Ten Interview Tips for Proprietary Trading

Nov 16th, 2009 | By | Category: General Comments, Mike Bellafiore's (Bella's) Blogs
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Written 11/13/09

It is recruiting season for SMB again. That means some long trips, like the one I am on now, stuck on a train Friday night between Providence and New Haven. I actually got on the early train mistakenly and am in danger of getting booted off the train at New Haven. Seriously, the Amtrak ticket collector (that is probably not her real title which may explain why I am about to get kicked off) scolded, “I will talk to to the train conductor about what she wants to do with you.” That doesn’t sound very good. Hey, if I get kicked off in New Haven I could always just try and get some of that Sally’s Pizza (best pizza on earth). That would not be so bad.

Anyway I am on my way home from Brown, after an afternoon talking to a dozen exceptional young people (what a great school!).  Maybe not so much with a big pizza now that I think about it. I had lunch with one of our summer interns and grabbed a humongous chocolate chip cookie on the way out for my train ride home. I am detecting a sugar coma about to visit.

It is no secret that the job market is ultra-competitive for college seniors and transitioning finance pro-fessionals. I thought since I have about another two hours before we reach my NYC destination I would offer my perspective on prop trading interviews. I interview quite a bit. We are always searching for those who will be a good fit for our desk and for whom we are a good fit. Coaches are only as good as the players they coach. Below are some thoughts from my perspective as a partner for those seeking to land an opportunity on a prop trading desk.

1 ) Don’t sell me. Don’t tell me you are passionate about trading if you’re not. It takes me two questions to learn if you are.  First I ask whether you have a personal trading account. Then I will ask what trading blogs you read daily. The worst thing for all parties is to sell me you love trading and then I learn six months in that you are not. If trading is not your first love, then start from this place. Emphasize why you can become a great trader anyway.

2 ) Research the company and your interviewer. There is no better way to start an interview than to say something comparable to this:”Hi Mr. Bellafiore. I recognize you from your site’s videos.” This tops a blank stare on your face when I shake your hand indicating you have no idea who the hell I am. Before I meet anyone new for a business meeting I ask one of our interns to research the person I am meeting and brief me. If you do not prepare for the interview why would I assume you will prepare properly for each trading day?

3 ) Trade. Those who want to become traders find a way to trade. Open an account even if modest and start trading. There is no stronger argument that you want to be a trader than you already are.

4 ) Read trading blogs. Isn’t it a difficult argument for you to make to a trading partner that you are passionate about trading yet cannot rattle off three trading blogs that you read daily. Recently I met a college senior who talked in depth about how he used principles he learned from TraderFeed to improve his poker playing. Can you say Second Round Interview Invitation?

5 ) Live a life of achievement. Traders are elite performers. Prop firms do not want to take a risk on you learning how to become one on their dime.

6 ) You are not being graded on whether we are going to become best friends. Be respectful and likable but do not try too hard to make a connection. We are interested in finding those who are the best fit for us. Be likable but we do not have to become future best friends or make an instant connection. I am a 39-year-old partner. I care about building my firm. I am persuaded by a logical argument that you can become a great trader and not my personal reaction to you in our 15-minute-old relationship. More clearly, I care whether you are a good risk/reward for my firm not if you would be cool to grab drinks with?

And never use the word “man or dude.” This does not show you are likable. It shows that you overvalue likability during an interview.

7 ) Be thoughtful. The best way to show you are respectful and interested in this job is to consider the question asked and do the best you can to present the interviewer with the best information you can proffer.

8 ) It’s an interview! This is not an exercise in talking about how awesome you are. The firm thinks highly of you which is why it has decided to take the time to meet with you and learn more about you. But be ready to discuss your weaknesses and answer difficult questions without taking this personally or as a signal the firm is not interested.

9 ) Have a clear message you wish to communicate. What do you want the interviewee to remember about you? Stay on message.

10 ) Always write a thank you note. I am amazed at how few thank you notes I get after an interview. Steve has a rule that we will not hire anyone who fails to thank us for our time. We do not have to become fast friends but you do not have to demonstrate proper etiquette.

And a few more things…..

The first job you take out off college will not determine the rest of your life (I started as a clerk at the CT General Assembly). You do not have to get it right on the first try. The process of what you decide to do is important. Make a list of what is important to you and then find the job that fits your interest. Anything else is a social loss.

After Outliers, Talent is Overrated and now SuperFreakonomics, it is well established that you will only become great at something through hard work. You will work hard at the things you love. This economy is so awful (although the market does not seem to care presently) that your first job will most likely not offer a huge payday. So what exactly is your argument these days not to do what you really love?

And please do not take rejection personally. You are who you are. If the firm decides you are not a good fit that does not say anything about you. It says that at the moment their needs are different from your interests. This is not a rejection. This is an opportunity for you to find a firm that is a better fit for you.

By the way the assistant train conductor just informed me that the conductor said I can stay on the train. I love Amtrak!

