How Wall Street's Meltdown Will Affect Your Career

As the economy worsens, what happens to your career? Headhunters say accountants are safe -- ad execs, not so much.

Wall Street's woes could creep into every aspect of the job market, but some folks have more to fear than others, career experts say.

If you're a freshly hired middle-manager with a company that's about to be swallowed up in a merger, make sure your resume is up to date. But if you're an accountant who specializes in corporate risk reduction, now might be your time to make a power move.

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In this turbulent market, says Mitchell Feldman, president of A.E. Feldman and Associates, a New York-based executive placement firm, "the real answer is that all employees are vulnerable right now."

Recruiters interviewed by FastCompany.com cited energy, green technology, and healthcare as the most recession-proof fields right now.

In the financial sector, according to Peter Crist, chairman of Crist Associates, an international executive search firm, strategic advising and private equity will continue to grow, along with new departments at financial services companies dedicated to credit- and debt-oriented services--to prevent further fiascoes.

Fields that aren't so safe include public relations, marketing and advertising--anything that can be seen as an "extra," says Jeanne Branthover, managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. Jobs in retail, restaurants and service are also at risk, headhunters predict. Corporate law could go either up or down, say recruiters, but there will be plenty of work for attorneys in rewriting and reinterpreting the rules of Wall Street. "Finance, legal, compliance, and risk management professionals will continue to be in demand given the changing regulatory landscape," says Jeffrey Warren, co-head of Russell Reynolds Associates' financial services sector in the Americas.

"Retail banking is a safe haven with steady revenue streams and stable deposits as funding sources," Warren adds. "Any proven retail banking executives with the ability to grow businesses and develop people will be highly sought after."

No matter what your industry, headhunters say your seniority plays a key role in your job security--and not necessarily in the ways you'd expect.

Crist says those who have been in their jobs for seven to twelve years are in the safest zone. Less tenured employees, like associates and assistant vice presidents are often cut first; also vulnerable are those above the 12-year mark, he says, because their higher salaries can be a target for budget cutters.

Corporate consolidations and takeovers usually result in job cuts, with suddenly redundant administrative and middle-management positions the first to go. "If you are in a mid-level position with some moderate management accountability and no real internal or external senior interface responsibilities or visibility you will likely be in trouble," says Mickey Matthews, vice president of the North American branch of Stanton Chase International, an executive search consulting firm.

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Matthews adds that "less tenured employees--or those who have jumped from company to company and not entrenched themselves in the culture and politics of their current company" are on shaky ground as well.

But volatility in the job market also presents opportunities, recruiters are quick to note. Feldman says he received a phone call on Monday morning from a hedge fund that fired an entire trading desk, and asked his firm to find replacements who understand market psychology. "A lot of musical chairs are going on right now," he says. "You have to be at right place at the right time."

Also poised to advance are junior employees who may be asked to fill bigger shoes. "With attrition, there will be an opportunity for those remaining standing to pick up more responsibility, accountability and possibly senior projects," Matthews predicts. "Some more junior people will have to be promoted sooner than normal to mid-level roles."

As for those just starting out on their careers, Feldman has three letters of advice: CPA. "It is the most valuable certificate coming out of college, and the least risky," he says. "They don't have to do it their whole career."

The securest roles are not always the most glamorous. "There are functions in companies that will always be necessary," adds Kim Bishop, vice chairman of Slayton Search Partners, "like accounting, legal support and sales."

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