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American crisis, global pain

Almost 'wartime panic' in London financial hub

September 30, 2008|Henry Chu | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Order a cappuccino in the financial district these days, and it's as likely to come with a resume on the side as a biscotti.

Since the world financial meltdown began accelerating two weeks ago, hundreds of investment bankers have been thrown out of work in London, and still more are hanging on by the seat of their exquisitely tailored, pinstriped pants.

With almost surreal swiftness, the cafes of gleaming Canary Wharf, where American giants such as Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are located, have turned into career triage centers.

To spend an afternoon at Starbucks or Caffe Nero, two popular coffeehouses in an underground shopping mall here, is to watch a parade of grim-faced job seekers sit down to polite interviews with corporate headhunters.

"There's almost a sense of wartime panic, of throwing your CV out there," one headhunter said between interviews.

After Lehman Bros., a longtime tenant on Canary Wharf, declared bankruptcy two weeks ago, there were extraordinary scenes of bankers flocking to nearby cafes and pubs and running through a gantlet of interviews with headhunters who had set up shop at tables, clipboards in hand. One Lehman employee glumly likened the process to speed-dating.

For some European financial institutions, the collapse of American financial heavyweights may bring an opportunity to snap up talent that was previously out of their league.

Even the British government has jumped into the hiring derby, hastily setting up an information meeting on Canary Wharf to entice people to swap a career in the world of finance for a job as a public schoolteacher.

"It's the first time we've tried this approach," said Mark Coussins, recruitment manager for the government's Training and Development Agency for Schools.

To the 80 people who showed up Thursday, the agency had an especially resonant message, Coussins noted: "Teaching does offer security."

Another recruitment session is scheduled for next week.

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henry.chu@latimes.com

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