork required to justify costs and satisfy government regulations instead takes up a huge chunk of their time. Employment applications, for instance, have gone from two to seven pages with waivers that need to be signed for background checks. These legal issues can lead to major headaches.

Many Shades of Gray
Human resources isn’t like engineering: There’s not a clear answer to a problem. “The human side of things is not black or white. It’s ambiguous; it’s not necessarily right or wrong. You don’t get to the bottom of things and solve an equation. We use data, but the data doesn’t drive the exact answer,” says an insider. You’ll need to be able to deal with ambiguity of you’re going to do this job well—something some people may like but many might struggle with.

The Bad Guys
HR managers play a variety of roles, many of which can be trying. For instance, they have to sit in on the meetings where the bosses give the bad news. Several insiders say they don’t look forward to that part of their jobs, although one says she found firing people for cause to be much easier than cutting back on staff during economic slowdowns. You’ll also be responsible for enforcing policies that others in the organization may not agree with or like. “Having to be the bad guy is hard,” says an insider. “When there are company policies that HR is looked at to uphold, most don’t like you.”



Major Players

Major Players, by 2003 Revenues
Rank Company Revenue ($M) 1-Yr. Change (%) Employees
1 Manpower, Inc. 12,185 14.8 2,321,600
2 Automatic Data Processing 7,147 2.0 41,000
3 Kelly Services 4,325 0.0 707,900
4 Spherion 2,070 –2.2 297,000
5 Robert Half International 1,975 3.7 182,300
6 Volt Information Sciences 1,610 8.2 41,600
7 MPS Group 1,096 –5.1 14,700
8 CDI 1,060 –9.3 16,600
9 Administaff 892 5.0 75,036
10 Gevity HR 426 13.6 106,452
Sources: Hoover’s; WetFeet analysis.
<-- End Tables -->

Job Descriptions & Tips

Key Jobs

Human Resources Generalist
Though it sounds entry level, this isn't always the case. If the position is with a small company, it will require someone with a strong background in individual HR specialties who can act as a jack-of-all-trades for the entire company. In larger companies, the position is for someone who is just learning the ropes. Responsibilities can vary greatly depending on the company's needs. Therefore, job requirements will also vary. Salary range: $37,000 to $70,000.

Human Resources Manager
A middle management position that may require overseeing specialists responsible for several distinct areas in a division of a company. Strategic work may be involved-such as planning human resource policy and setting procedures. Usually reports to a VP of human resources. Salary range: $52,000 to $92,000.

Recruiter
Screens, interviews, and recommends prospective employees, and extends offers to successful candidates. A good recruiter is familiar with the job requirements of specific fields in the company. Salary range: $40,000 to $90,000.

Benefits Analyst
Qualifications can vary greatly depending on the company's needs and the person's experience. At the bottom of the scale, it can be entry level, involving carrying out benefits programs and possibly researching new ones. At the top of the scale, the position may report to a VP and involve strategy and business planning. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement, though on the upper scale, several years of experience is required. Salary range: $35,000 to $90,000.

Training Manager
Designs, plans, and implements corporate training programs. This position is becoming increasingly important not only because it increases worker morale, but also because it's considered cheaper to train current employees than to recruit new ones. Salary range: $52,000 to $100,000.

Compensation Analyst
Evaluates and conducts surveys and analyzes salary data to come up with the full monetary package offered to employees, including salary, bonuses and perks, such as stock options. In many cases, compensation analysts deal only with the packages offered to executives or even come in on a contract basis to help research and negotiate the package for an incoming CEO. In other cases, the compensation analyst will deal with all job categories in a company. Regardless, the compensation analyst has to be familiar with a company's job titles and responsibilities. Salary range: $40,000 to $100,000.

Labor Relations Manager
Works primarily in manufacturing or service industries and deals with labor unions. A labor relations manager prepares information for management to use when a contract is up for renewal. He or she may supervise a group of labor relations specialists. Salary range: $62,000 to $120,000.

VP of Human Resources
A very strategic position in large corporations, the VP of HR helps set the tone of the company's corporate culture. He or she brings information about the workforce to executive management so that management can set policies after mergers, acquisitions, closures, layoffs, and similar changes. This position often involves extensive travel and very long hours. It's unheard of for a person to get this job without an MBA, and often this position is filled outside the company. Salary range: $90,000 to $230,000.

