1.01.2005

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» TIP: Ancient reasons why career change fails
» TIP: Writing a cover letter that gets calls
» TIP: When you are burned-out on the job search
» TIP: The rifle approach to landing a job
» TIP: Be there as the world enters a new age of numbers
» RANT: Caught on the 'five year' question

TIP: Ancient reasons why career change fails

As ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu would put it: "If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." Or as the Greek philosopher Socrates would say, "Know thyself". It might not be the newest idea, but it seems that many of Quantitative Analyst wanna-be still don't do it. If you can't be honest with yourself about what you expect to get from your next career move, how can your headhunter ever get it right?

First of all, become familiar with Wall Street. Know the difference between Sell side and Buy side. Learn what's Front Office, Middle Office, and Back Office. Get in touch with industry insiders and really learn what individuals do there. Ask a ton of questions.

Then try to see where you fits. What's your unique strength? Do you want to work directly with traders? Do you mind the creazy hours?

Know thyself, so that when you finally get into an interview or in the position to speak with someone who can give you an interview, you don't sound like an idiot. Or worse, take up a job in the Back Office when your dream job is to work directly with traders.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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TIP: Writing a cover letter that gets calls

via Craigslist -- Which of these two cover letters resembles yours most? More importantly, which one do you think will get the call?

Cover letter 1

James,

OK, I admit. I saw your posting just now for the Product Marketing Manager for Outdoor Adventures and Experiences just now on Craigs List, and I'm salivating. so I can't imagine a better adventure for a career than to market excitement and fun. Let me tell you 3 reasons you should consider me for this position :

  • Strong Design Skills You're ad said you were looking for someone who can design brochures and other marketing materials. I have 2 years of design, and am proficient in Adobe Illustrator and Pagemaker. I have created brochures for XYZ company, and ABC company, and have attached a PDF of my work. I'd be happy to show you my portfolio in an interview.
  • Good communication and writing skills - In my former job, I regularly led meetings that involved dozens of people. Several times a year, I would speak for my company at industry events... sometimes to audiences of several hundred people. I know how to craft a good press release and have successfully managed to get several articles into print.
  • I love experiences - I completely relate to your philosophy that life is about experiences. I love to travel, and have recently returned from 2 months in Peru where I helped feed orphan children in a small town. I've never been skydiving, but it is on my top ten list of things to do next year. Perhaps this is my opportunity.

ExperienceTHIS is a place where I know I can make a difference, and with my experience at conceiving plans and putting projects into motion, I'm sure I could impact you very quickly without spending too much time in the starting gate. I would love to meet with you in person to talk about how I can help take the adventure to a whole new level.

Cover letter 2

Dear Sir/Madam

Please accept this letter and resume for the Product Marketing Manager position as referenced on craigslist.com.

As a recent MBA graduate, I believe that I offer the skills that are crucial to this position. My background in public relations, as well as my formal education in business and marketing from the University of San Francisco will serve as a complement to your firm.

After doing some extensive research about experienceTHIS.us, I am sure that my work history and educational background will greatly benefit the future endeavors of your organization. (Did you really do extensive research on us??? - no evidence here, that's for sure) My work history coupled with my education in business administration has provided me with an invaluable sense of communication and negotiation, as well as quantitative analytical skills....

From both my professional and personal experiences, I have developed an enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, and disciplined work ethic. I possess the ability to work under pressure and rapidly adapt to changing work conditions. I excel in both individual and team driven environments. With this in mind, I am confident that my employment background, eagerness to learn, and genuine character will prove to be an asset to your company...

I look forward to discussing employment opportunities with you in the near future. I am available for an interview at your earliest convenience. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

...If you just regurgitate a form cover letter from some book you read, or the email you sent to the last company, I'm going to yawn and hit the delete key before I ever get to your resume. I feel bad doing it, but I just don't have time for blah blah blah.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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TIP: When you are burned-out on the job search

Years ago, Stallone was broke and living in New York. He had no money for food or electricity. He had to pawn his wife's jewelery just for food money. Eventually, he even had to sell his dog Butkus for $25 because he could not afford to feed it and needed the money for his family.

Stallone looked for work as an actor, asking agents again and again, more than 1,000 times total. After watching a boxing match, he got the inspiration for the film "Rocky", and spent 24 hours straight writing the first draft. Then he began trying to sell the film with himself in the lead role. Everyone rejected it.

