How to get ahead in trading: Lex Van Dam, former Goldman Sachs prop trader, former GLG trader, hedge fund manager, speaks

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Lex Van Dam

We asked Lex Van Dam some questions. This is what he said.

1. How did you start your trading career?

I did an internship with Goldman Sachs during my econometrics degree and that was my first real contact with the world of finance. I never knew there even was a job as cool as trading the markets. It was love at first sight and that hasn’t changed since.

2. What's best if you want to get into trading today: joining a proprietary trading firm and trading with your own money, or getting onto a trainee programme at a big bank?

Working for a bank is the best choice: they pay you while you learn. It takes time, effort and commitment to learn how to trade, and that is why it is best to have a job while you are learning.

The market will be around forever, make sure put yourself into the best position possible before you enter it for real.

3. You have two candidates, both have excellent academics and an interest in the markets. Both are highly numerate. Both seem like pleasant people. What differentiates one as a great trader?

I look at mental toughness - motivation, self-confidence, focus, composure and resilience. I want to know why they want to be a trader, if they believe in themselves even when things go wrong, if they can concentrate on the job at hand,  not lose the plot when stressed out and if they are able to bounce back from disappointments.

4. Would you ever wish to work as a 'flow trader' in a major bank? Why? Why not?

Yes, did it for five years at GS. Best job in the world, teaches you everything about price discovery and supply and demand as opposed to theoretical blabla.

5. You were headhunted to leave Goldman Sachs for GLG. How did they pitch that to you?

They felt there was a good fit and it would teach me new skills. I agreed and it turned out like that.

6. You've set up your own trading academy, is there a reason you're doing this instead of running a hedge fund?

The trading academy is not my main job, the hedge fund is. I am 100% dedicated to that. The trading academy is almost like a mission to me. I want to help people take care of their own financial future and demystify the world of finance. There is so much scam financial education out there. They give you a free seminar, and don't let you go unless you have signed on the dotted line. The teacher is normally someone who failed in the City, selling so-called secrets at exorbitant prices that turn out to be worth zero. In Million Dollar Traders I put my money where my mouth is, so hopefully I have a certain credibility.

In any case I love trading, either doing it or talking about it or tweeting it.

7. How much sleep do you get each night?

About 6 hours, normally wake up at least once and can't resist looking at how Asian markets are trading.

8.  London or Switzerland?

London. Anyone I know who moved to Switzerland hates it. Even the Swiss hate it, as it is so boring.

9. Easter or Christmas?

I am short term - so Easter now, in December I would say Christmas.

10.  What three pieces of advice would you give the would-be trader now?

I will quote Larry Hite "I have two basic rules about winning in trading as well as in life: If you don't bet, you can't win. If you lose all your chips, you can't bet." So take risk but never so much that could you lose it all. I would add to that never make decisions based purely on technicals.

Lots of people do that and it sometimes works, but at the end of the day you don't build any intellectual capital drawing little lines.

That is why I developed 5-Step-Trading(R). It forces you to look at an idea from many different angles and to do your homework before you trade, so when things go wrong  you will make a much smarter decision. It is an online course that teaches people more in three hours than any other course out there.

On a last note trading is about being street smart as much as anything else, so make sure you listen to the right people and get the right mentors.

Lex Van Dam is on Twitter, follow him at @LexVanDam. To find out more about Lex's Trading Academy, visit