Middle-market firms searching for seasoned talent may want to borrow a page from the playbooks of big investment banks and law firms: Recruit and retrain highly-skilled women who took a break from full-time careers a few years ago to focus on childrearing and are now ready to return to the workforce, if they get the right retraining. The payoff may be enormous in attracting experienced dealmakers.

It's not surprising that the trend began with big banks and large law firms. Both types of organizations have a long tradition of providing structured training programs for college graduates and law-school or business-school graduates.

The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) is credited with launching the current crop of programs that are aimed at returning women. The bank created a workforce re-entry program back in 2008. Today, 120 graduates of the program sport full-time jobs at Goldman. Competitors have followed suit, including Credit Suisse Group AG (NYSE: CS), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS).

"We are always looking for great talent, top talent wherever we can find it," Peg Sullivan, global head of talent management at Morgan Stanley, recently told the New York Times.

Investment banks aren't the only ones helping returning pros update their skills. Law firms including, Baker Botts LLP and Sidley Austin LLP, have created one-year paid internships with the opportunity for full-time employment when the programs end.

Colleges and universities are also stepping up. Pace Law School, for example, offers a New Directions for Attorneys course for about $7,000.

Some of the programs are as hard to get into as Ivy League universities. Morgan Stanley received 500 applications for 15 openings in a 12-week re-entry program that began in February in New York.

For candidates who are returning after a break of, say, five to 15 years, the relatively brief internships (some as short as 10 weeks) provide opportunities to test the waters of full-time employment outside the home before making a long-term commitment.

Middle-market firms that invest in returning M&A practitioners stand a lot to gain and little to lose. There aren't many aspects of dealmaking that have changed significantly over the years. A crash course or two in using virtual data rooms and leveraging social media may be all it takes to bring a returning dealmaker up to speed.

The heart of M&A - from valuing companies to building relationships -- has remained the same, and the experience and skills honed a few years ago will still prove invaluable today.

For more on women in the middle market see, "Vera Bradley Rises as 4th Largest Handbag Maker," "PE Firms May Want to Pitch Nanette Lepore" and "Annie's Molly Ashby Shares Secrets of Success."

 

 

 

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