Eventually, he got an offer for $125,000 for his script. But they did not want him to star in it. (They envisioned Ryan O'Neil for the role.) However, Stallone wanted to be an actor, so he walked away from the offer.

The offer price rose to $250,000, and eventually to $325,000, as long as Stallone would not star in the picture. But he refused.

"Are you insane?", they asked him.

"No, I'm Rocky", he responded.

Stallone eventually took $35,000 plus a percentage of the profits of the film. (Obviously, things turned out well.)

What kicked off Stallone's successful career as an actor was his passion and persistence to become one. Looking for a job could be depressing and demoralizing, but Stallone didn't collapse and give up, even when confronted with financial troubles, rejections, or other major obstacles. The real challenge during a job search is staying positive when there seems to be little reason for it. Worse, the negative attitude always manages to show in the interview, no matter how hard you try to hide it.

Landing a job takes patience. Someone once said every success's the transformation of a previous failure, therefore, if you fail, it is because you quit too soon. Although this may not be true in every instance, there's a lot to be said for not quitting too soon. Patience counts and in the long run, patience generally wins out. Take every No you receive as a deferred yes.

Landing a job takes persistence, and persistence requires energy. Establish a routine that includes exercise, rest, and plenty of water. Let the job hunting drive you to drink, just as long as it's spring water ;-)

Be your own cheerleader. It's essential to find ways to inject some confidence and optimism into your search. Celebrate every progress, however small it may be. Create a support group of close friends to get the negatives out of your head.

Be driven and persistent during your job search - all winners share this trait, and you can be one of them.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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TIP: The rifle approach to landing a job

The key to getting the job you want is to be oriented to the needs and wants of... your prospective employer. Get out of your head and into theirs, Executive Coach Alec Watson blogged.

...The traditional approach of sending out resumes, seeking employment interviews and filling out applications is illustrative of the old world approach to getting a job. It's what I refer to as the shotgun approach, where your exposure to the market is very broad. The problem is that... As good or experienced as you may be, to most of them you are a problem, a hassle, one of a stack of letters or calls they have to answer today...

If you are going to position yourself as a solution to some significant need or opportunity that an organization faces, you are going to have to take a rifle approach - one that focuses and penetrates deeply. You are going to have to be enormously resourceful and creative in learning about the organization you want to work for. Creativity is a unique human endowment, and is a powerful capacity that lies largely dormant in most people. Unfreeze yourself from the panic and nervousness you may feel about not having a job, and start immersing yourself in the realities of the company you want to work for. Creatively find ways of talking with and learning from the company's employees and managers - talk to their suppliers, their customers, and even their competitors. Reach the point that you can describe their challenges and needs as well as or better than they could themselves. Then you can position yourself - your unique skills, education, experience and talents (some of which you may need to further develop first) in the context of their needs. Your resourcefulness and insight will deeply impress them.

Finally, in your creative research it is vital to learn about the culture and norms of the organization. Every organization is different. This awareness should govern how you should approach the organization for an interview or meeting with their managers or executives. Be creative. It will be different in every case - for proactivity without empathy and awareness will also bring failure. Combine them, and you will have the wisdom that will bring tremendous results...

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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TIP: Be there as the world enters a new age of numbers

via BusinessWeek - ...Partnerships between mathematicians and computer scientists are bulling into whole new domains of business and imposing the efficiencies of math. This has happened before. In past decades, the marriage of higher math and computer modeling transformed science and engineering. Quants turned finance upside down a generation ago. And data miners plucked useful nuggets from vast consumer and business databases. But just look at where the mathematicians are now. They're helping to map out advertising campaigns, they're changing the nature of research in newsrooms and in biology labs, and they're enabling marketers to forge new one-on-one relationships with customers. As this occurs, more of the economy falls into the realm of numbers. Says James R. Schatz, chief of the mathematics research group at the National Security Agency: "There has never been a better time to be a mathematician."...

The rise of mathematics is heating up the job market for luminary quants, especially at the Internet powerhouses where new math grads land with six-figure salaries and rich stock deals. Tom Leighton, an entrepreneur and applied math professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says: "All of my students have standing offers at Yahoo! (YHOO ) and Google (GOOG )." Top mathematicians are becoming a new global elite. It's a force of barely 5,000, by some guesstimates, but every bit as powerful as the armies of Harvard University MBAs who shook up corner suites a generation ago...

