From Middle-Office Operations to Front-Office Sales & Trading: How One Reader Made the Leap and How You Can Do It Too
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the back office.
Much of the work is mundane, and it doesn’t give you many options: advancing is difficult and breaking into front-office roles is even harder.
Or is it?
While it might be difficult to get into investment banking front-office roles, it’s easier if you’re interested in trading – as we’ll find out in this interview with a reader who made the leap from a middle-office trade support role to front-office trading at a major investment bank.
Holla Back, Office
Q: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did all of this start, and how did you wind up in a middle-office support role?
A: My first few years of college, I was set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor – but I kept hearing about finance and investment banking from friends, and got a lot more interested in those over time.
Like many others, I heard about the lavish lifestyle and money and wanted that without really understanding what was involved.
Through cold-calling and networking, I got a couple finance internships with local firms in my area, but these were all “fetch the coffee”-type experiences where I just did grunt work for financial advisors.
I got some full-time interviews when banks came to my campus to recruit, but I never made it past the 1st or 2nd round for any front-office roles.
So I had nothing lined up following graduation. To make things even worse I decided to go on a 3-month trip to Asia with my parents over the summer, right after I graduated.
Luckily, I stayed current with recruiters and always made myself available for phone interviews – otherwise I would have had no chance.
Q: That’s impressive – most people would be freaking out about their lack of post-graduation plans, but you took a 3-month vacation instead. What did you do when you came back to the real world?
A: By this point I had exhausted all my connections – and the ones I could still go to were unhelpful because I had bombed my full-time interviews.
So I tried the next best alternative: I went for the Hail Mary and applied to positions via banks’ websites.
Q: Normally I tell readers that online applications are useless unless you get insanely lucky. Did they actually work?
A: They weren’t helpful for front-office roles, but I managed to find a trading support role on one bank’s website that seemed alright, even though it was a middle/back-office gig.
I sent my resume and application, and actually got a callback – so I went in to interview there.
Q: What were the interviews like? And how did you keep a straight face when they asked if you were really interested in a support role?
A: Interviews weren’t too difficult – and I actually told my interviewer straight-up that I was doing this because I wanted to become a real trader eventually.
He was skeptical because he had heard that line many times before – he pretty much said, “That’s fine, and we hear that a lot, but to be honest a lot of times it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you have what it takes, and sometimes you don’t.”
On the Job
Q: I’m impressed with your directness. So what happened after you got the offer and started working?
A: It was a standard trade support role – I did a lot of P&L reconciliation, helped with trade settlements, and more tasks like that. I learned a lot about trading, but got bored early on because a lot of the work was repetitive.
Q: So when did you begin making the move to the front-office?
A: I didn’t do much networking at first – especially compared to all my peers.
They took the approach of, “I’ll ask the traders lots of annoying questions, buy them lunch, and suck up to them so that maybe they notice me.”
This backfired and it just annoyed the traders – none of my peers who took this approach advanced to the front-office.
Traders won’t think of you as a peer if you use this strategy – networking in the workplace is different from what you do while in school.
My first week on the job I did some networking with the traders, but I didn’t ask many personal questions – I limited myself to business and asked about how trading worked, why they made certain trades, and so on.
This is an important difference in networking in sales & trading vs investment banking – bankers don’t like talking about business quite as much, but with traders you’re better off starting conversations by discussing the markets or other business-related topics.
Q: Ok, so how did you actually make the move to the front-office if you weren’t networking aggressively with traders?
A: My chance came when my group was handed a big project – we had to completely revamp the order management system, which controlled the whole flow from how a trader makes trades to how they’re recorded to how everything is synchronized.
That project put me in contact with a lot of traders and people from other groups at our bank, since the order management system affected everyone.
I used that project to take the initiative and to get to know traders better – but I still didn’t do it by sucking up or asking personal questions.
Instead I came in and said, “Hey, I noticed you were making trades this way – but actually if you changed X, Y, and Z, we could increase the efficiency and save xx% more time per trade, which would help you make $xx more money.”
I positioned myself as an asset that could make them more money as opposed to an obnoxious middle-office guy who kept asking annoying questions.
Leapfrogging to the Front Office
Q: So you made a good impression with this big project – how did you make the move once you had done that? Did you jump, or were you pushed?
A: It was a combination of both. As the project was underway, one of the traders left to move elsewhere – so I asked the head trader, “I noticed _____ left, I was wondering if you guys were considering anyone to replace him.”
Make sure you’ve developed good rapport with anyone you ask these types of questions to – you can’t just grab some random MD and ask him for a job.
He said that the trader who left had a lot of experience and that I wouldn’t be able to fill such a senior role, but that my name was on the short list for a junior role that they had. They weren’t sure of their budget for the next year, so it was still up in the air.
I had impressed them with my work on that revamp of the order management system, but 2 other factors helped me as well:
- The head trader wasn’t an alumnus, but he had gone to a nearby university and knew my school well.
- The head trader had also come from the back-office, so he was more sympathetic to my background.
Q: So the possibility was out there – what happened next?
A: A few months after that, my boss brought me into a conference room – and for a second I panicked because I thought I was getting fired! I blame this one on you because of your article on how you always get fired in the conference room.
Q: Sorry for the scare. At least I set your expectations low!
A: Yeah, I guess. Anyway, after my boss took me into the conference room, he told me that the head trader wanted me to join their desk as a junior trader.
It took me almost a year, but finally I had the offer I had been looking for ever since university.
Needless to say, I pretty much accepted on the spot and made the move over to the trading desk.
Q: Wait a minute, so there was no formal interview process? They just hand-picked you for the role and you got it without going through real interviews?
A: Yup, no real interviews. My entire first year working on that big project was my “interview” – I had proven myself on the job there, so there was no need to interview me again.
But What If…
Q: That’s a great story, but what would you say to someone who wants to move from the back or middle-office to investment banking instead?
A: It’s a lot tougher because you don’t work directly with bankers. I wasn’t that interested in banking after I started my job – a lot of my friends were bankers and they had no lives.
