When Eliza Girty says Trafigura’s commodity trading graduate programme changed her life, she is not exaggerating.
Unlike many firms in the financial sector, the commodity trading company doesn’t offer cookie-cutter training to its graduates – it puts them on a demanding and exciting global pathway that moulds them for a future of unrestricted prospects within the business.
“After graduating from university in the US, I set off on what has so far been a two-year adventure with Trafigura. I’ve now gained international work experience while living in Uruguay and Switzerland. And on the way I’ve made many new friends and learned to work in another language,” says Girty.
Trafigura is currently recruiting new graduates and final-year students across the world for traineeships starting this year and in 2018. “We want the best of the best. Our aim is to produce future leaders, so to join us you must be driven to get to the top – you could become head of trading, open up a new market, or launch a new product line,” says Olivia Higgins, Global Talent Acquisition Manager at Trafigura.
On the two-year programme, graduates spend eight months in three of the key core trading divisions: deals, operations and finance.
Girty says working across departments has helped her understand the intricacies of Trafigura’s international business. “The knowledge I’ve gained is the perfect preparation for my future within the company.”
The rotations ensure that trainees have a “holistic understanding of Trafigura”, adds Higgins. “The physical commodities trading sector lacks people who understand the whole trade lifecycle – that’s why our training gives you literacy across all our products.”
Global mobility starts from day one at Trafigura. Graduates on the global programme can work anywhere in the world and move countries as they move desks. “The desire to travel is very important during your training and for your long-term career here,” says Higgins. “You could be working in one of our main offices – such as Geneva, Singapore, Houston or Shanghai – or somewhere more remote, like PNG or the DRC.”
Higgins says graduates are rotated into different cities according to the needs of the business. “When you first join the programme, you don’t know where your second and third rotations will be. Your next destination will be where opportunity for exposure is the greatest just before you move.”
No matter where you end up, the Trafigura course is “incredibly tough”, says Higgins. “It’s long at two years, but it produces the best people. We push you very hard and have high expectations, but the level of personal responsibility is unmatched in the sector.”
“Just two months in you could be responsible for a cargo worth $20m and could be called on a Sunday and asked to make vital decisions. After eight months our grads are typically performing at the same level as someone who’s been in the role for two years,” says Higgins.
Girty describes the training as “challenging and not for everyone”. “But if you’re prepared to work hard, you’ll develop a strong foundation for both personal and career growth that is truly unrivalled,” she adds.
After the rotations are over, you take up a permanent role. Girty, for example, has recently joined the LNG trading team in Geneva.
Despite strong support throughout the programme, HR doesn’t dictate where you go – you create your own opportunities. “A few months before the final rotation ends, you set up meetings with global heads to identify potential opportunities anywhere in the group globally, taking ownership of your own career,” says Higgins.
“If you’ve developed strong relationships, there’s no department or market you can’t go into,” she says. “Optionality is one of the key differentials between us and other programmes on the market. It’s a much less structured approach to graduate development. We see this flexibility as a strength.”
Trafigura is also flexible when it comes to the backgrounds of the trainees it hires. You can apply for a graduate job regardless of where you went to university or what you studied.
“Diversity of thinking is a vital part of our success, so we don’t just recruit people with degrees in finance or business,” says Higgins. “We want graduates from all disciplines who are passionate about working in physical trading and developing a global career.”
Higgins’ team reads every online graduate application before inviting the best candidates for a phone-based screening conversation. If you get past these initial stages, you face two rounds of panel interviews with business leaders.
Be prepared for questions such as: “can you provide an example of how you’ve made money in the past few months?” and “what is an investment opportunity that could generate revenue for Trafigura at a reasonable risk?”
“At interviews we want to see that you’re entrepreneurial, understand our company, have researched the physical commodities industry, and will go the extra mile for us,” says Higgins. “We invest a lot into your training, so we assess your motivations for joining the industry and for having a long-term career with Trafigura.”
Geo-political awareness and relationship building skills are also vital. “World events help to shape trading in physical commodities. And during your training you’ll be dealing with people at all levels, from virtually any country,” explains Higgins.
During their first desk rotation successful candidates receive several weeks of formal tuition about the industry and, more specifically, Trafigura’s business. “But our graduate course isn’t designed to be classroom-based. You learn more by asking your colleagues questions while you’re actually working with them. It is a very open culture and flat hierarchy,” says Higgins
Trafigura graduates receive on-the-job development and support. At the end of each eight-month rotation, for example, they present their key achievements to a committee of senior traders and management. “Our CEO shows great interest in the development of the graduates and will personally meet with all graduates on the programme,” adds Higgins.
Graduates can take advantage of one-on-one career advice from several mentors assigned to them, including traders, desk heads and HR managers. “It’s up to you to build these relationships, but all teams will be very supportive when you do.”
When your two years of training is over, the sky is literally the limit at Trafigura. “Progress can be rapid as we don’t move people rigidly up the ranks,” says Higgins. “We have had grads who’ve moved into a trading role nearly a year after finishing the programme, another became global head of deals just six years after completing it.”
“We want to hire more graduates like this – ambitious and globally mobile people who can adapt to change and become leaders,” she adds. “There’s a huge opportunity for graduates to make a real impact on developing our business across the world.”