Does First Job Make a Difference?

Archidamus

Member
I am finishing my MS Stats soon and starting job applications. I work full time doing data analysis in health care now, so after gradation I intend to change career fields. There is a 'Quant - Model Risk' position at a mid-size bank that seems to be a logical fit (required skills, location, etc.). Below are some of the job duties. My question is: Does taking a job like this narrow my future careers paths, or is the Quant field more mobile so long as you have the skills and ability?

  • "...develop and execute ongoing model verification, performance reporting..."
  • "Ensure that models comply with <bank's> requirements for model development, documentation, ongoing verification..."
  • "...preparing high quality documentation, including presentations, explaining the model and its validity for its intended use."

My intuition says that the type of first job (in this field) is not as big of a deal; rather gaining experience and honing skills is most important at this point.
 

IntoDarkness

Active Member
you apply to a bunch of jobs and make decisions on whatever offers you have. so typically you don't come to this "Does First Job Make a Difference?" question
 

Onegin

Active Member
C++ Student
From my point of view, the 1st job makes a huge difference. Those entering (on the buy side) a PM / research analyst role will have better comp than a back / middle office role, and a higher expected value of future comp (although with much more risk to that comp).

That said, @IntoDarkness is also spot on. You don't really make the decision of where you will work. Apply to the PM / Research roles - have at it. Network your ass off. If you're an attractive candidate, you'll get interest. If not, you'll start looking at Middle Office / Risk roles. Doing your homework, soliciting feedback during informational interviews will save your time (and potentially credibility). Personally, I would always side-eye a candidate who applied to our (middle office) team after applying for the CEO's job.

It sounds like you might be onto something with the risk job. Based on your sketch, it sounds like you'd be more competitive for that kind of a role. But what the hell do I know? Several individuals have done great things by doing the exact oppositte of what I suggested.
 
From my point of view, the 1st job makes a huge difference. Those entering (on the buy side) a PM / research analyst role will have better comp than a back / middle office role, and a higher expected value of future comp (although with much more risk to that comp).

That said, @IntoDarkness is also spot on. You don't really make the decision of where you will work. Apply to the PM / Research roles - have at it. Network your ass off. If you're an attractive candidate, you'll get interest. If not, you'll start looking at Middle Office / Risk roles. Doing your homework, soliciting feedback during informational interviews will save your time (and potentially credibility). Personally, I would always side-eye a candidate who applied to our (middle office) team after applying for the CEO's job.

It sounds like you might be onto something with the risk job. Based on your sketch, it sounds like you'd be more competitive for that kind of a role. But what the hell do I know? Several individuals have done great things by doing the exact oppositte of what I suggested.
how hard is it to switch to research on the buy-side from the middle office risk roles?
 

Onegin

Active Member
C++ Student
Very hard, and also very unlikely. Don't let that stop you. The hard part for me was the honest evaluation I had to make; it's tempting to think, "well, i'm smart, I've done a lot of the same work, and the world is unfair and the research (PM/FO) teams are just trying to keep people out." That may be true, probably is true to some degree, but it's not helpful. It's not helpful because in that case, I'm taking my knowledge and skills as a given and inventing a story that absolves me of responsibility to improve. After all, if it's all corrupt, why should I even try? You shouldn't in that case.

But maybe it is corrupt, but probably not ALL corrupt. If there are people out there doing important work, then what skills and knowledge do I need to be useful? That's the scary part, because the list can be long. For me, it was statistics, calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, probability theory, mathematical statistics, stochastic calculus, optimization, programming, and econometrics. And then a grad program to tie all of these together.

That's me, though. You probably have a much more solid foundation than I do (most do). And I have received feedback that I'm at worst an idiot, and at best way too risk averse. I'm cautioned though because I've seen folks reach for a research role, then wash out shortly thereafter. Maybe I'll still end up in that case or back in the middle office after grad school. Who knows? But I do know I'm loads more useful now than I would have been without the coursework.

