What makes you useful in a financial services firm? You have to be a good fit, you have to have the necessary skill sets, you have to understand the firm…there’s a long list of things you need to prepare. I had a discussion with a friend the other day about a key characteristic that defines an attractive candidate before he went to his interview at a trading firm, and we came up with one very important criteria: you can’t be easily replaced by a computer. This is certainly a mindset you should have when you are preparing for an interview, because the company is about to pay you a good sum of money for your services. If you could be replaced by a computer with a good processor, why should they hire you 80k+ a year? Let’s face it, during your first year in a firm, you are a pawn. You might as well be capital rather than labor, as you just do the menial tasks and mindless grunt work. But just because the task is meaningless doesn’t mean you have to degrade your creativity. You can prove that you are the pawn that moves the entire line forward, and soon deserves to be promoted to a queen.
Here’s a few things my friend and I think you should do to ensure that you don’t just come off as “the econ math double major who can crank numbers.” Be sure to have an example handy for each of the four points. They seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t get offers because they make stupid mistakes.
1) Prove you learn faster than that Berkeley CS major in the technology team can program
Finance changes everyday, and if your learning curve can be trumped by a lowly computer, you might as well go find something else to do. Learning complex tasks is something artificial intelligence struggles with, so if you can dissect and explain to your boss what exactly a new financial instrument conjured up by another bank is on the eve of its inception, or learn how to integrate new valuation techniques into your models, the firm will certainly want to keep you around. Make sure you provide plenty of examples of how you learn fast without coming off as a cocky, incompetent douchebag.
2) Machines can’t love. Can you?
Machines can’t love, but you can. Prove that you actually love what you will be doing. There will be good times, and there will also be bad times, so if you grumble and frown everyday, you’ll just be an eyesore for your boss who is grumbling and frowning. Be the guy who your boss knows will still love what he’s doing even during a stressful recession. You can be doing it for the money, but don’t make it the only reason. If you truly love your job, your interviewer can confidently hire you knowing you won’t lateral to private equity the moment you lose your big bonus. Show that you have a passion for finance, but remember to not oversell yourself.
3) Don’t be a SPSS
Some programs have unintuitive and difficult to understand syntax. They refuse to give output if you miss just a single backslash. Don’t be a hard to use program. Prove that you can do tasks with vague instructions such as “give me an analysis of ____.” Clarification is always important, but if you have to ask for specifics and instructions for every detail throughout the task, your boss might as well do it themselves.
4) It’s you vs. Reddit
The famous airport test: is your interviewer willing to spend 6 hours caught in an airport with you? With modern technology, that means you are going against some tough competition. What’s more fun: reading Reddit posts or talking to you? It’s his laptop plus wifi versus you. As for how to ensure you come off as a fun guy, that’s completely up to you and what type of person you really are.