I almost think it’s easier to get into strategy consulting if you’ve done operations at a large bank before – you’re familiar with the business flow of a trading desk and how a company operates, so you might want to think about going to consulting rather than banking as an easier first step.
Q: Interesting. When you made your move, you had the order management system revamp project that gave you major visibility and let you impress the traders – but not everyone is that fortunate.
What would you say to someone who’s working in the middle or back-office right now who doesn’t have that kind of opportunity?
A: I would say, “Make your own opportunity.” Don’t go about your day just reconciling trades and settling positions – solve problems, be proactive and look for ways the traders could save time or make more money.
You can’t be annoying about it or constantly pester them – instead of asking about models and bottles on Thursday nights, go and say, “Hey, I noticed you were doing X, Y, and Z, but I think if you made your trades this way instead you could make a lot more money.”
Wherever you are in a bank or on a trading desk and whatever you do, you are constantly being judged by everyone who is affected by your work. Though back/middle office and other ops jobs may seem trivial, they are quite important to running a good trading desk.
Missed/wrong bookings, missed trade confirmations, and poor reconciliations can lead to lost money and lost clients – don’t focus on impressing the front office directly, but be proactive in your own job and most of the time, it will make theirs a lot easier.
The bottom line: Do your job, do it well, and foresee and fix issues before they happen (very true because of the top-to-bottom flow of the front-back office).
Solve problems that traders don’t even know they have, and then give them solutions that save them time or make them money.
That’s how you get ahead and how you move from a trading support role to real trading.
Q: Great, thanks for your time.
A: No problem – hope you enjoyed hearing my story.
If you liked this article, you might be interested in reading Proprietary Trading: Careers, Recruiting, Salaries, and Top Firms.
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I read your articles and I was wondering if you could respond and give some advice. I went to a smaller non-target school and majored in Econ because it had a good program and the degree i went with allowed me to take a lot of math. My overall GPA ended up being a 3.0 but I got a finance Minor with a 3.8 finance GPA in all the difficult valuation/capital markets courses. I didn’t spend any summers on internships as a I played a sport and was trying to make something happen(olympics) with that but it hasn’t worked out. I ended up taking a middle office early careers role at a top BB. I definitely feel that I can use the year of this job to prove that I have skills in due diligence and managing risk, I also feel my modeling skills are above a finance major based on how Econ modeling is much more in depth and am able to communicate that in an interview. I am definitely getting my CFA and i wanted to know what you think I should do before business school to maximize my chances of getting into IB.
I would not recommend business school until you’ve tried everything else first, such as networking, moving to a more relevant group (corporate banking, independent valuation firm, Big 4 advisory, etc.), or even a shorter/cheaper Master’s degree.
Hi, I am a final year undergraduate. I have a BB treasury summer analyst role lined up but I aspire to get a grad role in S&T. I have previous experiences in Fixed Income Sales at a Singaporean bank and in Transaction Advisory at one of the Big 4s. May I ask what do you think my next step should be to get into S&T and what my chances are given my experiences. Also, do you think if it will be possible to network my way into S&T at the BB where I will be starting my summer internship? Thanks!
Yes, you should be able to get into S&T, but it’s typically difficult to switch groups immediately after an internship ends. My advice would be to perform well in the internship, win a return offer, and then network with the S&T group and aim to switch into it once you’ve already been working full-time.
3.84 Gpa from SMU. Majored in finance. Transferred in a junior so I missed out on much of the recruiting. I also played football so that took up most of my time that I maybe should have devoted to recruiting/networking. My only experience is in risk advisory at at middle market CPA firm. I graduated a month ago and my full time offer to from the CPA firm to do the same thing was pushed to January. I’ve been looking into other options lately and want to get into banking and eventually P/E but don’t know how to get started. I have an offer for a contract for hire position at a BB firm in operations. Is this worth taking for the short term? would there be transition opportunities at the end of my 6month contract? I’ve thought about starting a MSA program for the next 6 months and getting a CPA and using my “accounting expertise” to transition into banking. What do you think of that option?
I would not bother with a BB operations offer if you already have a CPA offer, you’ve already graduated, and your long-term goal is IB/PE. The best strategy here is probably to work at the CPA firm for a while (<= 1 year), then move to something like a valuation or transaction services firm, and then use that strategy to get into IB.
I disagree with a lot of this article. I started in back/middle Operations shortly after college and interacted constantly with trading desks and PM teams. Our FO teams always respected my team (I’m the head of BO now) and we worked together constantly. I on multiple occasions had the chance to jump to the trading desk but it was actually a pay cut. For some context we are not an enormous manager but do manage 250 B
Well, let’s see:
1) You were at an asset manager, not a large bank.
2) This article was written in 2010. Presumably, things have changed since then.
3) It sounds like you enjoyed back/middle-office operations and wanted to stay there.
So, it’s not too surprising that you had a different experience.
I am currently interning at the top-tier consulting firm and have an interview with the cash equities operations team at a pretty-well known bank.
I see that the article says it’s easier to go into strategy consulting from the operations (but does that mean operations within the consulting or strategic management in a consulting firm)?
I personally want to see myself in consulting after some work experience in banks, then does it not matter whether I go for operations or not?
If you want to do strategy consulting, then you should continue working at the top-tier consulting firm. Moving to operations at a bank would be pointless because top-tier consulting experience has a much higher perceived value for any of these roles.
Currently doing law (in the 4th year with one more year to go from a reputed college). Reading a lot about investment banking and has become quite interested. I have a gpa of around 2.2 but has a lot of extra curriculars under my belt.
How will I make that shift into a front office role in an IB after law school.
Is doing Msc in finance directly after or taking up CFA the next option?
It will be almost impossible if you have a 2.2 GPA, sorry to say. But for general tips on going from law to banking, please see:
Hi, I am a credit risk analyst working for a BB bank. I’m in my first year and working for a transaction team (basically we support IBD teams). I have a strong academic background (MSc in finance in target university) and a good network of junior analysts working in IBD. What do you think is the best strategy to move to FO?Should I use my network of analysts to connect with more senior people to express my interest in IB? when do you think is best to make the move? To conclude, do you think I have any chance given my current position?
