Sales & Trading Interview Guide - Gekko's Guidance Part 2

In Part 2 of Gekko's Guidance, I'm going to cover S&T interview prep (also can be used for Research). Part 1 of Gekko's Guidance.

This guide is meant to cover all the "How do I prepare for XXX interview in XXX product group". The simple truth is that 99% of preparation is the same, regardless of the position (sales or trading) and regardless of the product group. If you are interviewing for sales, you need to know the same info that a person interviewing for trading does. Sales gets a bad rap on this site, but I have met a lot of sales guys. They need to know the market and the product just as well as the traders do because they are the ones that need to pitch their client and answer the client's questions. A lot of the sales guys I know are ex-traders who for one reason or another quit trading to go into sales - and they love it (less stress), they know all about the product, and they do just as well as when they were trading.

The difference between these interviews is that they will focus on one area more than the other, but that does not mean you should not have a stock pick ready when going into a fixed income interview. In fact, most fixed income interviews ask economy and equity questions because they think you will know those and don't think you should know a lot about mortgages or distressed debt.

Warning: This guide is not meant to be a cram sheet. You can't pop two Adderall before the final and think you are set. This guide is meant to be completed over time and to prepare you for the marathon that is the interviewing process.

The Fit

Despite the guide's primary focus on technical questions, the fit part of the interview (anything not talking about markets or brain teasers) will be the longest part of the interview and will carry the most weight. To prepare for the fit part, I would read the WSO Fit Interview Guide and look hard at your resume for possible questions that could be asked (i.e., "I see you studied abroad in China. What did you think?"). Prepare answers and try weave an interesting story rather than, "China was really cool, great experience." Remember Rule #7 - Control the Interview.

Now some of you might be asking, if fit is so important, why bother with technicals? Technicals are there to differentiate candidates. If you have two candidates who are about equal in the fit category, you are going to take the one that either A) has a skill set you want (i.e., computer science) or B) knows more technicals. Technicals also help show that passion I talked about in Part 1.

Here's @dosk17" with a good summary of how fit questions function in S&T interviews.

"Fit" questions are more about whether you have the "trader mindset" and can make decisions quickly, think on your feet, how much you follow and enjoy the markets, your risk tolerance and how well you manage risk, etc.

Fitting in with the team and culture is also important, and you could still get leadership / team-type questions or get asked about your background. But it's less about proving you're a workhorse and more about proving you're a quick thinker and can act like a trader.

Sales & Tading Technical Questions

First thing I recommend is that you read and download the Vault Guide to Finance Interviews.

I provided the link, but a quick Google search reveals several other links should this one go down. The guide is excellent in providing a basic understanding of the products and what types of questions you can receive.

Another excellent resource for brain teaser questions is Heard on the Street. The book is basically the bible for brainteaser and math-related questions. You might expect one or two brain teaser questions and maybe some math, but it is not definite. The math would be something like what is 39 x 39 or simple expected value. While getting the right answer is good, the interviewer really just wants to see your thought process and how you approach a brain teaser. My friends tell me that brain teasers and expected value questions are much more likely at prop shops. All the brain teasers/math questions I got during my BB interviews could have been answered by the Vault guide. (It has a small section on brain teasers.)

I also think either reading the Market Wizards books or Come Into My Trading Room by Alex Elder would be beneficial for S&T. Market Wizards is candid interviews with top traders, and Elder's book is one of those "learn how to trade books", but I really like it. The point of reading either of these books is to give you a better sense of what people look for in a trade and the different ways people trade. These books let you get a feel for what a trader is thinking, rather than the technical knowledge ,"A call option is..., you calculate delta by..."

Gaining Market Knowledge for Interview Questions

I personally think that the Financial Times is a better paper, but I will talk about the WSJ because that is what most people have access to. If you only have 30 minutes of free time a day and can only get your information from one source, read the front cover of the WSJ, the front page of The Marketplace section, and the Money and Investing section. The Marketplace section can be used to generate a stock pick or a talk about why a specific event makes an industry look attractive.

Your primary focus should be the money and investing section. Read the front page, Heard on the Street (back page), Moving the Market, and any article on currencies or commodities. The idea is to get a general sense of what is happening in the markets along with investor's general mindset (aka the driving forces). That way when you tell the interviewer your view of the economy you can provide some examples - I think Energy will be a very big sector with higher commodity prices, demand from China and India, Potash, BHP. Maybe mention a growth number you picked up in your reading about the increase in demand for iron ore, whatever. The idea is to have a 2-3 investment "themes" and examples of those themes playing out.

Apart from the WSJ/FT, there are plenty of other sources of information to go to, and most of them have been listed on this site. I like PIMCO.com for fixed income research, Abnormalreturns.com, and seekingalpha.com.

I would say that those sites would keep you up to date with current events and provide plenty of investment ideas to talk about during an interview.

