• C++ Programming for Financial Engineering
    Highly recommended by thousands of MFE students. Covers essential C++ topics with applications to financial engineering. Learn more Join!
    Python for Finance with Intro to Data Science
    Gain practical understanding of Python to read, understand, and write professional Python code for your first day on the job. Learn more Join!
    An Intuition-Based Options Primer for FE
    Ideal for entry level positions interviews and graduate studies, specializing in options trading arbitrage and options valuation models. Learn more Join!

How to get a quant job at Citadel: "There's no online coding test"

If you want to get a quant job at most large financial services employers today, you'll need to pass an online coding test first. These tests, from companies like HackerRank and Codility have become gateways to the industry. However, they're often deeply unpopular with candidates who are compelled to spend hours refining their ability to pass them, even when the problems involved bear little resemblance to the job they applied to.

But not all companies use online tests to qualify candidates. Citadel, the multistrategy hedge fund with more than $50bn in assets under management, sidesteps them altogether for most quant candidates.

"I had four rounds of technical interviews with my future team members and three rounds of interviews with senior management," says He Li, a quantitative researcher in Citadel's Hong Kong global quantitative strategies group who joined this month after an internship in Hong Kong last summer. "There was no online coding test, but I was asked to do some real time coding during my technical interviews."

Unusually for finance employers now, Citadel has largely eschewed automated hiring tools and utilises online coding tests only for software engineering candidates. Matt Mitro, the global head of graduate recruitment for Citadel says its process is "traditional." "At the moment, we don’t do any of the scaled assessments that other organizations do. We want people to have an opportunity to meet with us," he told eFinancialCareers last November.

A rigorous interview process

In place of prescreening coding tests, would-be quants at Citadel face a rigorous interview process peopled by humans. Li applied for an internship after completing a PhD in statistics at NYU Stern and a bachelor's in pure and applied mathematics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Alongside the real-time face-to-face coding tests in his interview, he says he was asked some "very indepth questions" about the research he conducted for his PhD.

Le's PhD entailed an investigation into the inner workings of black box deep learning models, including a quantification of the uncertainty they entail and an examination of their efficiency. It then proposed algorithms that are efficient both in terms of computational requirements and memory and that can maintain their accuracy in large datasets.

"I gave some very detailed answers," says Li. "The interview was actually quite enjoyable - the people interviewing me weren't professors of statistics but they had their own expertise in the area, and we had a good conversation about the high level principles of my analysis. They asked about cultural aspects too - they were interested in my research style and how I collaborate with colleagues."

The Citadel quant internship

Li says he had an opportunity to put some of the things he'd learned during the PhD into practice during the subsequent internship.

"I conducted two projects at Citadel during the summer. One project was highly correlated with my academic research."

As with most Citadel internships, Li says he spent the first week in a hotel with the other interns. This was an opportunity to bond with the team and included lunches and dinners with traders and technologists, and was supplemented by coaching on communication styles.

The internship ended in a presentation to the whole department. "Team members and senior management listened to my presentation on what I'd been doing in my two projects," says Li. "My managers were already familiar with my progress, but it was an opportunity to explain it to everyone else and engage with the business leadership." One of his projects has since gone into production.

Joining full time

Li joined Citadel in a full time role at the start of January '23. As a quant strategist in the equities team, he uses machine learning to parse data for investment opportunities. "In Hong Kong, our primary focus is Asia emerging markets, but we operate worldwide.”

Coding tests and traditional interview questions are next to useless. They bias hiring towards individuals who have just one skill -- acing technical interviews. Those hires often turn out to be disasters. The most productive hires are the ones who can talk in depth about projects they've worked on, discuss the hurdles they faced, and how they solved the problems. It's good to see that more firms are starting to recognize this.