This list of questions started as a section of my article The Quant Project and is expanding thanks to feedback and messages that I have received. Please send me your questions ❓ and thoughts 💡💭 by commenting on this page, using my contact page, or connecting with me via
Table of Contents
What did you study and why did you become a quant?
My interest in Finance and Economics started in the last years of studying my Bachelor in Mathematics at UTM back in Mexico. I enrolled to the Econometrics module and really enjoyed it. In fact, at some point I thought about studying a master in Economics but at the end I decided to stick with Maths.
In the last year of the program, I chose credit risk models as my dissertation topic. This decision was based on two factors:
- My Probability and Statistics modules were absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed them greatly and I wanted to work on a topic related to them.
- I came across the book Introduction to Credit Risk Modeling (see Amazon Link) by Christian Bluhm et. al. As an undergraduate student, one of my favourite hobbies was leafing through the books available in the Mathematics section of my university library. So, one day I found this book and the subject fascinated me. It is worth mentioning that at that time, I did not even know that quants existed! I was living in a small town, named Huajuapan, where there were no investment banks (let alone quants) for hundreds of km around. However, I found the topic so interesting and exciting that I decided that somehow I wanted to follow that path.
That was how my interest in the quant world started. For my BSc thesis, I basically went over chapters 1 to 5 of Introduction to Credit Risk Modeling. After this, I felt that I needed a stronger foundation in Probability and Statistics before being able to pursuing a career as a quant. This led me first to the Center for Research in Mathematics (CIMAT) where I got an MSc in Probability and Statistics; and later to the University of Warwick where I got a PhD on stochastic processes.
After all those years, my inclination for Finance was still there (even stronger). Besides, I had acquired a strong quantitative background and I was living near London. All the pieces were finally there and I found myself in the lucky position to follow what once was just a dream: becoming a quant 🙂
What does your typical day look like?
Currently, I work as a Front Office Quant at Citi. My team focuses on Commodities. A typical day consists of
- reading and replying to e-mails
- working on my main projects (I usually have several short term projects and one or two long term ones.) This can include: reading and writing technical documentation (mainly documents written in latex) about mathematical models; implementing models (mostly in C++ and some in Python) and running tests (written by me or by others); responding to requests from other teams; meeting colleagues for discussing results; preparing slides for internal and external meetings.
- attending various meetings for administrative purposes such as planning, prioritising, and organising future work;
Can I become a quant if I have no experience in banking?
Yes, absolutely. I did not have any experience (no summer placement, no internships).
How can I find a recruiter?
The truth is that they may find you first. That is what they do.
When I was still at Warwick recruiters started calling me and sending me messages about available opportunities. In case they have not find you yet, there are a couple of things that you can do:
- Ask people in your network to recommend you a recruiter
- Go to LinkedIn and try to find them either by finding connections or by applying to jobs. There are two useful features:
- In your profile there is an option that says “Show recruiters that you are open to work”
- Moreover, when you apply for a job in LinkedIn there is an option to let the person who post it to see your profile
- Attend Career Fairs and Networking events
- Upload your resume to sites such as e-finalcial careers
I want to finish this telling you that my experience with recruiters has been terrific so far. However, not all recruiters are the same. Some are amazing and others not so much.
Only experience will tell you who to keep in contact with but a general rule is to look for someone who listens to you and makes an effort to understand what you are looking for (or even more, helps you to see what are the options and find which one is more suitable for your profile and preferences). Finally, don’t let recruiters push you to apply for positions that you don’t like. It will be a waste of time for both most likely.
How early should I start looking and preparing for quant interviews? I’m in my last year of PhD and am wondering if I should start looking after submission or not?
If you have a quantitative academic background (graduated level on a STEM subject):
- one month before the first interview is enough if you will be able to focus on the preparation full time.
- consider two or three months if you will be spending only part time on your interview preparation.
In my case, I had my first interview in December, 2015 (before submitting my PhD thesis) and honestly did not spend enough time preparing. I passed to the second round and had seven face to face interviews but did not get the job. Looking back, I can see that I made mistakes such as talking about my thesis too much! I am sure the interviewers were bored but were too polite to stop me.
