Ten Interview Tips for Proprietary Trading

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.


One Good Trade

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