What makes a successful junior trader?
I've been asked before what it takes to get a junior trader role on my desk, and there seems to be a prevalence of topics on the forums about how to secure a job as a junior trader. Having once been a junior trader, and now having hired and trained a few throughout my career, I feel fairly qualified to answer that question. When I'm interviewing candidates, these are the things that I'm looking for. This list is likely not comprehensive since each candidate is unique and each interview is different, but when I think about the ideal candidate, this is what I picture. Others may have different opinions and I can't guarantee that this list will get you a job, but here you go:
The Ability to Work Independently
There are certain things I can teach you and certain things I can't. How to look at markets and make the right decisions, how to handle common problems, how to execute properly--these are things that I can teach. What I can't teach is your ability to operate independently in an environment that requires the ability to think fast, make decisions, and take responsibility for your decisions. If I give you something to do, I don't want to have to check in on you every 30 minutes to make sure you're doing it. I just want it done.
You Fit in Well With the Team
As much as you need to operate independently, you also need to fit in with the desk. The dynamic on every desk I've worked on is very family-like--you have to be able to disagree and be in conflict while at the same time still respecting and getting along with everyone. If I bring you on board, I'm bringing you into that family dynamic. I'm not expecting you to fit into the dynamic right away, but I do want to know if your personality can handle that type of environment.
You Have Strong Math and Excel Skills
I'm not going to ask you to do calculus in your head, but I need people who can quickly do conversions from metric tons to short tons to bushels to pounds and back again without having to look up what the conversion rates are or look at charts. If you have a customer who's bidding in bushels and our pricing is in metric tons, you better not book it and have me find out later that you didn't do the math right. The same goes for being able to quickly calculate freight costs--you need to know how much product goes into each type of conveyance for twenty or so different products.
The same goes for Excel skills. You don't need to be a genius, but we do a huge amount of work in Excel to keep track of our freight spreads, shipment schedules, control sheets, and positions. Some of your first tasks on the desk will be keeping track of those spreadsheets, updating them, and sometimes rebuilding them. I don't have time to teach those skills to you.
You Can Handle Being Overwhelmed at Work
I call this the fire hose analogy--the amount of information I'm going to give you is like me turning on a fire hose and shooting it at you full-blast. You don't have to take everything in all at once, but you do need to catch some of it each and every day. You will be overwhelmed, likely the majority of the time. You have to be willing to accept the fact that you aren't going to know everything about everything right away and not let that scenario burn you out.
You Demonstrate Integrity at Work
I don't ever want to catch you lying to me, one of our customers, one of our suppliers, one of our freight carriers, management, or anyone. I don't ever want to catch you drawer trading. I don't ever want to hear that there is even an inkling of a question about your reputation in the marketplace. I'm placing a huge degree of trust in you--I'm giving you the opportunity to interact with counterparties whose relationships have been carefully cultivated and maintained. I have to trust that you'll treat these people with honesty and integrity. If you give me any reason to question your integrity in the interview process, I'm not hiring you.
You Realize You Know Very Little and Want To Learn
I have yet to come across any penultimate resource or combination of resources that can teach you how to trade physical commodities short of spending time on a trading floor and learning from the people around you. Although there are some excellent texts on the theory and basis of ag trading and physical trading in general, there is absolutely zero substitute for experience. I don't expect you to come in knowing all the answers, jargon, and buzzwords. I'm looking for people with an actual interest in the industry who want to take the time to learn the right way--slowly and one step at a time.
Owning Up to Mistakes
You will impress me more during the interview if you can share a genuine story of a time you took a risk, failed, and learned something from it than you will by telling me how smart and amazing you are. I know you are going to make mistakes--what can't tell from your resume is how you're going to react to making them. My two biggest fears when I bring you onto the desk are that you will make mistakes and be paralyzed by failure, or that you will make mistakes, not learn from them, and make the same ones over and over again. I have to be convinced that you won't fall into either of those two categories if I'm going to hire you.
Hopefully this helps some of you who are trying to break into the business. Contributions to the list are always welcome from my peers in the industry, as is any feedback from recent candidates. Good luck to all of you who are seeking positions in the industry--we're always looking for talented people.
Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday - this was originally posted 3/11/14