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When it comes to employees, Wall Street is saying, "Buy, Buy, Buy," again.

After nearly two years of layoffs, investment banks and brokerages are adding to their ranks. Recruiters say this is the busiest hiring season in two years, and not just of top employees. A recent survey from financial training company 7city Learning found that 75% of all Wall Street firms planned to add more recent graduates to their ranks in the next few months than they did a year ago.

"At the end of last year there was a lot of hiring talk but firms were still reluctant," says top Wall Street recruiter Gary Goldstein of Whitney Group. "Now there is activity. Employers seem much more secure that the market is in recovery."
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The increased hiring activity is coming at a time when a number of firms are repositioning themselves in the wake of the financial crisis. The nation's largest banks are exiting such risky businesses as derivatives and proprietary trading, and adding to their lending operations. At the same time, smaller financial firms are building up their practices to pick up the trading and underwriting businesses the larger firms are leaving behind.

That's not to say that layoffs are not still happening. Earlier this week, UBS reportedly made cuts in its wealth management division. And overall, the number of workers in the financial services business in New York State fell by 2,800 in February to 659,800. But that was after two months of gains in employment in the industry. And February's drop was much smaller than the losses the industry had a year ago.

Among experienced bankers, Goldstein says those who work with clients in the energy and healthcare sectors have the best chance of snagging a job. Many firms are betting those sectors recover first. But top to bottom, financial firms are significantly adding new staff for the first time since the fiscal crisis. Big, guaranteed paychecks are back as well.

Earlier this week, E-Trade hired Steven Freiberg to be the online broker's chief executive. Freiberg will get paid $1 million a year for his new position plus bonus, which the firm has guaranteed will be $3 million a year for the first two years. Mid-sized investment firm Jefferies has hired nearly 50 bankers in its healthcare industry practice in the past few months. Goldman Sachs, too, says it expects to hire 60% more recent graduates this year than it did a year ago. Even Citigroup, which a year ago looked like it was headed for Wall Street's dustbin, is on a hiring binge. The bank is reportedly looking to a add workers in trading and hedge fund services.

7city Learning, which assists financial firms in training recruits, says a number of the company's clients are doubling the length of their new employee development programs in order to accomodate more people. Also, in their recent survey, 7city found that half of the 36 large financial firms they asked said they planned to hire 20% more junior employees than a year ago.

"It's a pretty good indication that the firms are investing in their people and in their future," says 7city's Bob Wieczorek, who works with investment firms.
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