Thanks for your help
I’d say you have a 50/50 chance without relevant experience. Yes you can use your network to break into the industry, and this maybe the better bet. Otherwise going back to a target school to get your masters may help.
Hi, I’ve been reading your site for a long time and I am interested in your resume editing service. However, I am not sure if I’ll have a chance with my current grade&experience even if I edit my resume.
I am a undergrad student in an honors program at a Canadian target (think UofT, Ivey, McGill, Queens), with a 3.3 GPA. My penultimate year summer internship was in credit risk control at a medium sized bank, and even worse, in its commercial clients division. I’ve also ran a small business during the year before and made decent profit (was in charge of sales, production management, client relations and managed 7 students).
I am looking to get into IB or S&T. How should I better position myself with what i have?
Megan, thanks for your note. I’d try to join an investment/finance club at school to improve your chances, and perhaps gain some finance/valuation experience which you can list on your resume.
Can you comment/explain the differences of being a trader at a Bank vs a broker/dealer?
I am not 100% sure but in my understanding, a broker sells financial instrument, executes orders on stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and serves as an intermediary between client and the markets.
A trader trades securities to make profits on the trades themselves, or executes trades and takes a commission from the transaction itself.
A few brief questions:
1. In some Treasury Departments, they do trading in FX, commodities etc… Now I know it is hard (at least for me personally) to pinpoint where depts like that are (front/middle/back).
Would I be right in thinking that surely working in a department like that would actually BOOST your chances into entering trading due to the transferable skills?
2. Is it easier to go from say a client interactive role to trading, as opposed to a scenario above since the client role is concretely front office?
3. In any case, whether if you’re in a situation like in #1 & #2 or even a trade support role like the interviewee: wouldn’t having your own personal trading account help you transition easier regardless if you’re in front/back/middle office?
Or is it a case where it helps with back/middle, but makes the front to front move a much easier jump?
Dunno about the others. But for 3, it depends what you’re trading and where you want to trade.
For instance it wouldn’t really if you trade in the spot market and express an interest to trade in the futures market; different ballpark.
1. Yes this can help
2. I’d say it is easy to go from front office to front office but it depends on your work experience, how you spin your story and your interviewer’s view on you
3. Yes, because it demonstrates your interest in the stock market
Thanks, Nicole, for both comments!
I think I should wait to see what offers come up though. If the middle office role ends up being the only offer, then I suppose I could network as it involves working with traders directly.
In either case, the impression I get is is whether I’m in front/middle/back office, the most important thing is that I trade in my spare time and have a blotter/journal documenting each trade. Easy networking would be having someone with hiring power look at my record.
Keeping in mind Jack’s comment. I’m assuming it is best to talk to relevant traders i.e. if I want to go into FX, I’d show the relevant trader my FX record; equities record to the relevant trader etc.
Yes, good luck!
I’ve got a few options (I’m in London if it means anything):
– A front office role in a bank that’s not as globally recognised, but has a global presence. It has a treasury department (with a trading function) that I could possibly move onto, which has a trading function.
– A bulge bracket bank… BUT it is a middle office role, a trade capture specialist (trade support type) role.
– Trading in a prop house. The prospects are decentish, but I’ve been told the exit opportunities through a route like this isn’t that great and the base salary is quite low.
(This isn’t as attractive to me at present because I am in need of a stable income for now.)
At a glance, I’m thinking the first option should be taken in a heartbeat. It involves working with clients, and moving from a front office role to another front office role should be easy… but I’m not sure where the treasury dept falls in this front/mid/back office role spectrum.
Moreover I don’t know if, let’s say I have the treasury-trading experience, would other banks, or other relevant trading outlets like hedge funds view this favorably?
I do have trading experience (summer in a small place alongside my own personal trading and university competitions), a first class degree (best degree grade in the UK) in finance… but from a non-target; though I have stellar extracurriculars.
So based on that, I think I have a good shot for a front office role… but I think going for the mid role in the bulge bracket could hamper things.
The longer term plan is to do an MSc Finance in a target school (with money I’d save up) in about 2-3 years. That seems to work fine, since one of the finance programmes from a target (Cambridge, for instance) do ask for 2 years experience (they felt the need to note most of their candidates got this experience from a front office role).
Things like needing perfect grades to get applications in London/top tier unis and extracurriculars, I’ve got sorted. It is just the process in-between now and then I’m trying to sort out.
Background done, so the questions are:
Would you recommend I accept the front office role over the bulge bracket?
Where does the treasury department fall (mid/back/front office); would the trading function of it “count” as front office experience, or trading experience?
I look forward to your input.
Couldn’t edit my message, so I’ll just extend it here. Before anyone recommends the MBA route, the open days I went to and the websites of top tier business schools made clear note that they look at the prestige of your previous education prior your application to their institution. Hence I figured a target MSc is a must, either way.
Yes, you should accept the front-office role over the bulge-bracket offer.
The Treasury Department is somewhere between front and middle-office, I suppose, but it really depends on the nature of the role… if it’s closer to trading then it’s really a front-office role.
Thank you for the reply!
That’s what makes me wonder about the Treasury Dept. too. Though would you say to make a front office to front office move (probably in a different firm) in regards to trading, I should stick with this role?
Or try to make the move to the Treasury Dept. and play up the trading aspects of the role?
I’m asking because I’m under the impression that moving from back/middle office is much harder than moving from say front office to front office.
(Unless the Treasury Dept. like the S&T division is also stratified into front/middle/back office.)
Yes, moving from back/middle is harder than moving from front to front so I’d stick to your front office role if you can.
But I’m wondering where the Treasury Dept. falls, if it includes a trading component?
Or should I stick to my front office role, as you recommend, while playing up the fact that I trade with my personal account (with records such as list of trades, a trade plan etc)?
