(Physical trading) What is considered an 'acceptable' story for why trading?

Appley's picture
Rank: Gorilla | 559

Hi again, my question today for physical traders is what is considered an "acceptable" story? I understand selling one's story for why you want to go into commodities is a good way for traders to see if someone has the drive to succeed, but I want to know what makes someone's story sound ridiculous versus what makes a story sound reasonable.

More specifically, when I was trying to convey why I wanted to go into physical trading on the phone with traders, I felt like I sounded a bit ridiculous, even eccentric, and that the traders couldn't take me seriously (or if I even came off super weird to them, hopefully that wasn't the case). While reflecting over each phone call, I sometimes thought about just using a more stretched out story to explain why I want to go into physical trading instead of going with my more honest story. I entertained the thought but I immediately came to a problem that I can't see past without outside input,

Should my story revolve around what traders actually DO and make it sound like this is the most exciting thing ever for me -- which in turn will make me seem fake and almost dishonest? I imagine this kind of story is almost tautological "oh I'm interested in trading because it's so interesting" -- except replace trading with a rundown of what traders do.

or

Should I stick with my original story and risk turning off some traders? I, personally, wanted to go into trading because of the impact it has (I'll keep it at that). I'm a little wary of posting my actual reason for trying to get into physical trading (don't want to expose myself) so I'll leave it at that.

I'm just curious if someone could offer any input for why they went into trading (if you're willing to share) and for some insight on what exactly other traders are looking for in people outside the industry who express an interest in becoming a trader?

Comments (22)

Best Response
Jun 26, 2017

I do physical trading myself. Generally any "why do you want to do this job?" question can't and shouldn't be answered by anyone else but the candidate. If you feel your answer isn't adequate you're probably motivated by the wrong reasons... and ultimately I think it's the only question that truly matters in an interview. Every other question in entry finance interviews is usually rehearsed garbage or a recycled platitude.

I stumbled into the industry while in high school and just the daunting number of computer screens on a trading floor and Bloomberg terminals were enough at that age to keep me coming back. But having worked at banks, trading houses, and producers I can say each part of the supply chain from a trading perspective gives you a sense of scale and wonder at just how global and complex the human endeavor is: visit a strip mine in Australia, the Canadian tar sands, look at a thermal heat map from space, and you'll understand just how grand an undertaking our modern world is and how much and how complicated it is to fuel our ambitions as a species. When stocks and bonds change hands, ledgers are updated electronically and instaneously; when crude or gas changes hands, it involves rail cars, tankers several football fields in length, pipelines... wars, genocide, geopolitics, armed conflict etc. You tell me what isn't inspiring -- or at least motivating -- about that.

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Jun 26, 2017

SB'd, awesome advice.

Jun 26, 2017

Thanks for the input. Yes, I was also worried that perhaps my motivation isn't adequate after all... or maybe I need to reflect more and try to better understand what exactly I'm going for. I also have a mildly hard time articulating the actual answer so maybe this is a matter of needing more reflection.

Also thank you very much for the example, I take it this is your reason for going into physical? Regardless, thanks again for providing me an example that I can use to better structure my own story. I wasn't sure if going for a more "grander" story was a turn off for traders haha.

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Jun 29, 2017

Don't think of your story as grand or not. The story can be as grand or as humble as necessary. See my post below. The most important thing is not that your story attains some exogenous standard that the interviewer sees as "correct". What matters is that your story convinces them, in the context of all the other details they know about you, that they are peering through an honest window into your ambitions and motivations. They're not looking for a particular type of answer other than one that's emotionally compelling.

So yeah, don't dress it up so much as to sound like you've had too much caffeine. Don't make it so crass as the dollar amount on your paycheck. Somewhere in the middle, somewhere that demonstrates you have thought about this, and the alternatives, and know why this is what you're willing to give the others up for.

When I got my first job, I answered this question with "Look, I've been interning with and working for other people since middle school. I have offers at X,Y,Z other places. But I've never felt more gratified than I have alongside the high-caliber peers I found when I interned here, and I know that the camaraderie and pride we take in our work here is what I want most out of my professional life."

I was telling the truth. And they hired me. And that feeling has remained through thick and thin, and it has given me a sense of levity that carries me upwards in the organization, regardless of circumstance. It's important to understand what "does" this for you, and be able to verbalize it - that's the answer they're looking to hear.

Jun 28, 2017
Pussy galore:

I do physical trading myself. Generally any "why do you want to do this job?" question can't and shouldn't be answered by anyone else but the candidate. If you feel your answer isn't adequate you're probably motivated by the wrong reasons... and ultimately I think it's the only question that truly matters in an interview. Every other question in entry finance interviews is usually rehearsed garbage or a recycled platitude.

I am a coal trader btw, and I agree with @Pussy galore . It a very generic question to ask, but reveals to the hiring manager the person's thought process and passion. Take for instance Ivan Glasenberg, he was inspired to do trading by overhearing someone perform a candle wax trade. You'd have to imagine what sort of story he told based off that.

    • 3
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Jun 29, 2017

All I would add to this fantastic answer is that whatever you say, it should accomplish the following:

It should convince me, the interviewer, that you have an honest excitement for the role at hand that goes beyond superficial things like the pay, the tasks you'll be performing, etc. The lustre of these things will fade with time, and then you will lose motivation.