Best of luck to all college seniors in this very difficult job market. You will find your way.

Bella

One Good Trade

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30 comments
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  1. Great article! Although not directly related to me, I think you offer some very good advice about interviewing in general. I hope to have my B school interview coming up in a few months and I’m thinking about how I want to present my “real career” vs. trading career. I hope you pick candidates like myself that are truly passionate about trading. Do you have any additional advice for people looking to move into trading from another career and not necessarily out of undergrad?

  2. Great article! Although not directly related to me, I think you offer some very good advice about interviewing in general. I hope to have my B school interview coming up in a few months and I’m thinking about how I want to present my “real career” vs. trading career. I hope you pick candidates like myself that are truly passionate about trading. Do you have any additional advice for people looking to move into trading from another career and not necessarily out of undergrad?

  3. Brad,

    Treat trading as a craft. Trading is about skill development and discipline. This requires time, effort, patience, and realistic first year goals.

    Best of luck!

    Mike

  4. Loved the article too! Question is, what is a realistic first year goal?

  5. Loved the article too! Question is, what is a realistic first year goal?

  6. This article is helpful for many young traders or folks in general being interviewed, as they can apply it to their own career path. A huge point you note is simply loving what you do and wanting to work hard to excel at it.

    It is funny- I have been invited to interviews where the HR person noted that they decided who would come based on who followed the directions in the job posting and that only 25% of the applicants did so. I was shocked that applicants could be so careless (and to hear about the lack of thank-you notes is unreal as well).

    Thanks for posting these thoughts, since the insight of an interviewer is invaluable. My downfall during my trading interviews was having no track record, so I can definitely agree with you there.

  7. This article is helpful for many young traders or folks in general being interviewed, as they can apply it to their own career path. A huge point you note is simply loving what you do and wanting to work hard to excel at it.

    It is funny- I have been invited to interviews where the HR person noted that they decided who would come based on who followed the directions in the job posting and that only 25% of the applicants did so. I was shocked that applicants could be so careless (and to hear about the lack of thank-you notes is unreal as well).

    Thanks for posting these thoughts, since the insight of an interviewer is invaluable. My downfall during my trading interviews was having no track record, so I can definitely agree with you there.

  8. great stuff Bella. I have yet to hit up Sally’s pizza. SMB roadtrip?

  9. great stuff Bella. I have yet to hit up Sally’s pizza. SMB roadtrip?

  10. hi Bella,
    thanks for sharing your experience with us and giving great advice. too bad they teach exactly the opposite in college (i remember 15yrs ago in cornell). i’d write what you wrote above to the career offices so they finally learn how to prepare students to be real and normal humans and not artificial ass-kissers.

    i’ve been trading for the past 12 years for myself even while working. now, sitting at home as i decided to leave job and dedicate 100% to the job i most prefer. however, i miss being surrounded by inteligent people and am kind of getting bored at home. of course, i read books and all of the blogs i can non-stop, work on myself and polish strategies, etc., but still it does not compensate for being with traders. i don’t need money and don’t really need to work for some one else, but want to be in a learning environment. is there a trading firm where i can find this (being with people and coaches and staying independent)? any toughts on my dilemma will be appreciated. best of luck.

  11. hi Bella,
    thanks for sharing your experience with us and giving great advice. too bad they teach exactly the opposite in college (i remember 15yrs ago in cornell). i’d write what you wrote above to the career offices so they finally learn how to prepare students to be real and normal humans and not artificial ass-kissers.

    i’ve been trading for the past 12 years for myself even while working. now, sitting at home as i decided to leave job and dedicate 100% to the job i most prefer. however, i miss being surrounded by inteligent people and am kind of getting bored at home. of course, i read books and all of the blogs i can non-stop, work on myself and polish strategies, etc., but still it does not compensate for being with traders. i don’t need money and don’t really need to work for some one else, but want to be in a learning environment. is there a trading firm where i can find this (being with people and coaches and staying independent)? any toughts on my dilemma will be appreciated. best of luck.

  12. Bella
    do you find that people you hire who have done some type of trading or who come in with their own strategies are less willing to learn from you and your other senior traders? do you think their is any advantage to someone who comes in with a blankslate and doesn’t know really anything about trading?

  13. Bella
    do you find that people you hire who have done some type of trading or who come in with their own strategies are less willing to learn from you and your other senior traders? do you think their is any advantage to someone who comes in with a blankslate and doesn’t know really anything about trading?

  14. How about very high organizational skills? Good traders must have organized thoughts in order to trade orderly.
    Also a good sense of humor, without it this job turns you into a lunatic.

  15. How about very high organizational skills? Good traders must have organized thoughts in order to trade orderly.
    Also a good sense of humor, without it this job turns you into a lunatic.

  16. Nick,

    People who have done some trading before are preferential. But when they train with us it is imperative that they learn first what we teach, master that, and then build from there.