Getting Hired

Here are a few things to think about before you start looking for a job in human resources:
  • A universal plea of HR staffers everywhere is that they are tired of hearing, "I want to work with people." First, the business is about much more than working with people, and second, the hiring manager will want to know how you worked well with people. Be sure to have some specific anecdotes to share with your interviewer that will showcase your interpersonal skills.

  • Behavioral interviewing is common in this field. A manager might ask something like, "Tell me about a time when you successfully negotiated something," or "Tell me about a time when you worked with an employee who was disagreeable." Be prepared to tell the steps you took to mediate the situation and how you were directly involved in finding the solution.

  • Be prepared to show that you know about the company and industry. If you've worked in the industry, great. Talk about that experience and how the different divisions within that company work together.

http://63.236.47.143/Content/Industries/Human%20Resources.aspx


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Consulting

    Career Overview
    Requirements
    Job Outlook
    Career Tracks
    Compensation

Career Overview

In the world of business, management consultants are jacks-of-all-trades. Working through consulting firms or as independent contractors, they advise corporations and other organizations regarding an infinite array of issues related to business strategy—from reengineering to e-commerce, change management to systems integration. From billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions to corporate reorganizations in which thousands of jobs are at stake, they are the directors behind the scenes of nearly every major event in the marketplace.

A career in consulting can encompass a wide variety of industries. One word of clarification: “Consulting” is a big, one-size-fits-all term that includes virtually any form of advice-giving. Pretty much anyone with a specialty in a field can offer consulting service; to keep this profile specific, we’ve focused on management consulting, a broad category in its own right. Often called strategy consulting, this segment of the industry includes firms that specialize in providing advice about strategic and core operational issues.

Most management consultants hold salaried positions at firms that cater to a clientele of mostly large corporations. They are assigned on a project basis to their firm's clients, who are billed by the hour for their services. Depending on the client's needs and the firm's functional specialty (or core competency, as it's often called), consultants conduct objective research and analysis on behalf of their client, and make recommendations based on their findings. Ultimately, management consultants take on the responsibility of improving their clients’ businesses by effecting change through their recommendations.

Although some of the highest-profile firms populate this segment, they’re not the only ones doing consulting. Thousands of other organizations and individuals call themselves consultants, make money by selling their advisory services, and offer plenty of opportunities for employment. If you like the idea of giving advice to other businesses, and you have a particular interest in computers, human resources, corporate communications, mobile communications, health care, financial services, real estate, e-commerce, or some other specialized field, there’s a good chance you can find a position with an organization doing precisely that.

What You'll Do
Research and analysis are the main tools of the trade for management consultants. They analyze a business problem from various angles by conducting research and forming and testing hypotheses. Research may consist of collecting raw data from internal sources—such as the client’s computers or employees—and external sources, such as trade associations or government agencies. Consultants get some of their most valuable data from surveys and market studies that they devise and implement themselves. The data must then be analyzed in relation to the client’s organization, operations, customers, and competitors to locate potential areas for improvement and form solutions. These solutions are then recommended to the client and—hopefully—implemented. (Sometimes convincing a client to accept a consultant’s recommendations can be the most difficult aspect of the job, and there is always a chance that the client will choose not to accept the consultant’s recommendation at all.)

Consultants often must travel to where their clients are located, sometimes spending days—even weeks—conducting research or implementing solutions. Long hours are common. But the pay is great, not to mention the bonuses.

Who Does Well
For those who enjoy problem solving and thinking about business strategy, consulting can be a very fulfilling career as well as an excellent jumping-off point for a management career or a future as an entrepreneur. On the flip side, frequent travel and long hours can make a consultant's schedule very demanding.

While consulting is great for people who like variety in their work, it is not for those allergic to structure and hierarchy. The large and elite firms tend to have a culture that mirrors that of their corporate clients, complete with a steep career ladder: Only a select few make it to partner-level, and that's with an MBA and 6 to 8 years at the firm.

