Quants Need Communications, Too

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For quants, the ability to communicate is necessary for success.

"There is a very strong, and increasingly strong, demand for quant skills - period," Alessia Falsarone, global investments analyst with Citigroup Global Wealth Management, told an audience who'd gathered at Goldman Sachs to hear successful quants describe their career paths. The panel discussion was sponsored by the International Association of Financial Engineers.

While strong demand alone might get you a job, you need communication skills to build a career. "It's important that your pure-quant background doesn't hold you back," Falsarone said. If quant recruits lacks communication skills and "are not able to tell their story in five minutes, then I start to question their quantitative background as well."

Being able to communicate is also an essential part of the job interview. "To me, there's no such thing as the right answer," said Falsarone. What she looks for in potential candidates is their ability to "dissect a problem" and "ask the right question." What's she after? "The most important part of this is the framework behind your thinking."

On the job, "you need to be very proactive in communication" said Gregg E. Berman, a founding member of RiskMetrics who is currently responsible for the firm's strategic development. You need to become the "go-to guy," so that people feel "if they come to you, they're better for it."

When just starting out, quants may be required to work completely by themselves, spending long hours building models from scratch and coding for several hours straight. At the end of the day, you must be able to "pull yourself out of it and ask someone else to look at it," said Berman. "You have to check everything you do, and the best way is to get others involved."

What is the difference going into quantitative finance with a master's degree versus a Ph.D.? Falsarone, who holds a master's in financial mathematics from Stanford University, said most of her peers who pursued doctorates did so to give themselves more time to settle on what they wanted to do rather than to land a better job. "I don't think I was at a disadvantage," she said. Those considering a Ph.D. should get some work experience before choosing a program, she added. "The extra due diligence is really needed," either through work experience or talking to people currently in the field.

While it's important to have the relevant quantitative background, Berman believes college pedigree shouldn't matter. "Top of the class at a community college would be fifty percentile at Harvard," he said. It's more important to demonstrate you're a critical thinker. "The buzz word on Wall Street right now is 'leadership,' and leadership is being creative and thinking outside the box."

"The successful quant person is someone who never believes they know what they know," said Berman. He recommends going to bed every night thinking you must wrong. "You'll wake up very tired, but (you) will be a successful quant."

How are your communications skills? Post your comments below.

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