    Great question and thxs for reading.

    Mike

  17. Thanks Nick for that thought. I had also had similar thoughts, as I have heard desks on both sides of the fence: some prefer prior experience as long as you are willing to submit to structure, and some that won’t even consider you if you have had experience. It seems like SMB is more along the lines of “I want you to have experience, demonstrated interest, and knowledge about what this field really entails,” whereas other firms don’t want to take the risk of bad habits. I think SMB is probably doing the right thing here- making sure they are accepting people who really know what the field requires (ie. those with a bit of experience); while also achknowledging that the person must have the character, knowledge, teachability, and willingness to submit to structure (ie. ability to re-think their trading and extinguish bad habits).

    There are risks on both sides. If you accept people with no experience, you could end up wasting a lot of training on people who really aren’t cut out for trading (who haven’t weeded themselves out already). On the other hand, if you accept people with experience, you are also accepting the possibility of bad habits. I’m sure the head traders are pretty good at feeling out who has bad habits and poor character, though, so they probably get the best of both worlds.

    Good discussion! Thanks Nick and Bella for the thoughts.

  18. Thanks Nick for that thought. I had also had similar thoughts, as I have heard desks on both sides of the fence: some prefer prior experience as long as you are willing to submit to structure, and some that won’t even consider you if you have had experience. It seems like SMB is more along the lines of “I want you to have experience, demonstrated interest, and knowledge about what this field really entails,” whereas other firms don’t want to take the risk of bad habits. I think SMB is probably doing the right thing here- making sure they are accepting people who really know what the field requires (ie. those with a bit of experience); while also achknowledging that the person must have the character, knowledge, teachability, and willingness to submit to structure (ie. ability to re-think their trading and extinguish bad habits).

    There are risks on both sides. If you accept people with no experience, you could end up wasting a lot of training on people who really aren’t cut out for trading (who haven’t weeded themselves out already). On the other hand, if you accept people with experience, you are also accepting the possibility of bad habits. I’m sure the head traders are pretty good at feeling out who has bad habits and poor character, though, so they probably get the best of both worlds.

    Good discussion! Thanks Nick and Bella for the thoughts.

  19. i once read or heard someone say that if the potential recruit has exhibited any sort of top talent in any field, they have what it takes to be a great trader. i.e. top athletes know what type of dedication and committment it takes to reach their maximum potential. they also realize the fallbacks that occur and the mindset needed to overcome

  20. i once read or heard someone say that if the potential recruit has exhibited any sort of top talent in any field, they have what it takes to be a great trader. i.e. top athletes know what type of dedication and committment it takes to reach their maximum potential. they also realize the fallbacks that occur and the mindset needed to overcome

  21. I have been trading options for 3 years but can’t seem to make money. Can I apply too?
    It’s a passion but apparently I am just not good at it
    But maybe I will do well in getting 10% on millions than trying to get 1000% on thousands

  22. I have been trading options for 3 years but can’t seem to make money. Can I apply too?
    It’s a passion but apparently I am just not good at it
    But maybe I will do well in getting 10% on millions than trying to get 1000% on thousands

  23. Stefan,

    Send me an email to me personally please: [email protected]. There are some ways to help.

    Mike

  24. Hi Bella,

    It looks like you guys mostly concentrate on stocks. Are you interested in people who favor futures?

  25. Hi Bella,

    It looks like you guys mostly concentrate on stocks. Are you interested in people who favor futures?

  26. Dear Bella,

    how do u feel about former trader trainees who after a unsuccessful first few months decide to leave citing financial difficulties and unorganized priorities… But decide after a long hard soul search want another chance trading… Do u dismiss such possible again interviewees? What if this time around they are better informed of what the financial expectation should be and are no longer trying to juggle other careers simultaneously out of neccessity… But instead know exactly what to expect this time around and have made the neccessary changes in order to “try” again with a prop firm… Do u auto dismiss due to the exit circustances the first time around?

  27. Dear Bella,

    how do u feel about former trader trainees who after a unsuccessful first few months decide to leave citing financial difficulties and unorganized priorities… But decide after a long hard soul search want another chance trading… Do u dismiss such possible again interviewees? What if this time around they are better informed of what the financial expectation should be and are no longer trying to juggle other careers simultaneously out of neccessity… But instead know exactly what to expect this time around and have made the neccessary changes in order to “try” again with a prop firm… Do u auto dismiss due to the exit circustances the first time around?

  28. * We do not have to become fast friends but you do not have to demonstrate proper etiquette.*

    I would love to work in the environment where I don’t have to demonstrate proper etiquette.
    HIRE ME MAN.
    Ooops, HIRE ME DUDE
    Oooooooops ………… 🙂

  29. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.
    Thank You.
    Trading Tips

  30. It’s just common courtesy, something you don’t find a lot these days. It’s a no-brainer when you get to sit down and interview with a partner at your dream job.