Q/A with Todd Fahey (Quant Headhunter)

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Hi. I wanted to introduce myself and let the community know that I am here as a potential resource. I have been a quant recruiter for the last 10 years and have learned a lot of the in's and out's of the financial career field. Feel free to ask away for advice, thoughts, questions and/or concerns as they pertain to getting into the field or making a career move from a headhunter's perspective. I am new to this site, but some of you may know me. I look forward to being a contributing member to this community.
 

Andy Nguyen

Member
Hi Todd,
Welcome to QN and glad to see you here.
Were you previously with Options Group ? Which product space are you recruiting now ? Do you work with any specific group of firms ?

Also, given the current market conditions, do you notice any cutback on hiring in any specific field at any specific firm, etc ? My questions would pertain to MFE graduates that will be on the market in a couple of months.

Thanks, Todd
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Yes, I used to run the quant and technical recruiting practice at Options Group. I am no longer affiliated with Options Group and haven't been for the last 1.5 years.

I still recruit in the same areas: quantitative analysis and research, quantitative / automated / systematic trading, software engineers and quant developers and risk.

I work with investment banks, hedge funds and prop trading firms. Per my contracts, I am not allowed to disclose those firms in this forum.

Amazingly, all of my clients are still hiring in the junior to mid-level experience bands. I have not seen any particular product area that is "closing" its hiring due to market conditions, however the timing is pretty bad. At this time of year, hiring slows to a crawl in preparation for next years hiring needs.

The best advice I can give to those getting their MFE's or thinking about going after one is to learn C and/or C++. Matlab, R, SAS, etc. are fine for rapid development, but none of the larger or better known firms will really look at you without having at least basic knowledge and command of one of these two languages (although you might be able to make a case for Java...).

Again, thanks for having me here and feel free to ask me anything. Cheers.
 

Andy Nguyen

Member
Thanks for the info, Todd

Now that we got the meet and greet part over with, let's get down to business. Here are couple of questions I'm sure the members here like to know. If there is any specific question, they probably will ask here or send you a private message

1) What is the whole process of going through a recruiter ? Is there any prep work involved ? I ask because as far as I know, most MFE in our program got offers directly from the banks and few through recruiters. It seems to me there are positions (specially in the experienced band) that the only way to get to the hiring manager is through recruiter. Would you care to elaborate on how you go about recruiting ?

2) I'm glad you pointed out the importance of C++. Trust me when I say in Baruch MFE program, we put a lot of emphasis on C++ in our admission process and during the program. However, there are plenty of cases where our graduates end up working in structured finance, risk management space where they only deal with VBA/Excel. Would that be the only space where C++ competency is not needed ? What would you tell those who think they can get a job without knowing programming in general really well ?

3) I understand that recruiters don't disclose their contacts but how would a potential recruit learn about an open opportunity at a specific firm in a specific location (Asia for example) ? I imagine there must be some matching process involved.

Thanks for your insightful info, Todd.
 

Dmytro

Member
Welcome aboard, Todd,

as a new student, i agree with Andy about the strong emphasis on C++ -- there's probably not a single class in the program that doesn't require c++ coding.

While it's nice of you to offer your advice, i must warn you - ours is a very dynamic and vibrant community, and you might get overwhelmed with inquiries ;]
cheers,

dmytro
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Ok, let's get these answered:
1) What is the whole process of going through a recruiter ? Is there any prep work involved ? I ask because as far as I know, most MFE in our program got offers directly from the banks and few through recruiters. It seems to me there are positions (specially in the experienced band) that the only way to get to the hiring manager is through recruiter. Would you care to elaborate on how you go about recruiting ?
Answer: Your best bet of going to a recruiter (aside from them finding you, obviously) is to utilize your network. Find out who your friends/colleagues/peers have used and how that process was for them. Ask who was the most helpful, honest (a biggie and hard to find) and least afraid to tell you bad news (like you're not getting the job and the REAL reason why/why not). MOST IMPORTANT - always know who has your resume and where it will be sent - including the person/group to whom it is being sent. If the HH (headhunter) is sending you in only via a vendor portal, odds are they won't have any real "sway" on the client. How do I go about recruiting? Honestly, after 10+ years in the business, I don't really look for candidates any more. The majority of my business is referred to me from my current and former clients and from numerous friends in the field. I also maintain connections with a variety of educational institutions and their faculty to see "fresh" inbound talent.

