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A depressing account of life in operations, from someone who wanted to be a trader

If you’re a student who wants to be a trader, but you still haven’t found a place on an investment bank’s graduate or internship trader training programme  and are therefore resigned to working in the middle or back office (ie.Compliance and risk, operations, or finance), the Guardian’s latest anonymous banker interview may prove a little depressing.

The Guardian has spoken to an unnamed British Asian in his early 30s who wanted to be a trader, but ended up spending five years in front office support functions before being made redundant. This is what he says.

1. You may want to be a trader or salesperson, but 95% of the jobs are in trade support functions

This may be an exaggeration.

Data from banks puts the front office/support function split at around 1:2. But still: you’re far more likely to get a support role than a sales or trading job.

2.  If you haven’t got an Oxbridge/public school background, you’re more likely to get a front office role at a small firm.

“My ambition was always to work on the trading floor, to be front office. I realised early on that I could never get into one of the big banks, as they recruit only among top students at top universities,” he says. “So after graduating with a management economics degree I landed an internship at a very small firm. I didn’t mind doing the groundwork, fetching bacon rolls and coffee, as I was gaining important experience. This is how smaller firms operate; you start all the way at the bottom.”

3.  But small firms are very nepotistic and not all meritocratic

“When a job opened up [at the small firm] I jumped at it, but in the end the nephew of one of the dealers got it,” he says.

“That was my first taste of the City, and the experience was repeated at other small places. They are unmeritocratic. You have to be part of the circle, and I wasn’t. That was very disappointing. I just couldn’t get a foothold.”

4.  When the small firm fell through, he decided to try for a job in operations at a large bank and to work his way up. This made matters worse.

The trading floor was, “intoxicating.”

“I could say that working on the desk was the worst thing to happen to my career. It made me chase the holy grail and not settle for anything else. This is only good if it works out.”

5.   He was working from 8am to 6pm and earning £50k

“The hours were OK, from 8am till 6pm, though you need to factor in the commute as well.”

6.  Operations people were intimated by the traders, especially the successful traders

“Hot-shot traders can be abrupt and abrasive, always under pressure. You learn to pick your moments for a query.”

7.  If you want to move out of the back office and into a trading role, you should stay in one job

“I bounced a lot between banks, thinking this would get me valuable experience. It’s much better to stay in one place and align yourself politically with senior people. Build up expertise so they will think, we don’t want to lose this guy.”

8. He’s now been out of the market for a year, but is determined to continue working in finance

“”In my last job we had a cut in February, where we lost somebody on the team, then another in November, when we lost a few more. The third cut, in December, got me. I lost myself in drink, for a week or so. Then I got seriously depressed, having to seek help and medication. That’s been a year, and now there’s this huge gap in my résumé.”

9.  Recruiters have a limited attention span

“I’ve come up against superficial recruiters who act all ‘matey’ for a little while, then lose interest if they feel they can’t immediately place you. They all employ the same stock phrases when communicating with you and when relaying their ‘expert’ views on the market.”

10.  He’s started applying for jobs in other sectors, but that’s not very easy either

“I have started applying for jobs in other sectors. I find myself in this terrible assessment centre, competing with kids.”

For further depressing reading, click here. Alternatively, click here to be cheered up.

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