Financial Industry Interviewing Skills in the New Era (Boom – Like That)

Dear Job-Seeking formerly-employed Wall Street Traders,

In this tough environment, where Wall Street continues to shrink its human capital, we believe it’s imperative that all of us “up our game”, and our interviewing skills. Frankly, it’s a new world and it requires deviations from what conventional wisdom has been for decades.

Of course, you should wear appropriate attire – like that worn by Billy Ray Valentine as he toiled for Randolph and Mortimer. Of course, you should have a well-crafted and practiced story on why you want a specific job, and be able to talk about your strengths and weaknesses. Of course you should be able to think on the fly, and be able to look for ways to relate with your interviewer. And if you are interviewing for a quantitative firm, you may want to be able to show proficiency with OCaml (or similar languages), understandings of networks, and even be prepared to solve the occasional puzzle.

Do the above and you may stumble through the interview at best.

No – to be clear – the game has changed. To interview properly in today’s environment, you need a different approach. In addition to all the things mentioned above, we recommend that you go work at a Regulator and ingratiate yourself with those you are charged with regulating.

It’s tough to explain, so maybe the best way for us to help is through illustration of an example:

Gregg Berman is an ex-Princeton physicist and “quant”. You likely know him best for his role as the Associate Director of Analytics and Research in the SEC’s Trading and Markets Division, which he held from 2009 through last year. He gave a few speeches while at the SEC:

And what we generally have found is that sudden spikes are not typically caused by any of the reasons I just mentioned. Rather, they tend to be triggered by old-fashioned human mistakes: a trader sends a large limit order to a market center but inadvertently drops the limit price thereby creating an oversized market order; an investor makes a fat-finger mistake and sends a market order for 100 times more shares than he wanted; a portfolio manager enters a large order into the wrong screen, resulting in an unanticipated request for immediate execution instead of having the flow managed.

Contrary to the public speculation, these specific types of events don’t seem to be typically triggered by proprietary, high-speed algorithms, by robots gone wild, or by excessive order cancelations.

  • Or this one in 2014, where he defended speed and complexity in the marketplace, using a smart phone analogy:

For example, my mobile phone is, by any measure, ridiculously complex.  It contains microprocessors, memory, wireless connectivity, a GPS receiver, and a color touch screen.  My home phone has absolutely none of these things but yet I use it quite successfully to make and receive calls all the time.  So does that mean my mobile phone is actually too complex?  Absolutely not.  That’s because I also use my mobile phone to listen to Green Day, watch the Avengers, find my way around New York City, and, yes, play Candy Crush. 

Berman also appeared on market structure panels, where (1)  he attempted to counter claims by a respected buy-side head of desk, that his transaction costs have increased in recent years according to an ITG study, and (2) defended the practice of segmenting “uninformed order flow” .

Berman left the SEC in October of last year to take a temporary position at EY.

And on the one-year anniversary of his SEC departure, he has just accepted a role at Citadel.

Let Mr. Berman serve as an example for all of you! He wears great suits. He clearly knows his strengths and weaknesses, and can talk about them. He can solve puzzles (Princeton Physicist). He knows how to relate to people (he talks about listening to Green Day and playing Candy Crush). He went to work at a regulator (the SEC). He ingratiated himself with those he regulated (see his speeches above, and his market structure panel performances).

Boom – Like That, Mr. Berman serves as an example to us all of “how it’s done.” So, up your game – each and every one of you – and add these new tools to your job search tool bag. Familiarize yourselves with key addresses in Washington DC, and memorize the Amtrak schedules as well.


Best of Luck!


Your Friends at Themis Trading