Q&A: I’m a sales trader at a tier 1 HFT / prop firm

I've derived an incredible amount of information from this site over the years. And frankly I wouldn't be where I am today without it. So with that said I'd be happy to offer an AMA about my rise to where I am now, it has been a long and difficult path indeed.

Quick background details:
*the most non-target of non-targets
*Worked in LevFin at a Euro BB (CS/DB/Barc)
*Didnt like it much and switched to S&T at a tier 1 BB (JPM/GS/MS)
*Jumped to the buyside (kinda?) at a prominent HFT firm that plays a major role in current market infrastructure

AMA - if I could make it here anyone can. The primary theme in my career has been an insane amount of networking and just being a cool / normal person when you meet people.

Discussing your LBO skills or a canned routine will quickly get you nowhere. Be likable, sharp, polished, and smart (most importantly act natural) and even if you come from a non-target that nobody has ever heard of.. you'll do well. Don't beat yourself up or stress about it too much. Accept where you are and work with it. Tbh nobody cares about your college after 2-3 years in your role...

I don't think it's an overt goal of this site or the community here, but WSO tends to create an image that without (NE prep -> Ivy -> GS TMT -> Sequoia) you're a failure that's doomed to
$30k/yr in internal audit at General Motors... that isn't the case, you guys have the power to decide where you want to take your career and where you want to work. Your career is in your own hands, but you have to start networking early in order to derive the best results from
networking. Also you should know what you want to do. Once you have these items you'll be on track to crush it.

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Comments (28)

Jun 8, 2021 - 9:13pm

Of course, happy to do it.

1. When I was in undergrad, I built out a list of approximately 350 people that I identified through LinkedIn research to have something in common with me. Often times it was school alum. Because my school wasn't a target, a good amount of these people had only attended my institution for MBAs or other post-graduate degrees but I found that a lot of them were still willing to speak with me and provide insight/advice. After identification, I attempted to reach out to their work emails through common email conventions and by using a tool to check if emails exist. If I wasn't able to figure out what their work emails were I reached out to them through LinkedIn as a last resort. Through that list of names, I was actually able to get in touch with the contact that ultimately helped me to get my role at the BB in LevFin.

2. IMO the biggest things to keep in mind for interviews are adequate preparation and to act natural and calm during the interview. Ahead of all my interviews I make it a point to study relevant materials as if I am preparing for an exam. Some examples of such materials are: the interview guides on this website, relevant WSO forum posts, and the vault guide if applicable. Regarding being calm and natural, I see this as a differentiating factor between those who are able to manage their nerves in stressful situations and those who aren't, more specifically it speaks to your command of interpersonal skills and ability to maintain a clear head even when getting grilled. Bonus points if you can pick this up early, because the younger you are, the less likely your peers have mastered this skill yet.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
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Jun 7, 2021 - 9:38pm

Hey, no problem at all. Happy to pay it forward after WSO helped me immensely over the past few years.

I actually don't know of anyone at my firm on the trading side that joined post-MBA. That isn't to say that it would be a bad background to come from, it just isn't as common in PT/HFT as it would be in other buyside roles like PE/HF. I imagine this owes itself to the fact that our business doesn't require as much operational or traditional management skills as one needs at certain types of HFs (like activist shops) or PE shops to an even larger extent (analyzing corporate structures and operational efficiencies is much more central to these roles). I have seen some people in the business pursue part-time MBAs while working as something nice to have, but not necessarily as a prerequisite to success in the space.

My experience was probably different from the common HFT interview experience because I am on the sales trading side. However, while it was certainly technical I'd say that 50-60% of the interview focused on soft skills and ability to grow a profitable book of business. The idea is to be able to know enough to talk markets, flows, and recent events  with traders and PMs at HFs, Banks, and asset managers without looking like an idiot while also not necessarily needing to be "in the weeds" of the most granular aspects of the market.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
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Jun 7, 2021 - 9:51pm

Happy to do this Q&A!

