The Non-Target School Sales & Trading Recruiting Process: How it Works from Beginning to End
This is a guest post from a reader who broke into Sales & Trading (S&T) coming from a non-target school. In Part 1 of this series, you’ll get an overview of the entire process and what you need to break in.
If you make it into sales & trading coming from a non-target school, congratulations: you’re part of The 1%.
No, not that 1% – at least, not right when you start working.
I’m talking about the 1% of job seekers from unknown schools who actually manage to break into the field.
It’s a daunting and challenging process, and it’s arguably more difficult than breaking into investment banking from a non-target school:
- Unlike IB or PE, there are no true “sales & trading boutiques” (unless you count prop trading firms)…
- …so there are fewer positions, and they’re concentrated at large banks.
- Plus, networking with traders can be more difficult due to time constraints (you can only do it after the market closes) and interviews are much more random.
Should you give up and stop wasting your time applying?
Not at all.
For me, that difficulty was the fuel.
I was determined to prove everyone wrong, and I didn’t care what people said – it was the job of my dreams, and I was determined to break into sales & trading at a bulge bracket bank no matter what it took.
In this series, I’m going to explain exactly what it takes to break in if you’re coming from a non-target school like I did.
As the first step, you need to understand the recruiting process from beginning to end – and where you can “bend the rules” to gain an advantage.
Step 1: Getting on their Radar
Since bulge bracket banks do not recruit at non-target schools, you need to apply online to even have a chance at winning interviews.
At the minimum, these applications require a resume and cover letter, although many specialized S&T programs (e.g. diversity recruiting programs) require essays.
All large banks have minimum GPA requirements as well – if you don’t have at least a 3.5 / 4.0 (or 2:1 in the UK) you don’t have much of a shot. When the economy worsens, that minimum may increase.
If you’re at a non-target school, the minimum arguably goes up because they expect better academic performance out of you.
Technically all majors can apply, but for many trading positions they favor technical majors (math, science, engineering) since you use math quite a bit.
Often times, students apply with one of these ‘’mathy’’ majors in addition to finance as their second or third majors. Coming from a non-target school, a minor in math, at the very least, is a good idea.
The deadlines might be anywhere from October to February depending on the bank and region you’re in – to increase your odds of success, you need to track everything in an Excel spreadsheet and use columns for the deadlines and application requirements (resumes, cover letters, essays, etc.).
Recruiting is always a numbers game, but if you’re at a non-target school it’s truly a numbers game.
I recommend applying everywhere even if you have no interest in working there – you can’t afford to be picky. Just make sure that during the interview, you articulate why you want to work at that specific firm over others.
In your online application, you usually apply for Sales & Trading as opposed to a specific desk. During your interviews they will ask you the “Why S&T question?” and what desk you want to work on.
I usually said something like, “I want to trade mortgages, but I will be happy on any desk where I can learn the most.” Once you’ve won an offer, you’ll be placed based on where they have a need and what you’re interested.
For full-time jobs, you almost always do a two-year rotation on two different desks. The rotation varies from bank to bank, and in some cases if you’re on a desk for a year and you absolutely love it there, you can stay.
For internships, the process varies by bank; some firms have 3 rotations across different desks (Barclays), while others have none (J.P. Morgan).
Step 2: Really Getting on Their Radar
As Brian has mentioned before, submitting your application online is often like throwing it into a black hole.
If, by some chance, it makes through the automated system it will get 30 seconds of attention from a human recruiter (at best).
So you need to network if you want to have even a 1% chance of landing interviews, and much of the investment banking networking advice on this site applies.
My best sources for networking:
- Family, friends, and school alumni.
- Attending recruiting events at target schools (yes, going to events even when you’re not invited) and getting business cards there.
We’re going to go more in-depth into networking in a future article, but a few points to keep in mind when doing this on the sales & trading side:
Always email traders – they are on their computers from 7AM – 5PM, and can usually get back to you quickly. Unlike bankers, they don’t have meetings or client presentations during the day so they’re always at their desks.
Tell them that you’re interested in S&T and wanted to ask a few questions about their jobs/firms. Then ask them if there’s a good time to chat.
Here are some good things to ask:
- How they got to where they are, personal background, etc.
- Why sales and trading, sales vs. trading, equity vs. fixed income.
- Why that specific firm over any other.
- Always ask advice for the recruiting process (application/interviews).
Depending on who they are and how you approached them, they might offer to pass your resume to HR, or you can ask them to do it for you.
Use your best judgment to feel out the situation, but always make sure you follow up with them and ask if HR said anything about your application because they often “forget” to submit it unless you keep asking about it.
Step 3: The Phone Interview – Round 1
If your application passes the first round of screening, you’ll be offered a 30-minute phone interview.
Just like with investment banking interviews, the first round interviewer will most likely be a junior analyst, and you’ll have to answer the “Walk me through your resume” question and behavioral questions…
…but your opinions on the market are much more important in S&T and they’ll ask you about different asset classes, indices, and so on.
They’ll focus heavily on why S&T over fields in finance, and why you’re interested in their firm over others.
