While being a rookie in any industry is tough, learning on the job as a trader is likely more stress-inducing than other career paths. And that’s if you can get through the interview process, which is often a difficult mix of quantitative and behavioral questions. Some more bizarre than others. For an in depth look, we spoke to Wall Street trader-turned-standup-comedian Raj Mahal. He answered a couple of our questions below.
What are trading interviews really like?
Trading interviews were always interesting. They are as much psychological experiments as they are substantive conversations. When I was interviewing a college kid, I always wanted to get a feel for their personality to assess whether they could handle the losses.
I wasn’t big on asking general knowledge questions because those are stupid and have no relevance. They were all obviously smart. I wanted young and hungry. I wanted someone that could come up with the right answer the quickest.
My favorite question was in the NCAA tournament there are 64 teams and it’s single elimination. How many games are there and what’s the easiest way to get the answer.
Best Answer: 63, because every team loses their last game except the tournament winner.
If I liked a candidate and wanted to hire them, I used to say something in the middle of conversation and pretend like it never happened. I would say something like “Your mother’s a whore” mid-sentence, and then go back to talking about gold prices. I wanted to see how they reacted to volatility and stressful situations since the markets can throw you an unexpected curveball like the one I just did. I am not sure this is backed by the psychological profession, but at least it made me giggle.
Interviewing peers can be interesting. Weird things happen. Egos get raw and huge career mistakes can be made. For instance, when I was the head of index trading at a bulge bracket investment bank, I was asked to interview a candidate to be the head of convertible bond trading. My boss introduced us and said, “Raj is going to talk to you for a half hour.” The guy said, “I have interviewed with a hundred different people from your firm. If you are serious about me, you know my number.” He stormed out. He actually was going to get the job. I don’t recommend that tactic.
On the other hand, use a mistake on their part to your advantage. When I was being interviewed at that same investment bank, I was supposed to meet with three different heads of sales.
There was a mix-up and I sat alone in a conference room for three hours by myself. I was really hungover and tequila was dripping out of my pores. I think I took a nap too. I finally walked on the floor and found my potential new boss and explained to him nobody came in. I think they felt they had no choice but to give me the job or else that story would get around how unprofessional they were. Instead, the company line was it was a planned tactic to see how badly I wanted the job and I aced it.
What do rookie traders really do? Any hazing stories?
Rookie traders these days have it easy. I had it rough. I know this makes me sound like your grandfather. “In my day, my HP12C could only handle 3 multivariate functions and I had no Twitter.” At my first job, the senior traders would make me compete with another rookie trader in various tasks. The loser would have to do something embarrassing. My most embarrassing moment was having to eat my lunch on the trading floor like I was a dog. Meaning no hands. The other guy once had to come to our softball game dressed up in a full chicken suit. This is now frowned upon and illegal.
When I was a rookie trader, I would be forced to make option markets for the senior traders and I had no idea what I was doing then. They gladly took advantage of my inexperience. My daily lunch responsibilities included going to the ATM, to get the money I was about to lose. However humiliating that year was, I do acknowledge that hazing helped to make me a better trader. Unfortunately, these days, you’ll get thrown off a trading desk faster than a Sig Ep loses its charter in an Ivy League school if you behave in such a fashion.
These days all junior traders do is calculate daily P&L, observe their senior colleagues, build spreadsheets, and most importantly, they organize lunch. Lunch is a critical learning tool. Lunch can’t make your career but it can break it. If you can’t organize lunch for 15 hungry traders, how are you supposed to handle a trade that can mean millions of dollars? I once had a guy that thought it was okay that I got charged $71 from Blockheads Burritos. The sum of all the items on Blockheads menu times dos is only $69. How do you think it’s ok to be charged $71 on a Mexican lunch, without a bottle of Avion Tequilla and Salma Hayek delivered my desk?
Raj Malhotra (Raj Mahal is his stage name) is a former Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian. He has worked at Wall Street firms covering three continents, including at Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Nomura. He draws from his unique ethnic background and Wall Street career to entertain audiences nightly, highlighting the struggles of the 1 percent. He can be seen at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Tribeca Comedy Lounge. Follow him on Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets or his website therajmajal.com.