Interview Question: Uncertain Future (non-quant question)

Sample Question #84 (non-quant general background-checking question)

[For this one, I wanted to do something different – not giving a technical question. In light of the ongoing turmoils in the markets, I thought it would be appropriate to test your ability to answer this one.]

As you know, currently the global financial markets are experiencing some serious turbulence due to problems in the credit market. One potential consequence is the whole industry will go into a depression and lots of people will get laid off. Let’s say you join this group [where you’re interviewing] and in six months you are laid off. How will this possibility affect your interest in pursuing a quant career? Also, what would you do to manage this "risk"?

(Comment: I really can’t emphasize enough that the financial industry, unlike, say, healthcare or accounting, regularly goes through up-and-down cycles, and seasoned veterans in the industry will tell you the many times they were worried about, or became victims of, being laid off. This is just a fact of life – a fact unfortunately many people forget about or ignore when times are good. The important thing is to know everybody could get laid off, even the CEO (!), and the other important thing is to always have a backup plan.)

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One Response to Interview Question: Uncertain Future (non-quant question)

  1. Brett says:

    ANSWER (well, more like possible approaches to answering)
    The questioner probably wants you to think seriously about your career choice (or whether you really want to switch jobs if that’s why you are interviewing), and probably also wants to test you on how you think about your career.
    If I were asked this question, I’d first point out that I’ve already made a commitment to pursuing a quant career, and my strong interest does lie in quantitative finance, so current market conditions will not affect my pursuit of a quant career. I’d also point out that I’m fully aware of the fact that the market always goes through ups and downs, and I’m also fully aware of the risks of working in finance. But, I’d say, there’re risks in every profession. Even Tom Cruise doesn’t always get movie contracts he wants! (I think that’s true, but, hey, it’s just an analogy!)
    The 2nd question is about career management. I’d say things like I’ll broaden my search and cast my nest wide in my job search. I’ll always consider applying to non-quant jobs if the quant job market turns out to be in worse shape than I expect. I’d also mention I’ll continue to develop my skills in analytics and programming, so even if I can’t find a job now or if I lose my job in 6 months, I’ll be in a good position to find another job. Finally, if the interviewer is American, I’d express my confidence in the robustness of the U.S. economy — after all, we did pretty well after the 9/11 attacks, didn’t we?
    I encourage you to think carefully about why you want to become a quant. Your personal reasons will probably make a better answer! Of course, if the only thing driving you is money, I’d say you shouldn’t bring that up. Want more details about how to talk about money in interviews? You’ll have to read my book. 🙂

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