2) I'm glad you pointed out the importance of C++. Trust me when I say in Baruch MFE program, we put a lot of emphasis on C++ in our admission process and during the program. However, there are plenty of cases where our graduates end up working in structured finance, risk management space where they only deal with VBA/Excel. Would that be the only space where C++ competency is not needed ? What would you tell those who think they can get a job without knowing programming in general really well ?
Answer: Most newbies to the field have grand visions of working in an academic oriented environment where much of the work is theoretical and written out on white boards. Any of you here that believe that, I have some bad news for you... The reality is, like it or not, much of what a quant/financial engineer does involves coding. The better coder you are, the easier it is for you to transition into a quant group at a bank or fund. If you come from a non-numerate undergrad (finance, economics, etc.), you had best enroll yourself in a couple of courses of C or, preferably, C++ prior to receiving your MFE. You will find some groups that don't require C or C++ expertise, but they are not the norm. However, I do concede that in structuring roles, Matlab, R, SAS, S+, VBA/Excel tend to do the job just fine. The answer to your final question is - if you believe you don't have to be a solid programmer, I wish you luck. Just don't call me.

3) I understand that recruiters don't disclose their contacts but how would a potential recruit learn about an open opportunity at a specific firm in a specific location (Asia for example) ? I imagine there must be some matching process involved.
Answer: The unfortunate part is that it really is somewhat of a crap shoot. I work globally, but I only have a small amount of clients. Some HH's believe in the shotgun mentality - spread as wide as possible, but they tend not to have any "real" relationships and tend also not to be very good. If anyone is looking to be in a specific geography, feel free to ping me and I'll let you know if I can help (I place people in Europe and Asia, too). If I can't, there are two top-notch recruiters in London I can recommend and one in Hong Kong. We are still looking to build our practice into those markets, but I can't say as to when exactly I'll have that capacity.

Hope this helps. For anything more specific, just ask.
 

Andy Nguyen

Member
Very informative response, Todd. You should change the thread title to "Q/A with Todd Fahey" instead of "Hello" :)
I like when you go straight to the point and answer without a pair of rosy glasses on ;)

I have some questions in general that our members may like to know. We appreciate your time answering them

1) What would be the best way for an entry-level MFE grad to get an interview with hiring managers ? Applicants can apply to a job via the firm's website (going through HR), inquire with a contact in that firm, going to HH, etc...

Someone already working on Wall Street would have more options than a fresh graduate. What would you advise MFE graduates looking to break in the industry ?

2) What qualifications are you looking for from MFE graduates ? We have various levels of experience here but the common ones are
a) fresh graduates with quantitative background,
b) experienced IT professionals going to the finance space,
c) finance professionals trying to update their quant skills to move to front desks,
d) all others

I'd like to know what you look for specially in group a) and b) since that's majority of people who do MFE degrees these days.

3) Now there seems to be an abuse of and confusion about the term "quant". From a HH's perspective, what do you qualify as a "quant" ? Does one necessarily need a PhD to be called "quant" ?

I personally could care less about what I will be called but I have seen way too many questions about this that I'd like to have a better understanding of the use of it so I can be more informed.

4) From your experience placing people on WS, what stories/lessons/mistakes from your recruits that you like to share with us. What are the most common mistakes, tricks ? This questions focus on the quant space only.

Thanks very much, Todd.
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Picking up from my original thread, let's get back to the Q/A session...

1) What would be the best way for an entry-level MFE grad to get an interview with hiring managers ? Applicants can apply to a job via the firm's website (going through HR), inquire with a contact in that firm, going to HH, etc...

Answer: the best way is to know someone personally that can "grease the wheels". Barring that, I have to assume that you have some career fairs where companies come on-campus to interview. Third, and this isn't easy, find a headhunter that is willing and able to represent you. Many companies do not pay recruiters to find them entry-level talent, so you may have trouble getting much exposure this way. Finally, and least helpful, apply to the company via their website. You need to understand, though, that the people that are screening resumes may or may not have the capacity to really understand what it is that you bring to the table and you may be overlooked unfairly. Whatever way you choose to get your introduction, make sure you know EXACTLY who has your resume. If you send your resume to a friend at a bank and he is unable to get anything accomplished for you, you may be hurting yourself if you happen to also work with a headhunter who has a relationship with that institution. If a bank/fund has your resume and a headhunter then tries to introduce you to his network of managers in the same area, odds are that you will NOT get an interview because they may feel you're gaming the system.

Someone already working on Wall Street would have more options than a fresh graduate. What would you advise MFE graduates looking to break in the industry ?