Specific Stock Question

When it comes to the specific stock question, I would have at least two choices. You should know the stock's P/E ratio (historically high or low), sales, net income, operating margin, products, risks to their business, areas where they are growing, and their strengths (brand name, international exposure, and things that they have done recently). I always tried to pick a stock and then steer the interview back to the general economy. So I would touch on its P/E ratio and say whether it was cheap or expensive. I would then say areas they were growing, some of their strengths, and how events in the general economy would affect it going forward. This strategy might not work for an equity research interview, but it worked most of the time for general interviews.

@derivstrading" also had some great thoughts on this aspect of the interview. He points out that, instead of a trading pitch, a lot of interviewees give a sales pitch. Your pitch needs to have an edge, and there's no doubt that the interviewer will ask you about it. Here's @derivstrading" with some insight into the edge as well some follow-up questions you need to be prepared to answer.

1) What is the edge on this trade? Why do you expect to make money?

Let's say company X earnings are being priced in at a 4% move (i.e., options have an implied vol that is pricing a vol of this magnitude). You look back and find that never has the stock of this company moved more than 2% post earnings, and there aren't any different factors now than other earnings. Therefore, going short vol presents a simple form of edge. Now it is true that you are using historical information and extrapolating, but it is much better than telling the interviewer simply that, "I think the earnings move priced into the options market is too rich."

So you've defined your edge. Is that all you need to know going in? Not quite, as there are still a few questions commonly asked that you need to be able to answer.

2) What is your stop loss on this trade and why?

At what point do you get out of the trade? Let's say you went short gamma in the above example, and the stock starts to move heavily as the earnings announcement is moving closer, more than the implied vol you sold gamma. At what point do you decide to get out? (It's a bit simpler with straight stock compared to options because you only have price to look at in terms of a stop, whereas with options, you can lose money in many more ways and therefore have to think about various scenarios.)

When an interviewer asks this question, go through a scenario analysis of situations that could make you lose money and then explain what you would do.

3) How do you get out of the position if it goes against you?

Do you get rid of all at once, in two or three stages, or in small steps? Your answer should be about amount of liquidity and market conditions (i.e., whether your trade hypothesis has changed or not).

4) How long do you expect to hold the trade for?

What if you went long a stock because you have studied this stock and found that the probability of it being acquired is high? How long until you reverse this hypothesis? Note that holding time does not have to be in terms of days/months, but also in terms of relevant market conditions.

5) What are your main risks?

You want to think about a scenario analysis of possible situations that can make you lose money. Of course, you cannot prepare for everything that can happen, but some prep is better than none. Let's say a stock is going to announce a drug test result and you see the following vol schedule. (The drug announcement is at the beginning of September, and it is currently May.) June: 20% vol, September: 18% vol, December: 22% vol

You think the 18 vol is cheap, and it should rise to at least 30% leading up to the event (or you think the event will be a large realized move in which case you are planning on making money on gamma, but we will stick with vega and implied vol in this example).

You might think about going short the June vol at 20 to fund the long vol position in the Sept contract to reduce the risk of losing money leading up to the announcement if nothing happens throughout June.

Facts & Figures You NEED to Know

You should know the current levels for all of the below. You should also know what their price movements looked like over the last 6-9 months and, if possible, the market sentiment behind the moves-all of which becomes very easy if you actively follow the markets. You should also note their support and resistance levels and events that could force them out of their ranges.

The S&P 500, The Dow Jones, Oil, Gold, 2 yr UST, 5 yr UST, 10 yr UST, 30 yr UST, Fed Funds Rate, O/N LIBOR (What is LIBOR - and I don't just mean the name), 3-month LIBOR, 6-month LIBOR, USD, GBP, JPY, EUR, AUD, and CAD

(I would also know the ball park duration of the 10 yr and 30 yr and EXACTLY what duration is. I mean, saying the alphabet in your sleep kind of know.)

I have had interviews where people ask me about the 2 yr UST. As I already said, I have had interviews where they ask you to detail the price movements for the last 6 months and then what market factors would cause the a change.

Additional Prep

If you would like to learn more general info about a topic, use Google and Investopedia (or Wikipedia).

Click on this link and scroll to the bottom of the page to see a gold mine of information. Having more general knowledge of different products and trading strategies allows you to ask interviewers more detailed questions about the market they trade, what they do on a daily basis, and how they got to their current position. It also allows you to see what is out there and what catches your interest.

Do some research on the firm so you have an understanding of how they do business, their values, etc. The more intelligently you can speak about the firm, the better.

Why Trading

You should have two separate answers to the question, "Why trading?" One of those answers is the massive influence of exit opps, pay, and prestige that entices us all to choose these careers. Those aren't things you should mention when you get asked during the interview, although it's not entirely discouraged to abstain from mentioning the pay. After all, the light in the tunnel to all traders is money, and that light isn't achieved without competence. While it would be the honest thing to do, we recommend abstaining as it's already an accepted fact that money is a massive incentive if you're interviewing to begin with. Moving on, here are some good answers to the question:

  • Entrepreneurial/meritocratic environment: You are paid/promoted based on your skill in generating investment/trading ideas for your clients and finding value where others fail to do so. Stress that it's less political than other areas of the bank and that it's more fair/meritocratic, thus appealing to your personality, etc. (@fishbeancake")
  • You like the challenge of interacting with different clients and coming to an understanding of their business and how your product can suit their needs as well as moving your trading desk's risk. (@Jimbo")
  • You're great at managing relationships and seeking common solutions - i.e., balancing the interests of your traders and clients.
  • You enjoy debating and persuading, so working with clients is right up your alley.