I’m not 100% sure but I think sticking with the FO and playing w fact that you trade with personal account maybe best
hi M&A thanks for the article.
how far from FO is a position in a TOP Bank on “Listed Derivatives Settlement Operations: where primary objective is to control, reconcile, investigate and secure the operation chain as follow. Reconcile daily trades & positions, Calculate, pay and control daily Margins / P&L flows” which exclusive client is the proprietary trading desk. Adding the fact that, I’m 26 with 2,5 years experience in financial planning and control 6 months in market research on a Oil company. I have a Bsc in Economics and Msc in Finance from a TOP European b school. Finally I’m looking to start the CFA program next year.
thanks in advance!
I am not 100% sure if your experience is directly transferrable but having relevant finance experience will help you. I’d suggest that you network with your clients and see if you can transition to that area.
Hi, I’ve been a fan of your site for years and keep visiting for a morale boost and more importantly for advice. I must add you guys are doing a terrific job here. I could really use some of that right now & hope you could help me decide my next move.
I’m a Chartered Accountant from Mumbai, India (cleared the FRM, CFA L2, failed L3 once) and have been stuck at a risk management (monitoring trading & sales) for almost 5 years now at a bank. I’ve also just about tried everything to make ‘the move’ but it just hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons.
Is it any good to take the GMAT and attend a B-school now considering I’d be 30 by the time I pass & with 6 yrs risk work-exp.? I badly want to make it specifically to the fixed income sales & origination desk.
OR Do you think it be wiser if I try boutique firms/ smaller i-Banks instead (lose the big bank tag, IF they hire me that is, after a pay cut) and hope bulge brackets take a look at me post 2-3 years’ sales work exp. assuming I clear my L3 CFA too.
PS: I do monitor the fixed income desk, inter alia, as a part of my current job profile
Yes going to a target b-school can potentially help you especially since you don’t have any experience in sales & origination; this degree can help you retool yourself. Otherwise, you may want to check out boutique brokerage houses and gain some sales experience before you transition into a larger firm.
Hi guys, I just started in market operations for a big stock exchange, basically I’m working for “the house” which simply sells the access to a proprietary state-of-the-art marketplace and earns from commissions – in up, down and sideways markets, as widely known lol. I can flick the Goldman off the market at a single click of the mouse, have BBs MDs contacts at my fingertips as well as go through ALL [insert any BB’s name] daily trades just for fun before I go to sleep :) Still, embarrassingly enough, I’m paid (what I consider, given the payscales here) peanuts, with NO bonus of any kind. Furthermore I’m basically learning nothing transferable outside this reality and have seen colleagues who needed 20+ years for a shot to advance to higher positions with very questionable packages and perks. I thought this role would somehow get me closer to the industry and quickly open some horizonts, but so far it’s seems a far cry if not for the brand name and the fact that I can claim I work “in finance” albeit not clearly understanding what even the vomma means. I’m coming from not exactly conventional finance background. What are my options? I’d like to move into Sales/Trading but consider myself without real clue about the business – I could not pick an investment stock to save my live. Would consider MBA, but I don’t know what chances I stand in the top schools? In addition I can’t afford the tuition, I have all my credit cards maxed (in total it’s actually just one card, since that’s the only one I was granted by miracle). I would consider PhD in Quant.Finance, though I’m a bit afraid about Math, is it a viable choice?
I may use your position to network and see if you can move to other roles in finance, especially since you have contacts from bulge brackets. Yes an MBA from a target can potentially help you and you may have to weigh the costs and benefits. http://www.amazon.com/Think-Grow-Rich-Landmark-Bestseller/dp/1585424331/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y is a great book.
I have been working for the past 5 months as a Market Risk Analyst at a top regional bank here in Singapore, and just got an offer for a similar position at a BB.
My goal is to break into structuring, but in my current role I don’t have many opportunities to interact with traders. Just wondering whether getting an MFE after a year of experience would help my chances of breaking in significantly?
Yes getting an MFE can help you retool yourself. What I’d do is to network during your current role, and if nothing comes up next year, get your MFE at a target.
What are the target schools for an MFE? Is a top 20 program a target school?
You mean Masters in Finance. LBS, MIT, Princeton
Thanks, but I meant Master’s in Financial Engineering or Financial Mathematics.
Am I wasting my time with say a school ranked around 20th in that degree?
I wouldn’t say wasting your time, but your time is better spent on the top 15 schoools. https://www.quantnet.com/mfe-programs-rankings/
Columbia, Princeton, NYU, MIT, UChicago are targets from that list. Banks recruit at these schools because of their solid school/business school rankings. You also want to pick a school that has solid overall ranking and business program because more banks recruit there
hi! great post here. a bit of background on me: BA from top 20 school where i took courses in engineering/cs and philosophy. i spent 3 years abroad in israel where i worked in a finance department doing accounting/banking work. upon return to the US i decided to apply to jobs within finance and banking. i ended up getting an interview at UBS for one of many, many roles in OPS opening in my city. my question is this: is MO/BO work a good way to get my foot in the door given i don’t have a formal education in finance? thanks! :)
Yes it can give you relevant experience and you can transition by going to a target business school or/and via networking
I am currently a Trader Assistant at a bulge bracket looking to become an actual Trader and would love some insight. I have established great relationships/rapport with the various desks that I support and is thought of very highly by our Front Office globally. The question I have is how do I properly express my interest in moving onto the desk? Should I just ask how best to position myself for an interview for the role? Besides doing a great job day-to-day, how else can I express my strong interest in becoming a trader without being a pest? Thanks alot for your help.
I’d have coffee with one of the traders who are in a senior position (i.e. VP/director level) and ideally have hiring power. I’d then express your interest in moving to the desk, and ask him if they are willing to offer you an interview. If you’re doing a great job and they know, it is likely they’d want to keep you so this can be relatively straight forward.