Requirements

Although the competition at top firms is intense, the qualities that recruiters look for are similar across the board. Besides outstanding academic records, firms want people who are problem solvers, creative thinkers, good communicators, and who have a keen understanding of and interest in business.

Top candidates will also have previous experience in the business world (consulting internships are impressive but not required) as well as a record of extracurricular achievement. Firms specializing in IT consulting or e-business may require technical skills and experience.

Candidates with experience in industry are much sought after, particularly by firms that have industry practices that correspond to candidates' backgrounds. Several firms hold specialized information sessions for experienced candidates as well as PhDs and JDs. Consult firms' websites directly or contact firms' human resources departments or local graduate schools for schedules and eligibility.

In the interview, most recruiters pay close attention to a candidate’s experience and background. According to insiders, most consulting interviewers are looking for the following:
  • High energy and enthusiasm
  • Team orientation
  • Integrity
  • Excitement about consulting
  • Knowledge about what makes the interviewing firm different
  • Success on the airplane test—do you want to sit next to this person on a long overseas flight?
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Industry experience

Finally, all management consulting hopefuls must clear the dreaded case-interview hurdle to land a consulting position.

Job Outlook

After several down years, firms began recruiting again in 2004. The economic recovery kicked in around August to September 2003, and is expected to drive single-digit growth for the consulting industry through 2006. “I think [2004] is a year of renewed growth for the consulting industry, which means a period of renewed growth for recruiting as well,” one insider says. Firms are reporting more contract wins and utilization rates well above the norm. “The outlook is positive,” another insider says. “We see a movement upward in the number of hiring. We’re seeing a lot more deals, and our capacity is at the highest mark that it’s been in a couple of years. The management team absolutely thinks the work will continue.”

The growth that appears to have begun won’t mirror that of the go-go 1990s. “I don’t think we’ll see the spiking growth that we saw in the late ’90s,” says an insider. “We moved through the early 2000s on cost reduction. Now the focus is on growth of the bottom line. The focus isn’t so much on how fast I can grow my top line or how I can cut my costs, but how can I improve my productivity. I think those initiatives are going to drive the opportunities for growth in the consulting industry.”

As a consequence, firms are looking for more experience in those they hire. “For the pre-MBA experience, it would be advantageous to make sure they’re getting some serious, substantial experience—industry experience for the type of client engagements they want to work in post-MBA,” an insider says. “Some MBAs will look at the summer associate program as an opportunity to try something completely different. But if they’re trying something for variety, and they want to work in a post-MBA position in a field different than their summer position, they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage.”

Career Tracks

Undergraduates
Undergraduates generally join a consulting firm as analysts, although their titles vary. The work itself—as well as the hours—can be quite demanding. It often includes field research, data analysis, customer and competitor interviews, and client meetings. In IT, analysts might do heavy-duty programming. Traditionally, the analyst program lasts 2 or 3 years, after which you’re encouraged to go to business school. However, this system has been changing over the past several years. Firms have increasingly begun to promote analysts into positions they hire MBAs into or else into an interim role between the undergraduate and MBA position. If you choose to go to business school, many firms will pay your tuition, provided you return to the firm when you’re done.

MBAs
Consulting firms hire MBAs and other postgraduates right out of school or from industry. Most new MBA hires will come into a firm as associates; after 2 or 3 years they’ll move to the next level, where they’ll manage case teams. After managing projects for a couple of years, consultants may be promoted to principal, whereupon the focus shifts to more intensive client work and the selling of services. Finally, after 6 to 8 years with a firm, a consultant might be promoted to partner. The benefits of partnership are big increases in salary and responsibility. The key function of partners at most firms is to cultivate clients and sell them new business.

Advanced-Degree Candidates
Over the past 5 years, consulting firms have increasingly tapped nontraditional candidate pools, including JDs, PhDs, and MDs. If you are one of these candidates, find out which level you’ll come in at—the same level as undergrads, MBAs, or experienced hires. Also, you should ask about the type of support you’ll receive once you join the firm. Some organizations offer a mini-MBA training program, while others rely more heavily on mentorship.

Compensation

The major consulting firms are among the best-paying employers for new graduates. They are also known for offering excellent perks and benefits, such as annual off-site meetings at posh resorts and reimbursements of school expenses.