Of course, there are a myriad of different answers effective in demonstrating that you know the functions of the job and why you are capable. You should look to find something related to what sales and traders do and/or the environment, and base your answer on detailing why that factor fits you perfectly.

More Technical Stuff

If you were to follow the assigned reading and keep up to date with the markets, you would probably be fine for any S&T interview. Below is a list of more technical books that provide a deeper understanding of a particular product. While they are all good reads, if you have time, I would read 1 or 2 of them that interest you, so that you can get a better understanding and REALLY impress the interviewer. If you have an interview that is geared towards a particular product, you are not expected to know everything about the product, but I would know some basics. I would know what factors affect the price of the product, risk factors the product faces and how to hedge them, why someone would want to invest in a particular product, and what customers the product attracts.

To give an example, let's use an MBS. Factors that affect price are interest rate, prepayments, and credit if it's not an agency security. How to hedge those risks - UST or derivatives for IR and Credit risk, Prepay risk? (The answer is the dollar roll, or the lock out period if it's CMBS, but that is a little too technical.) Why someone would want to invest - diversify portfolio, higher yields. Which bond do I want to prepay faster: a bond priced at 95 or a bond priced at 105? Answer is we want the 95 bond to prepay faster so that we can collect the principal at par.

If you happen to land an internship or FT offer in one of these particular product areas, I would buy the mentioned book to keep it at your desk.

Technical Analysis - Japanese Candlestick Charting

Energy - Energy Trading and Investing (A great introduction to all the various energy markets.)

equity value Investing - Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham. Also, Margin of Safety.

General Equity Trading - Come into My Trading Room by Alexander Elder

Options - Options Volatility and Pricing by Natenberg

Exotic Options Trading - I am a big fan of Exotic Options Trading. It was written by a Barcap derivatives trader and explains general options trading in very simple language. It then goes on to cover various 1st and 2nd generation derivatives, their characteristics, risk profiles, etc. I would also recommend this book if you are starting in FX options because a normal FX options trader deals with digitals, barriers, etc.

Rates - Interest Rate Swaps and Their Derivatives (Recommended by a swaps trader at a BB and assigned to the interns.)

FX - Foreign Exchange by Tim Weithers (I have recommended this countless times, and I will continue to do so. #1 FX book I have ever read.)

Credit - Fabozzi; Distressed Debt Investing; Handbook of Municipal Bonds

Mortgages - The Handbook of Mortgage Backed Securities

Emerging Markets - An Amazing Thread on EM Trading

Prop Trading: The Speed Math Test

Prop trading is notorious for its difficult math tests. There are some people out there who might be able to pass these tests without much effort. Those are the arithmetic geniuses, the guys and gals who can do absurd mental math calculations like it's nothing and view the world in numbers.

For us mere mortals, there's one thing we need to do to pass these barrier tests. In the wise words of NBA legend Allen Iverson, "I'm talkin 'bout practice." Here's @clevortrevor" with how exactly you can practice for these tests:

If you're serious about getting one of these jobs in the future, start going to this site and doing 15 reps each day, followed by one run through of Trader Test on the easy section. The first link will get your mental horsepower up with continuous practice, and the second link will prepare you for the conditions of the exams (negative marking, 8 minute time limit, etc.)

You have to treat it like exercise, and set aside 30-40 minutes a day for it.

In addition to practicing your basic arithmetic, the WSO Prop Trading Guide has everything you need to know for prop trading interviews, including a myriad of questions with thoroughly explained answers.

In Closing

In this last post, I laid out a lot of information and informational tools to help you get ahead in the interview process. I want you to use them, but remember Rule #6 and Rule #10 (Ah, yes, there WERE only 9 rules, but I decided to add another one even though it is sort of implied in a few others.)

The Last Rule - Always Be Honest and Humble

If someone asks you if you know about X, always respond with, "I have done some reading, so I know a little bit. I know that X and Y about Z." Show the interviewer your knowledge by talking about it - it may lead to more detailed questions, but if you are honest and humble about it, those detailed questions that you don't know won't hurt you. If you get a question you don't know, admit you don't know it, offer some guesses with your reasoning behind them, and then politely ask the interviewer what the answer is. Even if you know a great deal about a topic, it's always safer to play it humble and let your answers reveal your knowledge. If you walk into an interview with a cocky know-it-all attitude, I guarantee you will get mind-fucked with technicals.

Well, that's all, folks. As usual, leave any comments or questions below and enjoy your weekend.

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