Ask the Expert: Turning into a Quant

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A. Your timing is impeccable. One of the hottest areas in financial services today is derivatives trading and any kind of structured products. Many people who have years of experience in financial services wish they could go back and focus on financial trading. You have the right skills at the right time in this industry.

The world of quantitative strategies is dominated by PhDs, so you should network with others on Wall Street who have an affiliation with your university. Your school's alumni and career services department should know of at least some of them. Also, professors and ex-PhD students from other universities would be useful contacts. 'Usually, once you start networking, you learn who these people are pretty easily,' says executive recruiter Pat Wieser. You will also find recruiters seeking people just like you on job boards like the one on this website.

'In your interviews, you will need to demonstrate passion for analyzing risk and finding value in the capital market,' says executive coach Maggie Craddock, a former portfolio manager and onetime PhD candidate at the London School of Economics. Read the major financial publications such as Barron's, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist. Make sure that you're keeping up with articles that discuss growth in the derivatives and structured product areas so that you can talk about the latest creative and profitable products.

And don't forgot to discuss projects, papers, etc, you've done in the financial space that give good insight into where your knowledge and experience lies. (You can note these in your resume or cover letter as well.) Any knowledge you have of a particular niche (for example, Russian or Islamic finance) that will help you interpret information in a way few others can will pay off nicely too.

'Often the biggest concern in this type of transition is whether you can handle the pace on Wall Street,' cautions Wieser. Be prepared to address this. And although very few people in the interview process will be able to assess your quantitative skills, once you start the job it will be trial by fire, so be careful not to exaggerate your abilities.

All in all, once you dust off your credentials and bring yourself up to speed on current developments, our experts predict you will be pleasantly surprised at how easily the right doors will open. Get out there, math whiz, and good luck!

Next week's question: I would like to move from asset management to investment banking. I have been on the buy side working as an analyst for four years. I know a large part of my skill set is transferable to banking, but I am not sure how to get in the door.

What would you advise? Send your answer to

Look out for the Experts' answer to this dilemma and readers' comments on Ask the Expert next week. If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts,


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