Honestly, it's about whether there's something inspiring about way you see yourself in the job. Not only does such a narrative convince me that you will wake up every day and come in excited, but it convinces me that you have the potential to cause excitement in your colleagues about the work you do, which is key to any successful business. This narrative is tailor made to each person, yet despite its amorphous quality, there's really no substitute for it.

It all really boils down to "do I believe that if I hand you this job, you're going to treat it like your dream? Are you going to inspire those who work around, and hopefully (eventually) for you, to excel?"

Jul 2, 2017
Fugue:

but it convinces me that you have the potential to cause excitement in your colleagues about the work you do, which is key to any successful business.

That's a good point, getting people pumped about ideas is really important.

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Jul 2, 2017

Well it's really about conveying that intersection of the grander story with an appreciation for the fact that trading is about making money. There's not really a higher goal. Sure, being able to be an integral part of the invisible hand, dealing with logistics and geopolitics is awesome, but it's the fact that each decision you make affects P&L that is at the heart of it.

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Jun 26, 2017

I've been part of success stories and brutal failures and everything in between in this business in just the last few years. Successful risk taking in this industry only comes with an appreciation for the supply chain, the logistics involved, and the proprietary information gained -- your statistical "edge" -- when owning assets for trading / marketing. It's the difference between trying to predict the future and being a liquidity provider, and the long term success stories (traders and trading houses) understand the latter is a more robust strategy for generating pnl.

    • 3
Jul 2, 2017

Sure, I'm in the business too. And if you're just trying to break in I guess that is the correct approach in what you talk about. But all of the ops stuff you do has an impact on P&L and understanding that from the get go is key. The first time I sent a truck the wrong place (actually my customer did but long story...) I made some calls and found another person who could take the cargo without returning it to the producer which saved a lot of money. That's the kind of decision you need to be taking from day one.

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Jun 30, 2017

Operating in the physical space, traders aim to profit from arbitrages that exist due to market dislocations in price, location, and/or product. While that's the boring, academic answer, on a day-to-day basis it's anything but.

I joined the industry because I was blown away by the sheer size of the trades my now-colleagues were putting on and the logistics and production problems that the trading firms deal with on a daily basis. Being part of a global supply chain is also very exciting. Opportunities to work in different parts of the the supply chain are plentiful as well. Trading firms love employees that are willing to relocate to learn new markets or products! In this industry you can work with trucks, trains, barges, pipelines, coasters or ocean-going vessels anywhere in the world so the career opportunities are endless.

I think you're right when your desire to join the industry is driven by the impact that trading firms have in the market place. However, my advice would be to show an interest in the operations side, as your role for the first few years will be heavily focused on that side of the physical trading space as well as to be willing to relocate wherever your future firm wants you to go. Apart from that, you should focus on how well you fit with the group you hope to join.

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Jul 2, 2017

"I heard there was a lot of money to be made in lean hogs and palladium"

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Jul 7, 2017

When interviewing for Junior finance internships I genuinely believed in the good impact that finance provided to society. In my interviews I pretty much quoted Robert Schiller's book "Finance and the Good Society". My emphasis on the impact of the industry weirded my interviewers out a bit because I sounded as if finance was an altruistic NGO trying to help the world.

Fast forwarding to my decision to start trading physical (Ags), and I had a bit of a different perspective. While even today I am blown away with the impact that the trade has on the world, good and bad, I think to be a trader you need to be motivated by a few things. while I do believe that trading commodities is good for the world, I want a trader on my desk who wants to win.

First, I want to see a candidate interested in playing this specific game. Someone who shows interest by demonstrating that you admire the impact of the industry and you are interested in the geopolitics and human factors that affect the trade.

Second, now that I know this is the game you want to be apart of, show me that you want to win. This is where P&L, influence, and competitiveness comes in. When I sat down for an interview once, I was asked: "on a scale of 1-10 how much do you care about money?" I said an 8, with a caveat that influence in the trade matters to me a lot as well. I got the job fortunately. It's not that the trade needs greedy and power hungry people, but it does need people who enjoy the game and will get scrappy enough to fight for pennies and punish inefficient and dishonest traders.

If it was always an easy job, you wouldn't need hungry people, but because there is plenty of stress and frustration, you need someone that wants to be in this industry and wants to get the scrappy competitive juices going.

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Jun 26, 2017
CaughtShort:

When interviewing for Junior finance internships I genuinely believed in the good impact that finance provided to society. In my interviews I pretty much quoted Robert Schiller's book "Finance and the Good Society". My emphasis on the impact of the industry weirded my interviewers out a bit because I sounded as if finance was an altruistic NGO trying to help the world.

Wow this is, quite literally, my main motivation to try and break into trading. I thought I was the only one who thought that finance could bring good to the world too!! I'm glad to hear I'm not.

Would it be okay if we could chat about your perspective on finance and social impact via PM? I'm genuinely interested in holding a conversation about this as I have not met anyone who shared this perspective with me.

EDIT: People get weirded out by me on the phone too!! I kind of got grilled for it today oops hahaha, lol.

Jul 8, 2017

why do you want to chat about that? lol, he just told you he doesn't believe the social impact selling point is not the right way to approach the industry...

Jul 9, 2017

I am sorry but that just sounds weird. I wouldn't hire a guy with that kind of view to be honest because as a trader you need to be ruthless sometimes. If you win, somebody else loses. First make the money, then you can be a philanthropist. So if I were you I wouldn't bring it up.

Jul 7, 2017
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