1. My move from LevFin to S&T was actually almost borne out of necessity rather than a decision that I made while hard at work in my LevFin role. A few years ago I worked in LevFin at a BB that shut down a number of its US offices and coverage groups. As a result, I was forced to look for a new gig. During my job search I interviewed with and received offers for a number of LevFin roles at competing BBs. As I neared my decision about which role I was going to choose, I came across a posting for an S&T role at the BB I ultimately landed at from a local young professionals network. Despite not having a background in S&T (aside from a junior year internship with an energy company) I was able to secure the role by preparing pretty intensely (I used the S&T interview guide on this site and the vault guide on S&T to prepare). The move turned out to take some adjustment, the hours were certainly shorter, but the pace of the work was faster. After the initial 6mo adjustment however, I started to get a good feel for how to perform well in the role and never looked back. I enjoy the ever changing role of the position, each day is different. In LevFin I often felt like the deals I worked on were too similar to one another and the job started to feel monotonous. Not knocking on LevFin or capital markets work in general, but it just wasn't really my cup of tea.

2. Nope, no other credentials at the moment. CFAs seem to be less common on the PT/HFT side than they are in more traditional forms of portfolio management. I have considered going for an MBA though, like I said above, it isn't really necessary but it is definitely nice to have -- especially if you decide down the line that you'd like to do something other than trading.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
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  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Other
Jun 7, 2021 - 6:45am

Thanks for doing this.

  1. Are you in America, Europe, or Asia?
  2. Roughly YoE at your current firm?
  3. What do you consider Tier 1 HFT / Prop Firm?
  4. Difference between sales traders and (presumably) quant traders at your firm?
Jun 8, 2021 - 9:31pm

1. I am based in the Americas

2. No comment

3. There are a number of lists on this website that do a good job of aggregating the top names in the space and many, of course, have significant overlap. I guess I'd consider Tier 1 firms as ones that have significant market share in the niche asset classes that they specialize in, are known names industry-wide, contribute to innovation in market structure and the provision of liquidity, have a global presence to some extent and a large employee/talent base.

4. Sales traders at my shop function in a similar capacity to sales traders at a bank. They interface with end users of financial products on a day to day basis and provide them with liquidity while also pursing a mandate to maintain strong relationships with these end users. Said end users are comprised of banks, hedge funds, asset managers, and corporate firms. Where it differs from a bank, is that there is a lot more interaction with the trading team and a stronger expectation to be aware of markets and the desk's strategy than there would be for sales traders at a bank, who essentially copy and paste bid/offer spreads from traders into chats with their clients and generally only have a high level understanding of the desk's strategy, with more of their time focused on synthesizing the firm's research to frame discussions with clients.

Quant traders on the other hand have very limited exposure to counterparties and are chiefly focused on managing their desk's book as risk flows into it from HFT / electronic market making in addition to risk from brokered markets and the sales-trading desk. Quant traders are expected to manage the quoting systems that are constantly quoting the exchange and raise / lower (and tighten/widen) pricing as feedback rolls in from the market's reaction to its quotes alongside news and market events.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
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Jun 7, 2021 - 7:35am

Thanks for doing this.

Could you please elaborate on why you didn't like Lev Fin and what prompted the move to S&T?

Jun 7, 2021 - 9:03am

Great post! The overarching theme is so true. After 30+ yrs of professional experience, I would definitely agree the most important "skill" you can have in order to navigate a successful career is a combination of work ethic, reliability / dependability, and being a good guy/team player. Being someone others want to be around is very important. Knowledge and technical skills will come over time. Regardless of what you think yo know when you graduate, you essentially know nothing relative to the job / career. It's all learned so being a quick study is also big.

Essentially, you want to be that guy/gal that superiors go to  get things done quickly and accurately while being a nice / fun person. We don't care how good you are if you're a jerk.

Jun 7, 2021 - 12:08pm

Thank you for giving back and answering our questions.

Finance is known to be pedigree-driven (there are exceptions). My questions pertain to breaking in:

1) What advice would you give for those whose work background is not related to finance, 5+ years out of college? Pursuing STEM Masters (not MBA)?

2) In your opinion, what are realistic exit opportunities, if any, for prop traders? What skills carry over, soft or hard skills?

3) How did you stand out when networking?

Thank you

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Jun 7, 2021 - 9:55pm

Gotta hop for tonight guys, I'll get to all of these other questions over the coming days. Appreciate the participation and if I haven't answered you I'll get back soon.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
Jun 8, 2021 - 9:33pm

Tapping out again here guys, will get to more questions as the week progresses. Thanks again to all for your questions.

"Well, you know, I was a human being before I became a businessman." -- George Soros
  • VP in S&T - FI
Jun 12, 2021 - 11:21am

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