Just as mathematicians need to grapple with human quirks and mysteries, managers and entrepreneurs must bone up on mathematics. Midcareer managers can delegate much of this work to their staffers. But they still must understand enough about math to question the assumptions behind the numbers. "Now it's easier for people to bamboozle someone by having analysis based on lots of data and graphs," says Paul C. Pfleiderer, a finance professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. "We have to train people in business to spot a bogus argument."

And to spot opportunities. As more of the world's information is pooled into mathematics, the realm of numbers becomes an ever larger meeting ground. It's a percolating laboratory full of surprising connections, and a birthplace for new industries. Yes, it's a magnificent time to know math.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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RANT: Caught on the 'five year' question

I've never been a big fan of job interviews, Comedy Writer Jay Pinkerton blogged. I know some people who actually thrive on them, booking interviews for jobs they don't even want to "stay sharp." Their actions are meant to inspire me, I assume, and in a way they do--by knowing them, I've learned how grating overachievers can be. It exhausts me just watching them. I've always treated interviews as a necessary evil -- a brief period of time where I sit in front of someone and try to get him to believe outlandish, bald-faced lies.
  • "What are your goals?" Not working at a desk job for the rest of my life in a floundering economy'd be super, but what are you going to do?
  • "What do you see as your biggest weakness?" I'm passive-aggressive and commitment-phobic. And sometimes I steal office supplies.
  • "What excited you most about this opportunity?" That you called me and seemed interested in paying me sums of money.

While these answers can be helpful in an introspective sense, I doubt they're the answers my potential employers are looking for, and so I usually try to shovel up as much sunshine-flavored rainbow dribble that I can think of. "What excited you most about this opportunity," thus, I could easily turn into a ten minute blowjob. Gosh, what didn't excite me? The chance for advancement! The opportunity to expand my skills in a nurturing and fast-paced environment! The color of the doorknobs! Your tie, sir! This evidently gets the job done, as the interviewers usually happily scratch something on a pad and proceed to the next question... Interviews are a lot like video games, basically, with the big boss monster at the end of every level that, if you beat, means you move up a level to do battle with the next boss monster. I'd moved up to the second boss monster in the interviews I'd been going to. The first one had gone pretty well. The second one was a bit more of a disaster.

I don't know if I was just off my game or rusty at interviews or what, but I couldn't seem to buy a break. When I was serious it turned out he was being facetious. If I tried a joke he misconstrued what I meant. The worst was the inevitable "Where do you see yourself at this company in five years?" ...Usually by the time the "five years" question comes up I know what the company's about, what the interviewer's about, and what they wnat to hear -- so they hear it. This guy'd given me nothing. I immediately blanked trying to figure out how best to answer it. Seven seconds later, I'm still blanking. Seven seconds becomes ten. Becomes eleven. I realize with dawning horror that I've officially crossed the cut-off point of polite silence. I have to say something, or in two seconds it will officially become awkward and then he'll have to say something...

At the end of the interview, as I walked out the door, I debated whether or not to make a light joke about the "five years" question. An hour'd easily passed since then without any slip-ups. Should I roll the dice and hope we could have a quick laugh about it? Would it look weak, like I was apologizing? Would pretending it'd never happened be easier? Or would he appreciate the candor? Now that the interview was over, would we be able to share a knowing smile at my momentary brain-freeze? Was this even a safe bet, given that all previous attempts at levity had been misconstrued? Fuck it, I'd bring it up. It was already out there, so I wouldn't lose anything mentioning it -- and I might gain at least a thin sliver of casual chumminess with him, which to my mind had been the major downfall of the interview anyway. Getting any kind of human response from him would seem like a win.

"I always get caught on that 'five year' question," I say, giving a low mock-chuckle and shaking my head, as if this was some sort of interview beartrap that I stepped in daily. I'm hoping he'll give an entry point -- a quizzical look, maybe; or an "Oh? Why is that?" Then I can make a light joke about how it's a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't question -- sort of breaks the fourth wall of the interview a little, so we can at least share a moment or two as human beings before the elevator arrives. "Well, it's always important to have goals," he responds. Damn. We shake hands and I leave. Shut down. In a fairly humiliating way too. Somehow we'd managed to leave it under the assumption that I'd floundered on the question because I evidently possess no goals. Hmm. I guess that works too.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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