After submitting my thesis, I moved to London and focused on preparing for interviews full time. That was at the end of January, 2016. I started interviewing again in February and immediately noted how much of a difference preparation made.
Broadly speaking, the whole process from sending your first application to getting an offer would take something between 3 and 12 months.
In the UK, thesis revision can take up to a year but the panel gives you a provisional timeline after a couple of months. This helps you to plan accordingly. The important part is to make sure that you will have time to focus on preparing for the interviews.
How do you overcome nervousness in an interview?
Be confident in your technical skills and remind yourself that nobody knows everything. Moreover, as a recent graduate you will bring novelty and fresh air to the industry! So, please keep in mind that you have something very valuable to offer.
Do I need a certification (e.g. CFA, FRM or CQF)?
Not really but it can help you to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Do you need a PhD to become a quant?
No, you don’t need a PhD but if you have one, then you have already acquired a bunch of transferrable skills that will be super valuable in finance.
Many MSc’ students have asked me if they should do a PhD before starting a career as a quant. My advise is, don’t do a PhD for any other reason than pure intellectual curiosity. If you are passionate about science and want to spend 3-4 years doing research on a particular subject, go for it! But don’t do it thinking of helping your future career (as a quant or anything else). You can have a brilliant career with or without a PhD (there are plenty of examples of both cases).
In my opinion, the key is being passionate about what you are doing. Once you start working as a quant, you will learn (exactly what you need to do your job) by doing instead of studying.
What has been the hardest part of transitioning to Finance?
Here are the 3 harder things from my transition from PhD student to Quantitative analyst:
1. Missing Academia. In banking, especially as a junior, you will have to do some tasks which are not particularly challenging from an intellectual point of view. For example, cleaning data, copy-paste tasks, updating spreadsheets, organising files, etc. This is totally normal and part of the learning experience. But in those moments you cannot help but miss academia (the old good days when you were doing frontier research with your supervisor). However, you have to be patient and don’t stress too much about it. I can guarantee that there are plenty of interesting areas and problems waiting to be solved in the industry.
2. The noise in the office. As a student I was used to work on a very quiet environment (either sharing an office with other graduate students or at home on my own). So, when I went to banking the noise was a shock to me. So many people sitting on an open space having telephone conversations or video-conferences at the same time. I remember thinking how can these people focus and read a technical document in the middle of this chaos? … After a couple of months I got used to it (and of course now I am also one of the people constantly over the phone ☎️😏 probably annoying new comers!). Top secret (not so secret) I got a pair of noise cancelling headphones 🎧😄
3. Change happens slowly in big corporations. As a PhD student you have all the freedom and control on your projects, priorities, and timelines. In a big company you will be part of a team (which is in turn part of a bigger team, division or department) with a hierarchical structure, where things work on a certain way and you won’t have as much freedom and control on the decision making process. So, you may encounter that improving/changing something (a methodology, a process, a way of doing things) can be a slow and hard process. But you have to learn and adapt to the new rhythm. There are things in banking that move super fast but others not so much and you have to learn to be persistent and patient at the same time. If you have an idea 💡 that you think can help the team to do things better ⭐, share it with your manager, push for it, try to make it happen. Don’t be discouraged if it cannot be implemented immediately. Sometimes change takes time.
What has been the most enjoyable part of transitioning to Finance?
1. Growing Horizontally. As a graduate student I spend years deepening my knowledge on a small area of mathematics. When I moved to banking I started expanding my knowledge horizontally. This is possible because there is a great variety of projects that you can work on. I started working on credit scorecards for retail. After only one year I had experience working on wholesale models, interest rate models and inflation models!
2. Working on a multidisciplinary team. I have been fortunate to work along colleagues with academic background in Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, Business, Pure Maths (Topology, Algebra, Number Theory). Working on a multidisciplinary team has been an enriching and amazing experience.
3. The Market is very Exciting. You cannot get bored in banking. There is always something happening in the markets. From regulatory changes and political turmoil to interest rates cuts and tax wars among countries. This constant change brings new challenges and opportunities.