Answer: Read more and network. There are a number of places available to get yourself involved and to meet others in the industry. I'm a huge fan of Nuclear Phynance (http://www.nuclearphynance.com/). It is a global forum built and maintained by quants, software engineers and quant traders. If you decide to check it out, read many of the threads before asking any questions or giving your opinion. Many of the folks in this site have little sense of humor for those who have little or no initiative.

2) What qualifications are you looking for from MFE graduates ? We have various levels of experience here but the common ones are
a) fresh graduates with quantitative background,
b) experienced IT professionals going to the finance space,
c) finance professionals trying to update their quant skills to move to front desks,
d) all others

Answer: You have no idea how tough of a question this is to answer. Right or wrong, there are a group of usual suspects that I - and every other headhunter and hiring manager - look for: numerate undergrad degree from a top university, at least a basic exposure to programming (depending on experience level) and something that differentiates you from the herd. You need to understand - I am not in the "job placement" industry. I don't get paid to find someone a "job". My clients pay me to find the best talent. Period. To be even more fair and honest, most people don't pass my bar to be presented to my clients. It's a tough fact, but I don't make the rules. There is a reason why Goldman Sachs, DE Shaw, Renaissance and others of this caliber have the reputations they have - they hire extremely selectively. I, however, don't discriminate. I read every resume and, when warranted, will converse with those candidates I believe have a solid chance of being hired by one of my clients. This question can take up quite a bit more space, so I'll end my answer here. If anyone would like further clarification, ask me.

I'd like to know what you look for specially in group a) and b) since that's majority of people who do MFE degrees these days.

Answer: See above.

3) Now there seems to be an abuse of and confusion about the term "quant". From a HH's perspective, what do you qualify as a "quant" ? Does one necessarily need a PhD to be called "quant" ?

I personally could care less about what I will be called but I have seen way to many questions about this that I'd like to have a better understanding of the use of it so I can be more informed.

Answer: From my perspective, a quant need not have a PhD - and I know many who don't. Ask me this question again as it relates to you. Are you talking about a quant who would reside on a desk? A "research" quant like those at Bloomberg or in academia? Or do you refer to thos who are developing quantitative trading strategies?

4) From your experience placing people on WS, what stories/lessons/mistakes from your recruits that you like to share with us. What are the most common mistakes, tricks ? This questions focus on the quant space only.

Answer: Do you ever ask any easy questions?!!! There are many stories, lessons and mistakes that could take up all of my bandwidth for today, but I'll address what you and others probably feel is the most important. What are the "tricks"? The answer is easy: there are none. I will quote you what a friend of mine told me long ago (he's now a partner in a global quant strategies team): there is no way to prepare for an interview with us. You either know it and can convey your smarts or you can't. You need to be able to defend anything and everything on your resume in intimate detail. You need to be able to think on the fly and be prepared to give a reasonable and well-thought answer to questions in areas where you may have had no exposure to in the past. Is it fair? Hell no! But that's the way it is...
 

Andy Nguyen

Member
Todd,
Thanks again for the thorough response. I definitely didn't mean to pull your teeth with those questions after your visit to the dentist ;)

I posted the link to this Q/A on other quant forums so hopefully I will not be the only one asking the questions. Till then, I hope you bear with my questions

1) What is your take on the online job site such as dice/monster/hotjobs/ and specialty such as quanster/efinancejobs/etc ?
The advantage I see is its accessibility. Too accessible that I removed my resume a month after receiving tons of email advertising my ideal jobs doing technical review/math tutoring/database entry/cleaning

2) How big personality plays in the hiring decision ? Everyone works on Wall Street is smart (well almost everyone) but at what point a PITA-to-work-with/smarter combination trumps over pleasant-to-work-with/smart ? From your experience, is there any preferred combination or mentality about this at all ?

3) You are Chicago-based so prospectives in others locations would have a disadvantage because the lack of one-on-one consulting ? Do you have affiliates in other locations ?

This is off-topic: You mentioned Nuclear Phynance and put it very lightly. I frequent Willmot, NP, and every quant forum out there and the first two in my opinion are not the most friendly out there :)
I hope Quantnet won't turn into one like that as we attract more experienced folks.
 

alain

Older and Wiser
Hi Todd,

Thanks for all your answers. I have some more of my own.

How is the balance of placement between big firms (like investment banks) and small firms (small boutiques or hedge funds)?

What do you recommend for a recent MFE graduate a small firm or a big firm?