Salaries and bonus packages at the top firms are generally in close range of each other, since these firms usually compete for the same pool of candidates. At the margins, there are slight differences in compensation: Lesser-known firms may offer slightly higher salaries or bonuses to attract top candidates, and some organizations have different ways of splitting up the bonus pie (for instance, linking a portion of the bonus to the firm’s annual performance).

MBAs
In 2005, we estimate MBAs hired into elite firms will start somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $130,000. There’s less of an emphasis on signing bonuses than in the past; these can run up to $30,000. Although consultants often have higher base salaries than investment bankers, bankers stand to make lots more—as much as 100 percent of their base—in their year-end bonuses. That’s why some junior partners on Wall Street make more money than senior partners at consulting firms.

Undergrads
In the 2005 recruiting season, we estimate the elite firms will offer starting salaries in the range of $50,000 to $65,000. Again, signing bonuses are not across the board the way they once were, and can range up to $10,000. Undergrads joining a large IT services firm will likely be in the $35,000 to $55,000 range to start.

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Commercial Banking

    Industry Overview
    Love-Hate
    Major Players
    Job Descriptions & Tips

Industry Overview

In the most basic terms, commercial banks take deposits from individual and institutional customers, which they then use to extend credit to other customers. They make money by earning more in interest from borrowers than they pay in interest to those whose deposits they accept. They’re different from investment banks and brokerages in that those kinds of institutions focus on underwriting, selling, and trading corporate and municipal securities.

Most of us maintain checking accounts at commercial banks and use their ATMs. The money we deposit in our neighborhood bank branch or credit union supports economic activity through business loans, mortgages, auto loans, and home repair loans. Banks also provide loans in the form of credit card charges, and render local services including safe deposit, notary, and merchant banking. The bank branch or credit union office remains the cornerstone of Main Street economic life.

Banks have been undergoing rapid change over the past decade or so. Traditionally conservative businesses, most large banks now offer banking services over the Web. Branch banks have proliferated as well, as banks like Washington Mutual attempt to become as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven stores. The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which limited the businesses commercial banks could operate in, created huge new areas of business as well. Many commercial banks have gone into nontraditional commercial banking businesses such as selling insurance products and securities.

Trends

New Electronic-Payment Options
For years, there were just three main means by which most consumers and businesses purchased goods and services: They paid in cash, wrote a check, or, if the purchase was sufficiently large, they charged the purchase to a credit card. Thanks to technology, purchasers now enjoy a whole host of payment options – and banks enjoy a number of new revenue streams, thanks to the fees and interest charges associated with the new payment options. For example, most big banks now offer prepaid MasterCard and Visa cards. Debit cards, which, when used, withdraw money directly from the cardholder’s bank account, are another relatively new product. Online payment technologies allow consumers and businesses to transfer money to vendors from whom they make purchases via the Internet. And then there are micropayments; where, in the past, vendors would only accept credit cards for a certain minimum transaction amount, today it’s becoming more and more common for purchasers to use credit cards and other electronic-payment options for relatively minor purchases, like music downloads and fast-food purchases.

Trouble in Credit-Card Land
While credit cards have been one of the biggest sources of retail-banking revenue growth in recent decades, business hasn’t been without its downsides for card issuers in recent years. Legal actions brought by purchasers and vendors alike have reduced card issuers’ bottom lines. On the consumer side of the equation, for instance, American Express has had to settle class-action charges that it charged customers improperly for foreign-currency transactions (similar charges are pending against Visa and MasterCard and banks that issued those cards). Meanwhile, vendors who accept payment in the form of credit cards have been battling to lower the fees they pay to the credit card associations; to settle charges brought by merchants, the card associations have paid the merchants billions of dollars and lowered certain fees.

Consolidation
For decades, banks profited by simply holding customers' money and charging them check-writing fees and interest on loans. Jobs were well defined and stable, and the paths to promotion were clear and secure. Not anymore. Consolidation, competition, and technological change are shaking the industry to its core, forcing layoffs while creating opportunity.

