How to get a job at Citadel, by a member of its portfolio committee

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Winning

Based on our annual Ideal Employer survey of more than 6,000 financial services professionals worldwide, Citadel has placed first as the hedge fund firm that respondents most want to work for.

We spoke with Todd Barker, the head of Surveyor Capital, a fundamental equities unit, and a member of the portfolio committee at Citadel. Prior to joining the hedge fund firm in 2004, he was an investment banking analyst in the equity capital markets group at Goldman Sachs.

Can you describe the role of head of Surveyor Capital? What makes you suited to this position?

I’m responsible for leading portfolio managers within Surveyor Capital – I manage PMs on the platform, capital allocation to individual investment teams, performance attribution for those teams and deployment of capital among the long/short strategies.

A big part of the job is identifying talented people, bringing them onto our platform, integrating them into our small team structure and providing them with the resources that they need to be successful, including analytical tools, a risk framework, corporate access and business development support.  At the end of the day, we are fostering an environment where investment talent can take over and deploy capital based on the opportunity sets that they identify.

What would you say differentiates Citadel from other hedge funds as an employer?

I think some of the key differentiators include our culture of meritocracy and the resources that the firm is able to provide to its team members.

Because meritocracy is in our DNA, there is significant opportunity for career growth at the firm. I came in as an associate hire and I worked all the way up to where I am now, running one of the firm’s businesses.

To support this kind of growth, we encourage all team members to seek mentorship. I think mentorship is very much a two-way street and that senior team members can learn just as much from junior team members as junior team members can learn from them.

Finally, the benefits that come with scale are enormous. Our ability to provide whatever it takes, whether it be data resources, management access or insights into portfolio construction are unique within the industry.

Which preconceptions did you have about working for Citadel which were dispelled when you joined?

I was deciding between Citadel and a couple of smaller three- or four-person long/short hedge funds, and I chose to come here, because this was a place where I would at the very least learn how a professional organization is run. Before I started, I did not appreciate the scale of the opportunity set, which has expanded with the evolution of our equities business.

Which advice would you give anyone applying for a role at Citadel?

First, approach the work with energy and passion. Like in any job, and especially in a high-performance culture like Citadel, it’s going to be tough to survive if you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing.

Be open minded and self-aware, and seek feedback for where you can improve, whether it’s via performance attribution or other analytical tools. You can get out of it what you put in. Be open to continuous learning throughout your career. No one has completely mastered the art or science of being an equity long/short PM or analyst, so you can always learn how to do the job better.

During the interview process, be prepared. Know your subject matter well, be comfortable discussing it, be detail oriented and convey passion.

We are also always looking for people who have strong skills in modeling and forecasting companies’ financials, so the more you develop that toolbox, the better.

The most important thing to remember is to do everything to the best of your abilities. I wasted too much energy early in my career trying to imagine the future state of the world and my place in it. If you focus on doing a great job, you get more opportunities and the rest will take care of itself.

How does working on the buy-side compare to working on the sell-side?

On the sell side [as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs] you’re often trying to understand your client and tailor your message to their preferences.

What attracted me to the buy side is that instead of trying to find a narrative that fits the client, the focus is on pursuing the right answer and finding it in the most effective way.

In my first 10 years at Citadel, I never did a PowerPoint presentation – I worked much more on Excel models. The appearance of the presentation mattered less than the numbers, which are what mattered to me.

I developed great relationships on the sell side and learned a tremendous amount, including important foundational skills such as financial modeling and presentation development. I also got exposure to many different people, which helped inform my process as I progressed in my career.

Another thing that drew me to Citadel was being able to see the impact of my work and get evaluated based on my contributions to the organization. We have a daily scoreboard that tracks how everyone is doing, and over the long haul, I view it as a huge asset.

That said, it can also be draining to maintain such consistently high levels of performance at all times. The most difficult part of this job is that you work the hardest in years when you have to adjust your investment strategy due to challenging market cycles.  There are years that are fun and not as hard, but I’ve learned the most in years I’ve worked the hardest and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

What’s your favorite thing about working for Citadel and what could you do without?

My favorite thing about working for Citadel is winning. I love working with the best and brightest people and I love competing. I feel tremendously proud to work on a team that executes at the level that this team executes.

I could do without some of the stress, although I’m not sure that’s a realistic proposition – that’s the nature of the job I’ve chosen.

How do you think your role and the industry will changed by automation in the future?

My view is that these new technologies are incredible assets and tools that my analysts and PMs are going to have to understand how to access and use in order to interpret data and what it means in the future. We still need human judgment to understand what’s going to be actionable and what’s not. These new tools help to form a mosaic, and they’re crucial pieces, but more to augment humans rather than replace them.

When asked this question, Steve Jobs used to talk about the efficiency of movement of different animals. Condors have most efficient body shape for flight, and humans way down on the list, but a human on a bike is way more efficient than any animal. The bike is technology.

I think of the job in terms of time allocation. Our best teams are very good at deciding where to spend their research time and which ideas to pursue. AI and machine learning can help tremendously in guiding our research time allocation and helping determine what’s relevant and what’s not, which ultimately helps us become more efficient in our jobs.

Photo credit: thehague/GettyImage

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