Looking for an Summer Internship? …

… then you should have started looking back in the summer! When I was an undergrad eons ago, we had the luxury of waiting until after winter break to begin looking for summer internship opportunities. Back then, nobody, save for a few truly dedicated students (and even fewer recruitment programs), paid much heed to what to do in the summer. Although, to be honest, the trend towards competitive internship search had raised its ugly head as I was graduating, as I increasingly heard whispers among my peers that so-and-so got an internship job as we geared up for winter holidays.

These days, we’re seeing that trend taken to an increasing extreme — during the very first week of this semester, for example (and we start the semester relatively early here at my university), I met with my advisee students, and a few of them had already started searching for an internship for next summer.

Which brings me to the advice for you today (if you’re looking for an internship; heck, if you’re looking for a job to be had by next summer!):  START EARLY!  How early is early? It’s never too early. Indeed, star students at A-schools begin thinking about their post-commencement real-world jobs when they’re juniors or even sophomores, especially if they want to get into finance or red-hot high tech. Competition for college entrance is fierce and getting fiercer each year (I shudder at the prospect of my kids writing their college applications); competition for high-quality jobs is even more intense, partly due to the shrinking number of such jobs in the U.S., partly due to the large number of foreign students that are allowed to take over some of these jobs (if you’re in this group, your chances are now probably higher than American citizens), and partly due to the increased information flow we have in today’s world. “The early bird gets the worms.” Don’t forget that.

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Still Using Gmail? Time to Switch

As you probably already know, Google profiles and tracks its users to an unbelievable extent. Some reports have painted Google’s practice as akin to spying on private citizens. Gmail, in particular, is reported to read every word in every Gmail e-mail, and Google uses the keywords it finds to build databases on the user and the user’s correspondents.

Scary? You bet ya, especially if you live in the United States of America. When a private company like Google behaves like the KGB and the Stasi when it comes to collecting information on ordinary citizens, it’s really scary.

The reason I mention this today is, if you’re still a Gmail user and looking for a job, you should use another e-mail provider that is less invasive. Yahoo, AOL, iCloud (for users of Apple products), your ISP, Hotmail/Outlook.com, etc. At least there have been no reports that these services read user e-mail messages in the U.S. like Google does.

There’s a practical reason for switching away from Gmail for job hunters. Some employers have reportedly become wary of Gmail’s spying practice and use filters to block out Gmail messages that may make the employers target for Google profiling (called “Scroogling” by some critics). It’s possible that some employers may block Gmail messages altogether.  I’ve heard from students who reported that when they used Gmail, they often didn’t hear back from potential employers that they’d expected to hear back from. Of course, no one can prove that those employers blocked Gmail messages, or that Google somehow blocks those messages, but why risk it?  Use a more neutral and relatively more privacy-friendly service like Yahoo. You’ll be protecting yourself from over-zealous spying as well as maximizing the chances of having your job e-mails getting across to potential employers.

(If you care about privacy when browsing the web, be sure to check out the private browsing mode available in Firefox, Safari, IE, and other browsers.)

Disclosure: I do not own shares in Yahoo or AOL. I own tiny numbers of shares in Apple, Google and Microsoft.

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Etiquette of Reqesting Recommendation

In the last few years, more and more Wall Street employers have begun to ask candidates for written recommendations — especially of those candidates who are about to graduate or have just graduated from school.

When asking an old professor or boss for a recommendation, you should pay attention to the following points:

  • Ask early. The worst kind of request, from the perspective of the potential recommender, is one that must be finished in 24 hours. Chances are, the person you’re asking to write the recommendation is busy — and if he or she is an old professor, they often have many recommendations to write during recruiting season. And to be honest, many people who face a tight deadline to write a recommendation simply skipping writing it altogether. After all, asking someone to write a recommendation a day or two before it’s due is a sign of disrespect. Don’t do it.
  • In your request, state clearly what the recipient of the recommendation is looking for. This gives the recommender some idea on what to write and what qualities of yours to emphasize.
  • If you’re requesting a recommendation from an old professor who taught you more than six months ago, include essential information about yourself, such as which course(s) you took under him or her, when you did that, what grade(s) you got, and what interaction, if any, you had with him or her. Always include additional information about yourself, such as your high GPA or meaningful extracurricular activities, that help the recommender know you better. In general, I think it’s okay to attach a proper mug shot — I teach 400 – 500 students each year, and to be honest even some of the better students often fly under the radar so I don’t keep many face-name associations in my memory.
  • IMPORTANT:  Unless the situation is very special, never ask for a carte blanche recommendation. That’s a recommendation the recommender writes in the open and gives to you, signed but unsealed, so you can do whatever as you wish with the recommendation (hence the term carte blanche, meaning doing as you wish or think best). A recommendation request should always be made for a specific purpose, e.g., for a specific position or scholarship, and addressed to a specific recipient (or, at least, “to whom it may concern” at a specific organization).
  • IMPORTANT:  Unless the situation is very special, attach a note to your request and state that you waive your right to review the recommendation letter. You should already be familiar with this if you went to college or grad school in the U.S.: during the college or graduate school application process, the recommendation form you fill out has a check box for “I waive my right to review/examine this recommendation.” You probably already know that if you didn’t tick this check box, no one would really write a recommendation for you. More importantly, if you don’t allow the recommender to write a confidential recommendation, the recommendation will be construed by the recipient to be less than a fully honest assessment of you and will not be taken very seriously.
  • If the recommender needs to mail in the recommendation (by snail mail), be sure to include an addressed and stamped envelope! I often get such a request yet the student would not include a prepared envelope for me to mail the recommendation in. Well, guess what? I never write such a recommendation. Why should I pay to send out the recommendation, given that I would have spent time and energy composing it?
  • It’s okay to contact the recommender shortly before the deadline to remind him or her of the deadline. Start the reminder with a thank-you message: “I’d like to thank you once again for taking time out of your busy schedule to write the recommendation for the analyst position at Bail Me Out Bank on my behalf. In case you haven’t sent it out, please note that the due date is February 1, and the addressee is Mrs. Blanche Johnson, blanche.johnson@bankforpigs.org. I truly appreciate your help and candor, and will update you on my job search status.”
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‘Why Do You Want to Change Careers?’

In my book (paperback edition: http://bit.ly/quant2, $9.82; Kindle edition: http://amzn.to/quantkindle, $3.99), I give some advice for readers who are already working in a non-financial industry and who are looking to get into the quant industry, on how to answer the question given in the title of this post.

As an econ professor at a large public university in the U.S., I have many undergrad students who already have a fulltime job but who are trying to finish their education and hoping to get a better job — and some of them want to land a career in high finance. So every semester, a few of them would come to me seeking advice on how to answer such a question at a job interview.

Tip#1: Do not mention money as the motive for your wanting to change careers. I’m sure this is by far the most important reason to you personally, but it’s best to leave it inside your heart rather than airing it out in front of an interviewer. There’s a cliché much respected in the hedge fund industry: A fund manager who only pursues money is doomed to failure, but a fund manager who pursues success will surely succeed. What this says is that while everyone in the finance industry is foremost motivated by money, it’s when you have a non-monetary goal, such as coming up with a market-beating strategy or doing better than your peers, that can motivate you better. The end goal is the same, but it’s how you frame the pursuit, and how you convince other people of your motives, that makes a world of a difference. This difference matters when you look for a job, and matters when you’re actually on the job. So financial interviewers often look down on candidates who talk nothing but money. People in finance have very little loyalty to their firms or bosses, but when it comes to interviewing future colleagues, they want to think you value loyalty and team work more than you value money. So always keep that in mind when you approach this question.

Tip#1a: But what if an interviewer pointedly asks you “Is money a reason why you’re switching careers?” Don’t lie. Unless money is truly not a reason in your case and you have very strong evidence to back up that claim (such as “I was a jet fighter pilot and I’ve always believed an ace pilot like me would thrive in a trading environment, that’s why I’ve been constantly on the lookout for an opportunity like this…”), you can acknowledge that better pay is indeed a reason, but not the main reason. Then, steer the conversation towards the lines of answering mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Tip#2: Besides money, do not mention any reasons that have nothing to do with your professional goals. For example, some people blurt out that they’re looking to change careers because they want to find a better-looking boyfriend/girlfriend, or they want to impress their friends’ wives/husbands, or they want to please their parents who want their kids to have a high-paying and respected job (the last of which is a pressure many Asian candidates face). If you’re genuinely not interested in your current job, you can frame your answer in terms of how a job in finance can provide you with the types of challenges and satisfaction you seek — and never fail to mention how you can contribute to the employer’s growth. (In an interview, always try to squeeze in a statement or two about how you can be a valuable asset to the employer, even when talking about yourself.) If you’re switching purely for personal reasons — scoring a better mate or pleasing your parents — leave those behind at home, instead talk only about your professional goals.