Hi. I’ll be joining Morgan Stanley operations this June after graduating from college. I kinda share d feeling dat back office is not what I really wana do and want to move to the front early on. Can you please give some tips as to how can I get myself noticed and eligible for FO? My academic history is strong but as of now I have no professional degree like CFA etc to my credit. I’m planning to do MBA next year.
Which additional courses could help me move to the front?
I’d network a lot with people in the front office. The MBA (from a target) should help you retool yourself. If you’re interested in buy side, asset management, or PWM front office roles, a CFA will help.
Just wondering if I can get some quick feedback from some of you regarding my situation. I have a job offer for a summer internship program in risk management at ICAP. If I were to take this internship, would it help me when I apply to front office jobs at banks in the future? Or what are the exit opportunities for risk management?
It may help you given the ICAP name. I think it should be pretty straight forward if you were to transfer to middle office jobs at IBs. However, if you’re looking for front office roles, please bear in mind that you’ll be competing against people who’ve had experience in front office…
I’m not 100% sure of the exit opportunities perhaps credit research or risk management with other firms.
Your story was really interesting.. My profile is a little different..I was in Trading role at a prop trading firm in India..However, could not really like HFT due to the intense pressure and I am presently doing my MBA..Wish to know whether working at a ER firm would help me get into Asset Management, Hedge fund research.. Are these positions in AM/HF research coveted positions??
Thanks for your posts :)
Yes they are
Hi, I was just wondering if working as a summer analyst at commodities trading technology at a BB makes a jumping platform as good as risk management or trade settlement in terms of breaking into S&T? Basically my job will involves with software development on trade lifecycle management and P&L, as well as risk calculation and reporting. I am not sure how closely I will be able to work with the traders.
I think you’ll be working with traders so you can try to network w them.
Great interview. I read it twice previously while in support roles, 1st time was informational, 2nd was inspirational ;
I come back to it a 3rd time having recently made the jump from prime finance account manager (trade breaks, settlement issues, general post-execution issues resolution guy) to a junior sales role on the PB desk at a BB. 5 years out of undergrad from an avg st school.
I’d say the biggest factors for me were showing mgmt & the front office guys examples of what i did to keep things running smooth & build on the client relationships established by the sales guys. If you can play wallflower at the morning FO meetings that doesn’t hurt either. They really just want to know that you’re interested, intelligent, and have the “get it” factor– esp for a pure sales role. Some of the most talented operational guys seem to be missing that for some reason.
Best of luck to all my BO/MO soldiers fighting the good fight!!
Thanks for your input!
This site gives me hope! And hope is a good thing to have, I guess.
I have worked in banking technology for over 5 years, and last 2 years in product control (PL recon, building spreadsheet systems etc). Networked well, and proven myself on numerous occasions. But that much-awaited call to front office (sales and/or trading) is yet to happen, and does not look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.
I have read and heard on some podcasts here that trading on a personal account (and making consistent profit) is a good way to prove one’s interest and experience in trading. But unfortunately, it is not quite that easy if you work in a bank (like I do), where personal trading is extremely restricted and controlled.
So I have decided to go back to school and get myself an MBA. Problem is if I do get into a good program next year, I’ll be 33 by the time I graduate. My dilemma, O lords, is whether MBA is worth my time and money, cuz it will not guarantee the job I am looking for. And let’s say I attend a target school. Would recruiters care to consider a 33-yr old tech/back office hybrid? Or is there a shorter route to where I want to be at?
Yeah an MBA won’t guarantee your dream job though getting into a target MBA will increase your chances significantly.
Shorter route? Try to knock on boutiques or small trading firms’ doors
Hi, I don’t know if you revisit old articles to answer questions but I could use a lot of advice.
(Not sure if I’ll even need to make the decision because I haven’t received any offers yet, but what’s your take on…)
Front Office Corporate Finance type role – Corporate Division delivers a comprehensive range of commercial banking products and services for corporate clients…etc etc…
or what I’m assuming is Back Office Finance Department – sounds like support/operations but actually much closer to daily market transactions than the other department, ie. trader’s assistant or something.
So I’m like everyone else. I want to go into Sales and Trading. Or I guess I’m not picky, anything IB front office. What’s a better pick out of these two? I would find it hard refusing a front office job but according to this article you posted it’s an easier switch from back.
I’d say the first one because it can hone your sales skills which are very important. And I think you might want to rephrase the first option as a commercial banking role instead of FO Corp Finance because I think the two are different
Ok thanks. Yeah, I botched my descriptions. It’s definitely more corporate and heavy on sales as you suggested. Thanks for the advice.
I signed with a major Canadian bank for a 2 year trading risk rotation. I had the intention of landing an investment banking role during recruitment but given the poor job market and my average grades I was fairly unsuccessful. Now coming to the realization I took this position in fear of being unemployed what do you suggest I do moving forward. Should I begin the position with the intention of networking my way to IBD either internally or at a boutique or immediately begin informally contacting recruiters/alumni for openings prior to graduation. Also I summered with a P.E firm so have front office experience on my resume.
I’d network internally because it is probably the easier way. I’d also apply to boutiques and contact alumni/recruiters though I don’t think recruiters are too helpful in your case. I’d also contact the PE firm you interned with and see if they have any openings
I am a junior at a small liberal arts school (economics), I did a back office (compliance) internship for the estate of Lehman Brothers, i just got a part-time analyst position with Goldman (middle office). Could these experiences help me land an investment banking internship or any front office position down the road? And if so what do you recommend my course of action be?
These experiences could help but since they are not directly relevant to FO roles you’ll have to network a lot internally and try to get a transfer within your firm.
Hey (want to do IM) wondering if Portfolio Analytics Group at BlackRock (determining risk and exposure of portfolios for both PM and external clients) is a front or middle office role? The group’s based in the same office in London and has IT but also client interaction. Historically a lot of people have moved into the Portfolio Management Group(was the only route for grad hiring a few years ago). Do you think BlackRock name for IM is better or would you target a smaller AM firm for direct FO roles. Want to work in BlackRock finally. Am in my final year of undergrad with no IM interns but want to do IM in future.