When walking through your resume, don’t take longer then 1-2 minutes, and focus on the things that are S&T related (anything that is quantitative, and that has to do with the market).
Actual interviews are not tremendously different from target school interviews. Once you make it in the door, everyone goes through the same questions, and the fact that you come from a non-target is not necessarily held against you.
And just as with normal interviews, you’ll get the chance to ask 2-3 questions at the end where you want to convey your enthusiasm for sales & trading and for their firm.
Definitely send a thank-you email after the interview to everyone that interviewed you. Sure, it may not always make a difference but if it takes 5-10 minutes, why not take the time to do it?
Afterwards, you will most likely hear back with the results of each round within 2 weeks.
Step 4: Phone Interview #2… or Superday
If you advance to the next round after the phone interview, you’ll either have another phone interview, or you’ll be invited to a Superday interview.
A second phone interview will be the same format as above, except the interviewer will be more senior.
For Superday interviews, the firm will invite you to their headquarters and put you through several rounds of 30-45 minute interviews.
The interviews themselves vary quite a bit and different banks do things very differently – but here’s generally what you can expect:
- Interviewers tend to be more senior-level employees…
- …from different divisions, ranging from equity sales & trading to fixed income sales & trading to credit risk to research and anything else on the S&T side.
- You’ll get at least 4 interviews, and each one might be with anywhere from 1-4 people (yes, you might actually have interviews with four people).
- Almost every interview will start with “Tell me about yourself” and “Why Sales & Trading?” and “Why our firm?”
- They will focus heavily on market-related questions – you need to know about all asset classes, what the important indices in your region (e.g. the S&P and DJI in the US) are trading at, and what oil prices, treasury yields, and currency exchange rates are.
- Oh yeah, and then there are the mental math and brainteaser questions that don’t come up nearly as much in IB/PE interviews.
Forget about using a pen and paper or calculator – you need to get really good at thinking in multiples of 5 and 10, or you’ll be at a severe disadvantage.
Practice is the key to success in brain teasers – I highly recommend getting a book of sample questions (You can usually get the Vault S&T Guide for free through your school – also search for questions on Google) and also practicing your thought process out-loud.
People get hung up on getting the “right” answer, but your thought process is actually more important.
Once the questions end, you’ll get the chance to ask your own questions and then make your “closing arguments” for why they should hire you.
In your arguments, enthusiasm and attitude are the keys to success. You might talk about how there’s no candidate who wants this job or this firm as badly as you do and that no task is beneath you, as you are willing to do whatever it takes to add value to their team.
So that’s an overview of what to expect – we’re going to do a deep-dive on interviews soon, but you need to understand the entire process first.
Step 5: Final Decisions
Within two weeks of the Superday, you’ll receive either a phone call congratulating you and letting you know that you were offered a position, or an email letting you know that you have been rejected.
If you did get the offer, congratulations! You’ll be given about two weeks to accept or reject it.
If you need more time to get back to a firm, tell them that you’re still waiting to hear from a few places, and that you need more time so that you can really figure out what your best option is.
Don’t be surprised if they don’t grant you an extension, and don’t ask for a second extension.
As a trader you need to minimize risk and the same applies when you’re recruiting for trading: don’t screw up a really good offer, or even any offer at all, in hopes of getting a marginally better one.
If you were rejected, you have two options.
The first is to respond to the email thanking the recruiter for their time and move onto the next bank.
Alternatively, you can email all the people that you interviewed with and ask them if you can come back in for another interview.
Tell them that you feel you were not judged fairly, and that you know you’re the right candidate for the position. You should also email all of your contacts, and try the same thing.
And if that doesn’t work at first, you could give up and move on or keep trying.
Think this sounds desperate or overly aggressive?
I know someone who won a job at Goldman Sachs Sales & Trading after being rejected 5 times – he kept going back and back again, and his resilience paid off.
You don’t want rack up 1500 rejections like Sylvester Stallone did before the first Rocky movie, but you don’t necessarily want to give up after just 1 rejection, either – especially if you answered all the questions well and really were misjudged.
Stay confident in your own abilities, and success will come.
Coming Up Next
Now that you know how the recruiting process works from beginning to end, the next step is to prepare for each part of the recruiting process, as they are all critical to your success.
We’re going to do a deep-dive into everything from networking to resumes and interviews and show you how to succeed at each stage – even if, like me, you’re coming from an unknown school.
The competition is tough and the odds of success aren’t great. But if you apply everything here, you’ll gain a big advantage over everyone else.
And you might just make the leap from The 99% to The 1%.
This is a guest post from a reader who broke into Sales & Trading (S&T) coming from a non-target school. In the upcoming parts in this series, we’ll do deep-dives on networking, resumes, interviews, and more.
- Sales & Trading Recruiting, Part 1 – Overview
- Sales & Trading Recruiting, Part 2 – Networking
- Sales & Trading Recruiting, Part 3 – Resumes
- Sales & Trading Recruiting, Part 4 – Interviews – Your Story and “Fit” Questions
- Sales & Trading Recruiting, Part 5 – Interviews – Markets, Brainteasers, and Mental Math
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