Q&A: An anonymous Russian trader at Deutsche Bank in London explains how to build a trading career

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Mystery man

eFinancialCareers continues its series of interviews with Russians who have moved to work abroad. This week, we've spoken to a senior trader in Deutsche Bank’s London office who has asked to remain anonymous.

Why and when did you leave Russia?

I left at sixteen with my parents, scientists, who went to Switzerland in the early 1990s as part of a major emigration trend. I graduated there in theoretical maths and went on to study in the US for a PhD in Environmental Economics, having received a study grant. I then spent three years working in Africa on a macroeconomic analysis project for a country that was negotiating with the IMF at the time. When the project was over I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, and joined my wife in London who had just started writing her PhD there.

How did you get into finance?

I was tired of being poor. I read a couple of books, including Timothy Falcon Crack’s ‘Heard on the street’ and Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives by John Hull, then went for interviews in quantitative analytics and was rather quickly hired by UBS where I stayed for four years. I received a work permit thanks to my wife.

How did you manage to attract recruiters’ attention despite being an outsider?

I looked for vacancies using specialised discussion boards for quantitative specialists. I also set up a smart-looking website where I put together the typical mistakes made by traders as seen in different discussion boards, and explained what it was that they were doing wrong. This helped me put my name on the map.

How did your career progress after that?

The first two years were quite good, but then the man who had hired me went on to set up a hedge fund, and things started slowly going downhill. Then when UBS decided not to pay out bonuses in early 2009, practically everyone who was any good left over the following six months, including me. The bank spent another three years or so trying to recover, but has now decided to de facto fold its investment banking operations.

It took me much longer to find my second job. I wanted to switch sectors and go from equities to FX trading, but it was a major challenge trying to persuade headhunters to send me to interviews for positions I did not have prior experience in. I interviewed daily for several hours for nearly half a year, and met with practically everyone. I finally received an offer from Deutsche Bank.

What helped you change sectors?

A year earlier I’d let a headhunter set up an FX interview even though the job itself did not seem particularly interesting to me. But I made a very good impression on the interviewers, and they spoke highly of me when talking to the recruiter. She then had no hesitation about sending me for FX interviews with other companies.

What are the typical pitfalls for people of your background when looking for work?

A lot of quantitative specialists don’t know how markets are structured. They can build complex models and are good at maths, but lack an understanding of how their models impact the company’s business. This means that they need to be complemented with another specialist, which in turn significantly drives down their market value. I was a complete newbie when I came to UBS, but I spent enough time hanging around with people from other departments and learned how the company operates. I then used interviews to fill in information gaps. As the questions asked are more or less the same between one interview and another, if you’ve failed the first three interviews you’ll have had time to think and give the right answers at the fourth one.

What is your general advice to jobseekers?

It is easiest to get your first job at a bank either using personal connections or through a graduate programme. In the latter case you are hired as a cheap resource and are not expected to be particularly skilled. The key is to show enthusiasm.

For your second job, it is best to use a recruiter. If you’ve been manning the same desk for more than a year they’ll find you themselves. Ask friends and acquaintances about decent recruiters they know. A decent recruiter is one who won’t send out your resume to the whole world without your explicit permission. The banking sector is quite strict in this respect: if a recruiter has sent your resume for the wrong position at a bank, the bank won’t consider you as a candidate sent by other recruiters for other positions. Carpet-bombing companies with candidate CVs may work well for recruiters, but is fatal for candidates.

Would you go back to Russia?

It doesn’t make much difference to me where I work; what matters is how much revenue my work generates. The greatest career challenge is to prove within the existing set of rules that you are adding value to the company and to show your role in its business. Depending on how much revenue your role lets you generate for the bank, it decides whether to promote you, let you stay or make you redundant. Bonus size is a proxy of the company’s willingness to keep you working for them in the coming year. I am not looking for a new job as I have plenty of opportunities to realise my ambitions at my current position.

What is your advice to people looking for a new job this year?

This year; I believe it will be quite difficult to find your second or third job. Too many banks are significantly scaling back their investment banking operations. My advice would be to sit it out. But it’s never too early to start building relationships with recruiters.