I’ve answered your question already. Please don’t post the same question more than once on the website.
So here’s my story. Did an undergrad in electronics engineering so have more than enough quant and math on the CV. Worked as an an engineer for two years in a leading IT services company. Left the job for a Master’s in Strategic Management at one of the leading business schools in the UK. Market was tough so ended up taking a Tech grad program offer in london from a BB bank Sept last year. My question to you is do you think it makes sense to stick around and complete 2 years of this graduate program if I want to eventually move into Sales & Trading/Equity Research & Strategy or maybe PE?
My exit options here are apply again to grad programs for front office which seems like a great ordeal at the moment or should I try the consulting route apply for strategic consultancies, management consultancies etc.
I should have mentioned I’m also giving the CFA Level 1 end of this year simply because I like portfolio management and wanted to get a bit of background about the different asset classes.
Also I’ve managed to get a first for my Master’s which is pretty decent in the UK.
It would only help if you could take advantage of better recruiting (i.e. go for front office positions directly) by going back to school.
The this article is very inspiring. I also aimed to get into medical school the first 2 years of university, ended up doing a degree in Finance at a top Canadian B-School (sense of entitlement). I had lacklustre work experience and as a result of graduating in the 09 recession, ended up in the back office for trade settlements for a major bank. I’ve been at it for a year and after applying over and over to better jobs, I’ve been feeling beat up. Like it was stated in the article, it’s not too often that you get to be placed on a project that revamps the operational process thus allowing your skills to shine. I recently got interviewed for an MO position for Wealth Management for a performance analytics/reporting role. I hope that is a good next step to take towards becoming a trader. How important is getting a CFA? I heard it’s not necessary for any job but it helps to show that you are dedicated to the finance profession and have technical proficiency in the calculations/math/theory. I see all these people in the back office trying to get it in hopes of a better life, it really feels like there are thousands of grads out there trying everything to get a few coveted trading positions.
Just to toss in something about this:
Here’s the deal: people want to go into portfolio management for the wrong reasons. They work in back office and basically see that PMs (and front office in general) get jealous/inspired and suddenly decide to start on the CFA path. No one I worked with said “I am getting my CFA and learning how to research equities, practicing on FactSet/Bloomberg, and prepping sample stock pitches for an interview.” It was always “I want to be a PM so I’m getting my CFA and I’m going to try and get a PM job.”
Almost exclusively PMs started as equity analysts. Going to B-School or, at least, learning what researching equities is all about and putting together sample research is so much more important than a CFA. I have buddies with CFAs who aren’t getting calls returned for junior analyst roles.
I also have buddies (and myself as an example) who don’t have any CFA exams under their belts and have internships/jobs as equity analysts. They did it the way you are supposed to do it: went to b-school, got new networking opportunities, took classes on equity research, had a portfolio of sample pitches, got the internship, got the job. Then some of them started studying for the CFA.
Yeha, 900 hours is a lot of time for the CFA. B-School is probably 3x that commitment and many PMs have MBAs as well as CFAs so they respect the time put into both…but in the end they only care about getting someone on their team who can make them money. Show them you can add value by having sample research reports/excel sheets/tracking data attached to a resume. And really consider an MBA if you want to make the jump. It puts you back into the recruiting pool with less of a stigma (although it certainly still exists).
Well said, can you reply to all the comments on this site? (Kidding… sort of)
So, I have a similar story:
I worked in trade support, entering some trades, settling trades and doing reconciliations for one of the bigger names on the buy side. It’s boring work, for the most part – although there are times where it can be interesting. The ceiling is super low, though, and you are treated as second class (this holds for most every firm I know).
So, like the interviewee, I worked hard to form relationships and to show that I had true interest in the work. I actually wanted to go into trading; however, I also formed a bunch of relationships with portfolio management. I knew that making the move to front office was unlikely without something drastic, so I decided to go to B-school (top 40 school, nothing amazing) full-time on a big scholarship and hope to leverage the network I had built to at least get some referrals into some local shops.
In the end, some persistent pestering via email and a stock pitch interview ended up landing me a summer analyst role at the same firm I had just left. So, I’m spending the summer covering roughly 12 large cap firms with weekly pitches, spending my days talking to sell side analysts and IR folks, reviewing models, and trying to find inefficiencies in market pricing.
Note: it’s extremely unlikely that I will end up getting a FT offer at the end of the summer, as most of the analysts at my firm have 5-10 years of experience covering their sectors, but I’m hoping the front office internship and big firm name help me get into a smaller shop, possibly sell side. I’m also going to try and see if I can sit in with some traders toward the end of my internship – as it’s still a goal of mine and getting more contacts can’t hurt, right?
Cool glad to hear it, yeah the internship should at least help with applying to other firms
Hey thanks first off for the resume template. It got me in the door at a big bank in operations. I am wondering which parts of ops make the best jumping off platforms to move into other branches, I’m a pitch guy and love to sell, but don’t want to be cold calling grandma. I really want to be the customer, on the buy side. So I guess I have a 2 part question. First, the best branch from which i can jump off, and second, if you had any idea what kind of tasks I’ll be doing, hours, bonus range, etc.
Probably risk management for S&T, maybe also trade settlement. For IB it’s tough to go from ops to IB since there’s less overlap there.
I was just wondering what type of back office positions are best for leverage into sales or trading? Or even research for that matter. Would operations, finance or risk management be the best?
I know its never easy, and the use of best implies potential ease of recourse but in general, how are they viewed…
Risk management and operations are probably most relevant for S&T
between risk and ops, which is better? I had an opportunity to interview for a grad position with a BB but turned it down to do risk with a smaller bank. Just felt like ops would be very boring and more of a dead end. I liked risk more from the potential maths element and thought it was generally perceived to be more multi-functional and hands on. I could be wrong and sincerely hope I don’t regret my decision.