Tip#3: Do adequate homework on the employer and on the industry before you set foot in the door. Interviewers really, really hate candidates who know nothing about the firm or group for which the interview is held. Out of respect for your interviewer, you should understand what the firm and the specific department/group do and what they expect of candidates. If you walk in acting clueless as to what they want, the interviewer will surely think of you as a disrespectful person who’s wasting his/her time and will end the interview quickly, and not in your favor. There were countless times when I simply shook hands with a candidate to bid good-bye a couple of minutes after I shook his/her hand to say hello, once I realized that he/she had done absolutely no background research on what my company or what my group was involved in. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes for a moment: would you be interested in talking to someone who comes to you for a favor, yet who knows nothing about who you are and what you can offer?

Tip#4: Tie in your current situation to the job for which you’re interviewing. What kinds of skills can you bring to the table for the employer? What past projects in your current field that you completed reflect your competency and your “pursuit of excellence”? What accolades did you earn that represent your strengths? Before the interview, come up with a list of positive attributes that you can associate with your current (or past) job, and for each positive attribute prepare at least one specific example. Do not lie about your achievements in your current career. Many seasoned interviewers can smell BS the second it surfaces, and it’s always possible that HR may contact your past employers to verify the things you told the interviewers, such as “I was the Salesman of the Year at my company of 3,000 salesmen last year” or even something as innocuous as “My boss has praised me numerous times about my work efficiency.”

For candidates looking to switch into finance from another career, interviewers are interested in first what skills and knowledge the candidate brings to the new job and second whether the candidate is genuinely interested in staying in the new industry (as opposed to someone who sees the financial industry as another kind of lottery game). Keep these concerns of interviewers in mind as you march into a financial interview.

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Interview Question: Logit in Excel

Sample Question #323 (Excel)

We’re interested in implementing a logit model, but we only want to implement it in Excel using only its built-in tools. [That is, we’re not buying third-party add-ins for this.] Describe to me in general terms how you would proceed. Name a couple of built-in Excel functions that you’ll be using.

[Hint: Even though this question is framed in the context of Excel, it’s really a statistics question. How would you estimate the coefficients in a logit (or probit, for that matter) model by hand?]

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Kindle Edition Now Available!

Hi, guys!  After some delay, I’m now excited to announce that the Kindle edition of this book is now available, at http://amzn.to/quantkindle, for just $5.99.

The Kindle edition is an abridged version of the revised print edition (Abcot Press, 2010). Due to limitations in e-publishing, book formatting was vastly simplified and a very small amount of non-essential content was dropped. In return, you pay only $5.99 for the Kindle edition.

The Kindle edition can be read on any Amazon Kindle e-reader, or in the Kindle app available for Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, iOS, and Android.

If you own a physical Kindle e-reader and are a member of Amazon Prime, you can borrow this book from the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” and read it for FREE.  Please see the KOLL’s terms of service for details.  Note that you must have a physical Kindle device and Prime membership to borrow the Kindle edition.

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and much success in job hunting.

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Spring Cleaning… of the Job Hunting Kind

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and somewhere where there are four distinct seasons, spring is by now in the air. Besides enjoying the springtime weather and outdoor fun, or, like me, hiding indoors and trying to contain the symptoms of hay fever, you should take inventory of your job search process and get a clear idea of what to do in the coming months ahead.

One important thing to remember is, between now and July, many financial firms are looking to hire new workers. Then, when the lazy summer months (again, that’s if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) of July and August hit, a lot of managers will be out of the office, or will simply be too lazy to think aobut hiring. Then, when September comes around, they will be thinking about next year’s budgeting as well as this year’s bonus numbers, so hiring will be slow from mid-July until about mid-October, at which time campus recruiting will be kicking into high gear.

So take heed! Take a moment to think about what you have done so far in the job hunting process. Think about whom you have contacted, who have contacted you back, and who have not. Think about whether you can improve your resume or cover letter. Think about whether there are more contacts you can make. Don’t just sit around and be lazy. Spring makes one want to do nothing all day (whether a result of hay fever or not), but as a job seeker, you cannot afford to do nothing all day.

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