I'm only talking about me, though. I don't want to discourage you. It's more likely for a middle office person to move to an investment role than it is for someone from outside the industry to do so (assuming equal skill sets, obvs a PhD in CompSci working at Google could hop over to somewhere like TwoSigma). Subscribe to read | Financial Times . If someone is not getting interest in quant investment roles, there's a reason, and the reason is most likely a gap you have rather than an unfair and corrupt world. From the hiring manager's perspective, the problem is finding good people. So we just need to become one of those.

You'll improve your chances if you find a firm which is open to such transitions. These tend to be smaller shops; the bigger the shop, the more need for specialization and the more rigid the barriers between functions. Hope this is useful.
 

MRoss

Well-Known Member
how hard is it to switch to research on the buy-side from the middle office risk roles?
People need to stop asking this and start asking "how determined am I"?

I moved from Risk IT to Sales & Trading in 3 years using this unique method: Coffees and a cold emails.

After my move one of the managers on my old team to me he was blown away. "How did you ever pull that off!?"

I responded: "I sent someone an email".

I think he got the point.
 

MRoss

Well-Known Member
@MRoss well, sent an email and finished a top ranked MFE program. :)
Not at all.

Baruch MFE got me into MS Risk IT (which was a huge first step!). I got myself into S&T.

No one else on my team has a master's let alone MFE. They probably don't know what MFE stands for.
 

IntoDarkness

Active Member
what is risk it? my desk is unfortunately next to an s&t it guy who talks loud and doesnt seem doing any real work. i dont wana talk to him. why is he even on the trading floor? fuck this place
 

MRoss

Well-Known Member
what is risk it? my desk is unfortunately next to an s&t it guy who talks loud and doesnt seem doing any real work. i dont wana talk to him. why is he even on the trading floor? fuck this place
Risk IT = Information Technology for the firm's risk management department. I helped with writing job specs for the developers who wrote the software that the risk team used to generate reports.
 
I am extremely resilient, it’s just hard not to get completely depressed and develop self esteem issues from time to time. I almost missed my graduation cuz I was so busy obsessing over buy-side
 

Onegin

Active Member
C++ Student
Not at all.

Baruch MFE got me into MS Risk IT (which was a huge first step!). I got myself into S&T.

No one else on my team has a master's let alone MFE. They probably don't know what MFE stands for.
To what extent do you think your more technical (math, finance, and cs) training was a factor in your hop? Is the knowledge needed for your work?

Honest questions - not trying to be a d*ck.
 

IntoDarkness

Active Member
buy side job is only good if you are on track to become a pm. i got my info from colleagues who used to work at buy side for non-pm technical roles.
 

MRoss

Well-Known Member
To what extent do you think your more technical (math, finance, and cs) training was a factor in your hop? Is the knowledge needed for your work?
Well, I'm in a very quantitative sales/strat type role so yeah I use Python, VBA, and in general modeling quite a bit. But again, it was all my marketing of myself (and ability to portray my technical prowess), not any degrees or grades that enabled me to make the move.
 

Archidamus

Member
I appreciate the spirited discussions above, this is what I've gleaned:
  • Apply to a boat load of jobs
  • If I'm not getting interest on job applications its because I lack something(s)
  • Identify skills gaps for roles I want and work on closing those gaps
  • Network, network, network
  • Don't be the annoying guy on the trading floor
 

Liam

Active Member
I appreciate the spirited discussions above, this is what I've gleaned:
  • Apply to a boat load of jobs
  • If I'm not getting interest on job applications its because I lack something(s)
  • Identify skills gaps for roles I want and work on closing those gaps
  • Network, network, network
  • Don't be the annoying guy on the trading floor
Apply to a boatload of jobs that are related enough to what you want. You'd be surprised how many people I know that do something daft like do an MFE/MFM then try accountancy thinking they'll be "at an advantage" over other graduates because "they've worked and graduates haven't". I had that smug, dumb advice shoved down my throat as a graduate a lot and anybody that took it never got into quant finance later, which is why I bring it up. I suspect you won't make that mistake. Remember you have a job that uses your skills already, no need for daft, rushed decisions.