I would say risk since it’s closer to traders
I am looking to transition into trading as well. I currently work in MO trade support role in one of the big4 banks. Recently I was offered an opportunity to work for a hedge fund middle office role. I am a bit hesitant to leave one middle office job in a big bank for another MO job in a much smaller hedge fund. There is no light in the tunnel so far for the trading opportunity in the big bank and judging from the history won’t be for a long time, they keep placing graduates from IV league schools into open opportunities on trading desk. However, I am still hesitant to start another MO job, even though it would place me on the buy side. Please advise if this would be a good career move that could possibly lead to FO role. Hedge fund is really successful and stable for last 10 years.
Thank you and I appreciate any feedback.
Personally I wouldn’t do it if it’s just another MO role, might actually be harder to advance at the HF
Great article, I just got an internship within operations and i’ll be trying to leverage it into FO.
Cool, let us know how it goes
Hi thanks for your story. I am just wondering if anyone has experience going from a summer internship in risk dept. to FO? I really want to be a sales.
What do people in trade support actually do and how different is it compared to trading assistants
I don’t know exactly but they do things like reconciling and settling trades, making sure all the numbers match, that the funds are being properly distributed, and so on.
would you mind writing an article of each of the BB’s firm culture? ie the main ones like MS, GS, JPM, UBS, etc? would be interested in learning the differences in terms of corporate culture, their hierarchies and the environment they interact in.
Thanks for the suggestion. I do not cover specific banks’ cultures because 1) Bulge brackets are not much different, in fact it’s 99% the same and 2) What small differences do exist change very quickly, so any articles written on groups would only be useful for a few months at a time.
In an earlier answer to someones question you said that it is possible to move from PWM to IBD after graduation, and easier to move from a PWM internship to IBD full time… Exactly how tough is it to move from a bulge bracket PWM internship to a full time IBD Position though?
I attend a public target business school, have a 3.7, and a PWM internship at a bulge bracket. Is it a long shot to get an offer or should I be fine as long as I’m solid on interviews and networking?
Really depends on how much you network – there are a couple case studies with readers under “Recruiting” at the top where they did just this. It’s not “easy” but it’s not as tough as back/middle office to front office, either.
Through networking I have been offered 2 jobs: An analyst position at a no-name regional boutique investment bank, and a job in advisory at one of the big 4 in Manhattan.
Long-term which makes more sense?
Both are about the same but I would pick the regional boutique because it will let you write “Investment Banking Analyst” on your resume.
I graduated in May 2009 from a lower-tier ivy but didn’t get a fulltime ibanking offer. I currently work at a Midcap company as an analyst in their Finance Leadership Development Program which is mirrored to be like the GE FMP program. Is there any advice you can give to me on the best way to land an ibanking offer? Will my current work experience be a plus or a minus? And what is the best way to position myself?
At this point just start networking via alumni, and cold-calling boutiques and local firms and so on… position everything you did as working on deals or potential deals and how it contributed to the company’s business development strategy.
Thank you for that post…I contacted you earlier in the week and stated that I am interning at a BB in Ops. I asked you for advice with regards to accept and full time offer or to reject it because I did not want to become stuck in the back office with no hope to be in the front office(i’d like to think this article was in response to my message) lol. I have a sense of confidence that I can make the transition as well. A question to go on top of this would be what is the time frame to say in a back office role. It seems hard to move out of it and stay in the firm for any less then 2 years. But what would be the longest time to stay in the back office? 4, 5 years and what are signs that it will work out and what are signs that it won’t. Also what are good roles within Ops that translate well to front office?
Huge fan and thanks!
I would not stay in the back office more than 2 years… usually the best roles are trade settlement and reconciliation and anything else that is directly linked to trading.
I also have a off topic question.
What kind of extra-curricular activities are helpful when applying at Investment Banks? Are there differences between the banks (e.g. GS, JPM, MS, GH, LZ?)
Is it better to join a many clubs/activities or focus on 1-2 and “rise in those in the hierarchie”.
What about debatting clubs, bankings/trading clubs, sport clubs and clubs like a wine club?
Greets & Thanks!
Honestly activities do not matter much if you already have solid internships… anything works as long as it’s interesting. Banking etc. clubs are less useful if you have a finance background so in that case more “exotic” choices are better
Great Article as usual!
I have a slightly off topic question.
Background: Rising junior, 3.3 GPA Economics and Computer Science, non-target school, current summer internship at a algorithmic trading boutique, currently networking with Alumni.
What other steps should I take in order to increase my chances of obtaining a summer internship next summer?
Keep networking, try to do a school-year internship at a local firm as well
Hey, When a company has postings on your school’s OCR site (like IB, S+T, Research, etc.), do different people handle each position’s application pool? Will they know if I apply to 2 or 3 or 4 positions at the same company? I want to know if I’m gonna have to decide what I want to go for or if I can try say both IB and S+T and see what interviews/offers I get. Thanks for a great site.
Yes usually different people handle it but HR may manage everything – 2 or 3 positions are ok to apply for but I would not go beyond that
For our school, the HR department of the BB banks had come in and advised us not to apply to more than two different divisions within their bank since they can see all the applications you made on one screen. And they specifically said that it will look bad upon the applicant if they see him/her apply to 3-4+ different divisions.
Great article as usual. By the way Brian, isn’t this move from support to trading desk story a direct contradiction to your worst interviews post? I mean if you had stuck at that hedge fund instead of leaving when you heard it was a support role, you might have ended up as a big player.
Then again, I’m not one to judge. I walked away from a PE internship phone interview when I found that the position was unpaid. 40 hours/ 10 weeks for free sounds like slavery to me.
Interviewee comment here, not sure if this is directed at me BUT:
1) Not a buy-side hedge fund support role I jumped from, the opposite actually.
2) Not a bad point either if it was correct. Ops roles at buy-side firms are actually quite highly regarded…the customer (no matter what) is the one who gives us business and post-trade issues are more often than nought the ones that harm relationships.
A point I failed to make is that many people in operations/back office/middle office/support…whatever you want to call it actually have very good, stable careers and are regarded highly (at a good trading desk).