There are a lot of Quantnet members trying to switch careers, do you have a specific suggetion(s) for us?
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Answer: While I don't dispute that NP and Wilmott tend to be a little "brash", if you will, I will say that if you just pay attention to the underlying content -and don't involve yourself in the verbal warfare that goes on - they have some great stuff for people just getting into the game. To be fair, I really only pay attention to NP because they pretty much interact in a similar fashion as me - they don't sugarcoat anything.;)
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Hi Todd,

Thanks for all your answers. I have some more of my own.

How is the balance of placement between big firms (like investment banks) and small firms (small boutiques or hedge funds)?

Answer: I'm not sure I understand the question... If you mean is it "easier" to get into one or the other, I suggest the answer is a qualified "yes". The trick lies in "how good are you - really?". Few people that I have met get offers from every place they interview with. The answer lies within: what do you want to do, where do you want your career trajectory to be and what kind of person are you? From that, you can start sorting.

What do you recommend for a recent MFE graduate a small firm or a big firm?

Answer: I recommend a recent grad to go to the best place for them. The size of the bank or fund should not have a bearing. The people that will be leading you, mentoring you and your team should be the driving factors.

There are a lot of Quantnet members trying to switch careers, do you have a specific suggetion(s) for us?
Answer: By switching careers, you would need to give me more info before I can even begin to make a recommendation. For example, if you're currently a software engineer for Microsoft or Sun Microsystems, I could certainly give some solid ideas and opinions. If you're working as an accountant for the IRS, I mat have a little trouble - but you never know...;)
 

Vadim

Member
The lack of information is the worst that can happen to us.
We could find the information in this thread ourselves, but it would take us months or even years to do it and the result would be sad.
Todd, THANK YOU very much for helping our qantnet community.

I also have a couple of questions:
1. What is your forecast for the job market (and quant job market in particular) for the next two-five years?
How is the current job market, based not on seasonality but rather on the overall economic condition?
Is it really as bad because of economics’ slowdown and loan crisis as we read in the Wall Street Journal?
2. What is the parity between demand and supply on quant job market?

Thank you
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Vadim,

Here's my thoughts - and, you're welcome.

I also have a couple of questions:
1. What is your forecast for the job market (and quant job market in particular) for the next two-five years?
Answer: I predict that the need for hiring in the quant market will continue to grow - and for much longer than 5 years. The number of people graduating at the BA / BS level in technical and mathematical disciplines has been declining over the last 5 years. As such, demand is going to spike each year over the previous year. Further, as markets continue to become more liquid and more electronic - I see the growth as phenomenal.
How is the current job market, based not on seasonality but rather on the overall economic condition?
Answer: This is a tough one due to my own opinions. If you want to go down this road, let's start a separate thread. Effectively, the "current job market" is almost always a function of sentiment. As such, there is the "feel" for the job market tightening up. However, we're not talking about manual labor here. People in this field have an in-demand skill set and there is a year-round desire to hire - particularly at the entry and junior levels.
Is it really as bad because of economics' slowdown and loan crisis as we read in the Wall Street Journal?
Answer: Do you believe everything you read? :-k
2. What is the parity between demand and supply on quant job market?
Answer: To my knowledge, parity hasn't been reached and I would highly doubt it ever will. You have to look at things in context. What's the difference between a right-handed pitcher in the majors vis-a-vis a right-handed pitcher playing AAA? Probably not a huge difference in most cases - but, if you're a fan, you still want to see the player who made it past AAA ball. Comparatively, how do you quantify "smart"? It's an intangible that everyone looks for and few have. It's for that reason that a DE Shaw or a Goldman Sachs (or multiple other firms with solid quantitative reputations) will interview 20 or 30 people to every hire they make. And, frankly, the supply just isn't there.

Todd
 

kshatriya

New Member
hi todd,

I was interested in pursuing MS in Finance from IIT-Stuart as the programme is less maths intensive and more finance and programming.
How do you graduates coming out from the school or would you recommend some other school for this program.


I have heard that the program has visibility only in Chicago area. Do you think that I being an international student will suffer more.?
How do you rate MFE program of University of chicago in this regard.
 

RexKwonjo

New Member
Hey, great thread and thanks for answering all these questions.

I really only have 1 question since I'm a senior UG math and applied math double major. What are my prospects of entering the field of mathematical finance given that I only have experience as a mathematician? I have only taken 1 course in Java programming and zero courses in finance. I have taken courses in mathematical probability, mathematical statistics, stochastic processes, along with many other pure math courses (Differential geometry, topology, abstract algebra, complex analysis, even researching General Relativity). I understand many many MFE programs really want all their applicants to have good C++, VBA, etc. skills, I have none at the moment and the way my senior year is setup, I won't be able to take any programming or finance courses.
 

joe_bradley

Member
Hi,

A specific question from me, and an aside.