Since 1995, more than 200 large and small banks have merged, with an eye on building market share and/or increasing economies of scale. Today, a handful of recently consolidated giants—Citibank, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase—dominate the banking industry. The new behemoths are entering new markets, while replacing service personnel with online and other technologies. However, hiring by a growing number of nonbanks compensates for this trend to a degree. These firms, which are pioneering new ways of delivering financial services, include MBNA and Capital One, which are credit card lenders, as well as transaction processing and data services companies like First Data and Fiserv.

Deregulation
The Glass-Steagall Act, passed by Congress in 1933, served as the backbone of banking regulation. During the late '90s, however, banks and other financial institutions found ways around the restrictions placed on them by Glass-Steagall and related legislation. Finally, in late 1999, Glass-Steagall was repealed, eliminating the legal framework for Depression-era boundaries for financial services firms. This has created new opportunities for small and large banks alike, which continue to shakeup the banking landscape.

Risk
Record levels of consumer dept and personal bankruptcies, the prospect that the real estate bubble will pop, and rising interest rates and oil prices all threaten to dampen prospects for commercial banks. Many fear that the dueling budget and trade deficits in the United States aren’t sustainable. Protecting customer information and transaction data from cyber threats is another area banks are concerned with, and many are working to upgrade their enterprise protections. Because problems in the market inevitably affect banks, many are putting new emphasis on upgrading risk management capabilities in case something goes awry.

How It Breaks Down

The most important distinction for job seekers to keep in mind is the distinction between regional banks and the big global ones. Here, we've broken down the industry by type of banking, rather than size of player, since banks are increasingly adding new services to their array of traditional ones.  

Consumer or Retail Banking
This is what most people think of when they think of banking: A small to mid-sized branch with tellers and platform officers—the men and women in suits sitting at the nice wooden desks with pen sets—to handle customers' day-to-day needs. Although thousands of small community banks, credit unions, and savings institutions still exist, employment opportunities in this sector are increasingly coming from a few megaplayers such as Citibank, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase, which have built national—and even international—banking operations.

In addition to extending their consumer-banking operations, many of the larger banks have added to their investment banking and asset management capabilities. So, make sure you’re applying to the right part of a large diversified organization.

Business or Corporate Banking
Many of the players in this group are the same ones in the consumer-banking business; others you'll find on Wall Street, not Main Street. At the highest level, the larger players (Wells Fargo and Wachovia are two names to add to the list of megaplayers above) provide a wide range of advisory and transaction-management services to corporate clients. Depending on which institution and activity area you join, the work can resemble branch banking or investment banking.

Securities and Investments
Traditionally, this field has been the domain of a few Wall Street firms. However, as federal regulations have eased, many of the biggest commercial banks, including Bank of America, Citibank, and J.P. Morgan Chase, have aggressively added investment banking and asset management activities to their portfolios. For anyone interested in corporate finance, securities underwriting, and asset management, many of these firms offer an attractive option. Be aware, though, that hiring for these positions is frequently done separately from that for corporate and consumer banking.

Nontraditional Options
Increasingly, a number of nonbank entities are offering opportunities to people interested in financial services. Players include credit card companies such as American Express, MasterCard, and Visa; credit card issuers like Capital One and MBNA; and credit-reporting agencies such as Experian. Although people at these firms are still in the money business, the specific jobs vary greatly, perhaps more widely than jobs at traditional banks do. In particular, given the volume of transactions that many of these organizations handle, opportunities for people with strong technical skills are excellent.

Job Prospects

Two of the major trends in banking in the past decade have been consolidation (e.g., the acquisition of Bank One by J.P. Morgan Chase, or the takeover of FleetBoston by Bank of America) and the increasing use of technology (e.g., online banking, or automated check processing). Both of these trends have had and will continue to have a negative effect on job growth in the industry. Indeed, the number of jobs in the banking industry is expected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to decline by 2 percent between 2004 and 2014, as compared to an expected overall growth in the number of jobs in the U.S. of 14 percent during that time.

But it’s not all bad news in banking; the U.S. population is growing, and new population centers are emerging all the time, so there will be new jobs available in new locations. And while opportunities for bank tellers and back-office clerical workers stagnate, financial analysts, financial advisors, trust officers, marketing pros, and techies will enjoy growing opportunities as the (now-rich) Baby Boom generation ages and bank operations become increasingly automated.