As (relatively) young people I think we fail to see the forest for the trees so to speak and while support roles in I-banking may suck, it’s not always the case in S/T. We are enamored by the stories we hear about back office grunts turned rainmakers (Lou Ranieri, Kerviel…maybe not so much). These transitions are not impossible if you want it bad enough, but do you necessarily know what you’re getting in to? Analyze your own situations carefully because the front office is a different beast with its own pros and cons. Wall St is an egomaniacal place, you’ve got to be egomaniacal (and hungry) enough to run with it too.
and @ the first commenter “h”: a good trader/sales guy relies on good research…if anywhere you can reduce costs (booking trades isn’t free!), you are doing a great service to PnL.
Great, thanks for clarifying. I think there’s a big difference between back/middle office roles in S&T vs. those in banking, as you said here.
If you have the option to do a front-office job, there’s no point in sticking with back or middle-office ones – I think in that story I was interviewing for other banks / consulting firms so it didn’t matter.
I have my own story of moving from back office (yeah no middle office) to front office, somewhat similar and also different in some aspects.
I am a Chartered Accountant from Pakistan and also completed all levels of CFA Programmed. I joined my bank 7 months ago after 3.5 years at PWC in a back office role, but fortunately I wasn’t hired for settlements. I was hired to prepare the BRD (Business Requirement Document) for the whole Treasury of my bank including the process flow for all types of products and similar stuff. I always wanted to move to FO but didn’t want to beg for it. So I thought this is my opportunity to outshine and to my benefit I had the right academic qualifications. It took me 3 months to prepare the Document and I gave it my best as I knew that it would go through the hands of all the big guns. Luckily, things went as I planned and my Treasure asked my Group Head (Group Head Operations) to get me transferred to FO twice but my GH refused. Here I lost my hope and started searching opportunities outside my bank.
2 months back the Treasurer was made the President of the Bank and a new Treasurer was hired. I had no hope as I did not have any non routine task at my hand to impress the new Treasurer. Hopeless and disappointed I was. Then I met one of the traders as he wanted to understand the financial reporting treatments of different instruments and trades and was quite impressed by my technical understanding of the issues. He asked me what I had done academically and I told him about bother of my qualifications and his best question was “why back office”. I told him that I just wanted to get into the bank and leave my previous job so I took the back office opportunity as it was the only one available. I told him all that had previously happened between the ex-Treasurer (now President) and my Group Head and also that I were looking for opportunities outside the bank. He told me that he would take this issue on board with the new Treasurer and assured me that he would try his best to get me into the “Dealing Room’. ( well he and the new Treasurer are also CFA Charter holders and I think that was also one of the most crucial factors, although the most crucial was that I had shown to the FO guys through my Documents and my discussions that I was technically sound).
Well shortly now the new Treasurer has finally convinced my Group Head to transfer me to FO and in a couple of weeks I will be moving to the “Dealing Room”.
Well initially I would be the Business Finance Controller (BFC) of the Treasury Group however over time I would finally land on the dealer’s (hot) seat. I think I have crossed the biggest hurdle of getting into the Dealing room and moving onto different seats within it would be easier (if not simply easy).
In BFC role also, I would get great exposure and a holistic view of the Treasury and will be very close to all the traders (FICC and Equities). And would also be able to attend the ALCO (asset liability committee) meetings which would be another great opportunity I guess.
I would only say “persistence pays” .My advice” give your best at your current role even if you hate it”.
Awesome story, thanks for sharing!
Sort of an unrealted question but is it possible to get into I-Banking or even a back/mid office gig in a bank with a horrendous GPA?
I will be graduating from an undergrad business degree specializing in Finance and Accounting next year and currently have a GPA of 2.7 but from one of the top b-schools in Canada. Currently doing a back office MIS internship. My question is,will it really matter which school I go to if my GPA is that bad and will networking do me any good despite my obvious shortfall?
It’s certainly easier to get a back/mid-office job with a lower GPA but with a 2.7 it will still be tough regardless. Networking is all you can do to overcome it at this stage – not easy but not impossible either for those types of roles.
Kinda off tangent, but I recently was offered a Private Wealth Management job at a BB Ibank. Would this opportunity lead to an IBanking Analyst job down the road? I graduated from an average state school about three years ago, have 2 internships in PWM at a BB bank and a backoffice job at a mutual fund.
Yes, it could, though it’s easier to do PWM –> IBD if it were just an internship instead. At this point you might have too much experience to be an IBD analyst so you might have to do business school afterward.
If I’ve had an informational interview with someone (I’m a rising junior) and hit it off, how long should I wait to follow up?
Depends on the timing relative to recruiting season but maybe follow-up once in between now (summer) and the start of recruiting season (after a few weeks have passed) and then contact them again when recruiting begins to ask for interviews.
Do you believe I have any chance at landing a full time position for the fall of 2011 at a boutique or MM firm if I was not able to land a finance internship this summer? Some background: 3.7 gpa in philosophy, politics and economics from a relatively well-known liberal arts school. Only thing of interest on my resume is a US Senate internship. Any advice would be appreciated.
It will be tough if you haven’t had finance internships to this point – best option for you may be a Finance Master’s program at a well-known school to give you more time / show more of an interest in finance and get you access to recruiters.
Hey thanks for the post, both of you guys
one thing i was curious is if you give suggestions to front office people like “hey if you did this it would save x,y,and z” couldn’t they take offense to it thinking why a mid/back office person was telling a front office person what to do?
Also would there be a difference between bankers and traders?
thanks again, much appreciated =]
It wouldn’t work as well on bankers because there aren’t as many opportunities to actually save them time/money. But if you have genuine suggestions that are actually helpful, I don’t think a trader would mind – you just have to be careful about what you say and make sure that you’re not going in constantly with marginally helpful ideas.
I would stay away from suggesting technical aspects about trades but more on the operational side of things. In the back office, it’s valuable to know your systems. Suggest ideas that makes the process easier for the Back/Middle office. Why? the easier it is downstream, the easier it is for the trader. Let him/her know that, and he will appreciate it.