If you are 35 years old, have only ever worked in the City and have lost your job, then the chief executive of Britain’s biggest listed recruitment company has a grim message for you on the prospect of a recovery in financial sector employment: “Those jobs have gone and they’re not coming back any time soon.”

Alistair Cox said he had seen no indication green shoots have taken hold yet in the notoriously competitive City recruitment market. “It’s still a brutal job market in most countries in the world. There’s no clear sign we’re past the worst,” he told the Financial Times.

Hays’ clients include eight of the top 10 banks such as HSBC and Santander, owner of Abbey and Alliance & Leicester. Mr Cox saw little evidence that bumper bonuses and aggressive hiring practices were returning.

“There may be some recruitment to high-end roles in investment banking, but it’s sporadic and very, very niche. That confidence hasn’t permeated the City,” he said.

The number of people placed in permanent jobs has halved in the past year from a year before, and there are about three times the number of applicants for each role as there were this time last year.

The bleak picture was backed by a survey last month that showed job vacancies in the City are down 62 per cent on a year ago. Morgan McKinley, the financial recruitment specialist, said that while it had seen a small rise in job opportunities in the City, the overall picture remained bleak and there were few indications that a recovery was in sight.

Pay packages for City workers are also deteriorating. Hays specialises in middle management – recruiting staff just below the executive level dealt with by headhunters – and candidates are having to accept less lucrative deals.

“People are going to have to be innovative; they are going to have to differentiate themselves; they are going to have to ask themselves if they should retrain,” Mr Cox said.

The temporary jobs market is holding up better than that for permanent roles, but the number of short-term placements has fallen by about 20 per cent in the past year. Pay rates are also being eroded, particularly in information technology.

Hays is receiving 250,000 job hunters on its website each month.

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