Todd, when Alain asked about career-switching, you indicated the advice would have to depend on what we're doing now. I'm more interested in this. As for myself, I have a heavy programming background (about 15 years exp. w/ Phd). I know there are a lot of other students who have several years as programmers and have engineering backgrounds, so any advice you have for me would be applicable to some degree for them.

RexKwonjo, your question sounds like one that other MFE students can better answer, so you may want to restart an old thread on this subject or start a new one. I suspect that your lack of programming experience will hurt you more than any lack of finance background (I had close to zero myself). Perhaps in that thread, some other MFE students who have entered the program with little programming background can say how they coped with the challenge. There is also the periodic chats for prospective applicants, and that can also give you some idea of what you are in for.


Joe
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
I have heard that the program has visibility only in Chicago area. Do you think that I being an international student will suffer more.?
How do you rate MFE program of University of chicago in this regard.
Answer: Interesting question in that I was recently addressing the same question in the Nuclear Phynance forum. Effectively, an MFE from Stuart or De Paul (they have one now, too) are really only recognizable in Chicago. I know a couple of the professors at IIT and they're pretty good practitioners. Unfortunately, neither program holds a candle to the University of Chicago's MFE program. Right, wrong or indifferent, you have to deal with realities of market perception. If you want instantly recognizable cachet with an MFE degree, you go to Chicago, U Michigan, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, or - to some degree - NYU. Other schools that offer these programs - IIT, De Paul, Baruch, Kent State, Tulsa - to name a few, just don't carry the same rate of perception. That's not to say that the instruction is any less valid, but there is definitely truth in "you get what you pay for". To continue this vein of thought, I think that if it were my money - and you have the capacity academically to get into these schools - I would go to one of the "name brands". The alumni network/connections alone are worth the price over the course of one's career.

Regarding your being an international student, assuming you have good communication skills in English (verbal and written), that becomes a non-issue. Smarts knows no nationality...
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
I really only have 1 question since I'm a senior UG math and applied math double major. What are my prospects of entering the field of mathematical finance given that I only have experience as a mathematician? I have only taken 1 course in Java programming and zero courses in finance. I have taken courses in mathematical probability, mathematical statistics, stochastic processes, along with many other pure math courses (Differential geometry, topology, abstract algebra, complex analysis, even researching General Relativity). I understand many many MFE programs really want all their applicants to have good C++, VBA, etc. skills, I have none at the moment and the way my senior year is setup, I won't be able to take any programming or finance courses.
Answer: I would say that if you are smart, you should be able to pick up the concepts of finance (in a broad sense) rather quickly and be able to learn the concepts and structure of C++ (at least the basics of the syntax) rather quickly, as well. My best advice to you - read like there's no tomorrow. Read "Heard on the Street" by Timothy Falcon-Crack, Options, Futures and Other Derivatives by John Hull and a myriad of other books on mathematical finance (Duffie, Jarrow, Morton, etc.). Check out "Numerical Recipes in C++" and see if you can apply some of what you learned in your Java class to C++. Effectively, nobody expects you to be an expert in C++ or finance walking in the door straight from school. They do, however, expect you to take some initiative in trying to figure out why the hell you're thinking of doing mathematical finance for a career before your resume is even sent to them...
 

Todd Fahey

Quant Recruiter
Todd, when Alain asked about career-switching, you indicated the advice would have to depend on what we're doing now. I'm more interested in this. As for myself, I have a heavy programming background (about 15 years exp. w/ Phd). I know there are a lot of other students who have several years as programmers and have engineering backgrounds, so any advice you have for me would be applicable to some degree for them. Joe
Joe,

In general, someone with a PhD (or any level of education in these fields, actually) in Computer Science or Computer Engineering is of interest to me. What exactly is your question? If your wondering about what kind of career path exists for you in finance, there are several possibilities: a financial engineering role where you work on the desk alongside quants putting models that are created into trading and risk systems; a more quantitative/ modeling role (assuming your math hasn't gone to rust over the last 15 years) or perhaps a role in the more business-oriented areas of IT and/or risk management systems. If you're looking for something more specific, send me an email directly (todd.fahey@wsollc.com). Cheers.

Todd
 
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