In fact, many banks are actively preparing for the retirement of the Baby Boom generation by launching talent management programs designed to look at training, performance management, and workforce planning as related parts of a bigger whole. The emphasis on retail banking and the repeal of Glass-Steagall have created opportunities for people in banking to become providers of a suite of financial products, rather than just bank tellers. In coming years, look for more opportunities for financial services sales reps and fewer opportunities for loan officers and others with only a limited knowledge of the full array of financial products banks can now sell.



Love-Hate

What's Great

The Three Ps
The three Ps in banking are pay, portability, and promotions. As the line between investment and commercial banking continues to blur, commercial banks increasingly have to match Wall Street salaries. And, regardless of whether you join the commercial or investment banking ranks, you'll pick up skills that you can easily take with you to other jobs in finance.

Prima Donnas Need Not Apply
If you're just not the I-banking type and your selling style is less in-your-face than what most brokerages seem to be seeking, banking may be where you belong instead—unless, of course, you want to join the I-banking operations of one of these players. An MBA is helpful but not a prerequisite to future success. Your degree, graduate or undergraduate, doesn't have to be a highly prestigious one. You still need to be smart, detail-oriented, good with numbers and people, and resilient in the face of fairly constant change, but otherwise, most banks aren't high-stress, difficult places to work. And it's not against the rules to be nice to your colleagues.

What's To Hate

How Do You Feel About Change?
Mergers, competition, and evolving technology mean fewer jobs and more uncertainty. Even as you read this, banks are plotting and negotiating the next big banking acquisition or merger. They have to in order to survive. There was a time when all you had to do to keep your job at a bank was remain faithful and stroke the boss. These days, however, even faithful and competent sycophants are getting pink slips. When it comes to putting your career on the edge, banking is not Silicon Valley. But no one would mistake it for the civil service, either.

The Great Banking-Services Robbery
Brokerages, corporations, and insurance firms have snatched bank products and successfully made off with them. Fidelity, AT&T, Ford, and the rock group Kiss have all marketed credit cards. Some mutual fund companies allow customers to write checks and take out loans against their accounts. Banks no longer have payment processing, mortgages, or ATMs to themselves either. No matter what area of banking you're interested in, remember that brokerages and virtually every other type of financial institution are embarking upon an unstated mission—to make the banking job you want obsolete. Just so you know.

Bank on Longer Hours
Once upon a time, banking was a 9-to-5 job. But, increasingly, bankers' hours are coming to resemble those of brokers and consumer-product marketers. What's more, as brokerages, securities firms, and insurance companies move into banking, their take-no-prisoners culture could mean even longer work hours for folks in the industry. Banking may still be better than a lot of jobs for semi-fast-track moms and as-yet-undiscovered Broadway stars, but your seat on the 5:04 commuter train now belongs to someone else.



Major Players

Top 10 Banks, by 2004 Revenue
Rank Bank Revenue ($M) 1-Yr. Change (%) Employees
1 Citigroup Inc. 108,276 14.3 294,000
2 Bank of America Corp.
65,447 33.5 175,742
3 J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. 56,931 28.3 160,968
4 Wells Fargo & Co. 33,876 6.5 140,500
5 Wachovia Corp. 28,067 14.7 96,030
6 Washington Mutual 15,962 –11.4 52,579
7 U.S. Bancorp 14,706 0.9 48,831
8 MBNA Corp. 12,327 5.5 28,000
9 National City Corp. 10,600 10.1 33,331*
10 SunTrust Banks 7,823 10.6 33,156
*2003 numbers.
Sources: Hoover's; Fortune 500; WetFeet analysis.
<-- End Tables -->

Job Descriptions & Tips

Key Jobs

The jobs available at different commercial banks vary significantly according to the scope of their operations. Mega-banks offer a huge variety of positions, from hard-core programming spots to investment banking and trading. Small and regional banks tend to have a smaller range of more traditional positions (loan officer, teller, credit analyst, etc.).