As another answer says be useful when networking. It's more of an incremental thing that happens by and by as you keep in touch with people that have seen you in action e.g. I have a client in my freelancing business that I did side projects with through a charity where we teach coding. The most ideal thing is to actively look people to work with on side projects. It's hard to force the issue - maybe cold calling will help. I used to do a cold calling marketing job before being a quant and got good at it, so I know what's needed. You will really need to do something like volunteer for a charity helpline until you can handle any random crap the public throw at you before even considering randomly ringing a senior manager. Whatever approach you have make sure your elevator pitch is solid and you only sell skills you are confident about. Most shitty networking seminars gloss over this, but any prospective line manager will be able to spot bullshit. In fact most juniors with 2-3 years experience will see through BS.

In terms of "annoying guy on the trading floor" I would say think business people and speaking like a business person. What you don't want is someone that meanders when talking and going into tangents and wasting people's time, you want someone that can communicate very quickly and clearly. People usually can learn to be clear with a little effort, but at the expense of not getting things across quickly/with no nonsense - even people from more people oriented disciplines fail on this. When line managers ask about your hobbies they are looking to see if you are no nonsense but can talk like a human at the same time. Also consider what would suit you. Front office is about politics and you're likely to get poor feedback on attention to detail unless you make virtually no mistakes. People who've never set foot in a bank have in the past waved me away with "but you get that in all jobs", yet somehow I never got any poor feedback on attention to detail when in middle office or in other industries, even though my standards are still the same as they were in front office. Also in middle office, your technical ability is valued more, so consider if that's more "you". Some quants I've met are really good with people, others are pencil-knecked inroverted geeks that are more suited to producing libraries of pricers, so it really varies and depends on the person.

Getting back to the original question I would say that your first job can have an enormous impact on your first few years, even as you move on to other companies. Finance is very specialised where you can get tied into a career too tightly, although it can depend on the firm as I have seen people laterally switch when in hedge funds. But getting a mentor that shows you stuff or being in a firm that is ahead of the curve helps. In my first firm I was on a team of 4 and talked to senior management as a junior frequently. I got the first job I went for after 3 years, where the spec said '5 years minimum'. Thing was that my opposite number in a bank would have been on a large team and not doing as much, but my new employers saw that I was up to it and hired me. And by the same token I have come across people that work in a firm where nothing is done right and they are doing glorified admin work instead of developing their career and thus struggle to move on. I'm not sure how common that is as I haven't been in finance for years, but I'd say it's still a hugely variable market.

But long term what matters is networking and communication skills where any good or bad luck with your first job gets cancelled out over time through your own gumption. As your career wears on it becomes more and more about communicating complex ideas to non technical people - this type of communication can in some ways be harder than the communication aspect of sales. And if you have not got the soft skills sales people typically have, it's a double whammy of difficulty.

To be fair, it's not as bad as trying to speak to your idiot relative that couldn't tell a solid elevator pitch apart from a geeky overly technical presentation. Most non-enumerate management I've worked for may have no techncial skills, but they have always, always understood how the business works and responded well if I succinctly related my work to cost and time savings or unlocking revenue potential or freeing up capital.

The thing about being technically trained aswell is that some people you work with cannot see beyond the prejudice that you're just some 'good with numbers but not with soft skills' guy unless your soft skills are of the uber-confident "in your face" variety. I've never come across it in the wokrplace because I've always been careful with who I worked for, so any efforts I made to improve communication skills were well received.
But other quants have not been so lucky eg one guy that I used to work with moved on to become a quant trader in charge of a team. He was fired not for any lack technical skills, nor any lack of soft skills, nor any lack of business acumen. He was fired because he was perceived to be too technically/academically oriented. Reality was he knew the business angle inside out and never let the academic side take over AND could do a TED talk on the spot if asked. Thing is he never made it "in-your-face" obvious and suffered as a result. It was more like, when I worked with him, I'd be thinking "he's really good at presenting, never expected that" after meetings and it took time to see that he was shrewd. Another part of that is picking a good firm - take a hint during the interview process and make a judgement call. Management in that firm sounded like they got triggered by him just using a technical term in a sentence, even if it was clear the point he was making was businessy/marketing in nature and when you get that it's a disaster.
 
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