Loan Officer
Many a bank executive has started in this job. Many will continue to do so. Loan officers determine, based on the bank's criteria and an ever-improving intuition and instinct, who gets loans and who does not. There's a fair amount of schmoozing in this job, either at the local chamber of commerce and Rotary Club or overseas in emerging markets. If you prefer to crunch numbers in private and deal with people only occasionally, this isn't the job for you. But an accounting whiz with sales skills and diplomacy will thrive. Salary range: $35,000 to $90,000.

Branch Manager
This is a great way to learn the industry. A merger could temporarily derail your career; but the risk may be worth it if you want to learn all there is to know about banking. This is a bit like the principal of a K-6 elementary school. You cannot be an imperious executive. But if you manage operations well and take good care of your upper management, staff, and customers, everyone will be happy to reward you. Many of these people have been promoted from a position as a loan officer. Salary range: $40,000 to $85,000.

Bank Teller
This is the front line in the banking world—and possibly the position most likely to feel the shock waves from banking consolidation and automation. In addition to having extensive customer contact, tellers have to have a good feel for numbers, a willingness to handle large amounts of cash, and an attention to detail. There are more than 500,000 tellers in the United States; most work 9 to 5, and one-third work part-time. Salary range: $18,000 to $40,000.

Programmer
Financial institutions have a huge need for programmers and people with technical skills: Citibank boasts that it has more software programmers than Microsoft does. Specific responsibilities can range from managing network systems to coding applications for a wide variety of transaction-oriented processes to modeling bank functions such as loan approvals and risk management. Positions usually require specific platform experience or programming knowledge. Salary range: $35,000 to $150,000.

Sales
Sales is another relatively sure prospect for the uncertain future. Banks are competing with brokerages, investment banks, and mutual funds, all of which offer more obvious and alluring opportunities in sales. If you seem to have a talent for this and you'd like a chance to be a big fish earlier than all the B-school hotshots, then a commercial bank might be just the pond for you. Demand is also rising for salespeople who understand product development and for investment managers (brokers). An undergraduate degree in finance, business, or economics gets you in the door. An MBA gets you a second interview. Salary range: $30,000 to $100,000 or more (commissions and new business you bring in can add substantially to these figures).

Trust Officer
Give this area a shot if you have a flair for financial counseling and if you like hobnobbing with high-net-worth individuals. The job involves helping clients with trust services, estate planning, taxes, investing, and probate law. Warning: Sooner or later you'll find yourself in the middle of family squabbles, jealousies, disinheritances, and lawsuits. This job requires diplomacy, tact, deference, and a better, more current understanding of tax law than most attorneys need. Salary range: $48,000 to $75,000.

Getting Hired

Many roads lead into the commercial banking world. At the bottom end, you can apply to your local branch for a number of different positions. At the corporate level, the large banks hire hundreds of people from college and graduate programs each year; they hire even more from industry, especially for positions requiring certain types of knowledge or experience: programming, credit analysis, marketing, and so on. Many of the largest players also have extensive job listings on their websites and solicit electronic résumés. If you want to get a foot in this industry, keep these things in mind:  
  • In banking, most jobs relate in some way to convincing people to part with their money (checking, savings, investing) or to take yours (credit, loans) and pay you surcharges for the privilege of doing either. Financial skills are only part of the job. To excel, you need some serious interpersonal skills as well.

  • Like the old gray mare, bankers' hours ain't what they used to be. Increasingly, these firms are looking for talented, competitive individuals with the desire to work hard to beat out the competition. Expect an extensive interview process. At banks, you have to talk to lots and lots of people before you get hired. And then you have to talk to some more just so they can all be in complete agreement about what a wonderful addition you'll be to the bank and its customers.

  • Commercial banking remains a relatively conservative industry. To make a positive impression on your interviewer: Wear a suit. Don't wear patterned stockings. Address no one by his or her first name, not even in California, not even on casual Friday. And smile. No matter how much your brand-new dress shoes are pinching your feet, smile and have a warm handshake at the ready.

  • Especially for corporate jobs, you'll be expected to have some knowledge of the changes going on in the financial services sector—and an opinion about them. Also, you'll want to keep an eye on the business section of the newspaper—at least while you're interviewing—to make sure that you catch the headline about your potential employer merging with another firm.

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