My Story: Part 9 – Notebook

“If you don’t know, then why do you just sit there and look pretty,” Miguel said, as the tinge of a smile gradually dissipated on the side of his mouth, and his entire face transformed into a forbidding, stern look.

** Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. **

In the wake of completing my postgraduate studies at Boston University (BU) in 2013, I had accumulated no interviews nor job offers, and over four-hundred job application rejection emails.

Attending numerous networking events and career fairs, hammering through hundreds of job applications, and cold-calling dozens of professionals in the financial services industry, appeared to have resulted in the misfortune of being “job offer-less” with two technical degrees under my belt.

I shelled out thousands-and-thousands of dollars for my higher education and all I could show for it were hundreds of rejection letters from top financial services companies, a paper diploma, and a GPA considered unusually low for a postgraduate program, a result of prioritizing finding a job over studying for mid-term and final exams.

To some extent, I did add on to the frustration of the job search by only applying at companies in New York City.  My heart was set on beginning my career in the Big Apple, the core of the financial world, and close to home.  My dream was to one-day walk down Wall Street to a corner office overlooking the New York Stock Exchange, suit and tie, clutching a leather briefcase on one hand and the Financial Times on the other.

I desperately wanted to live like the “aspiring-Wall-Street-stockbrokers,” sans the illegal stuff, that were over-glamorized in movies like Trading Places, Glengarry Glenn Ross, Boiler Room, American Psycho, Wall Street 1 & 2, and The Wolf of Wall Street.  It was a fantasy ingrained into my everyday thoughts and imaginations, but I was delusional about the realities of achieving the high-profile life akin to Gordon Gekko, who like myself, by the way, graduated from City College of New York.

As weeks passed by with zero interview reservations, it was starting to feel I had taken a step back in my career progression by obtaining a master’s degree.  The prestigious two-year analyst programs at investment banks were only recruiting undergraduates at top universities.  Postgraduates were ineligible to apply.

Likewise, many of the recruiters hiring for entry-level roles were shying away from having to pay unseasoned-professionals postgraduate-level salaries, even though I would clearly state under salary expectations, “WILLING TO WORK FOR TIPS.”

My Gmail inbox continued to accumulate rejection emails from every financial firm and recruiter on the block.  I was gradually becoming despondent about my future.  Years of hard work in college and graduate school appeared to have churned no upwardly progress.  I felt stagnant, and believed that I would forever be stuck in the status quo of which my mother dreamed of her children one-day escaping from.

It was difficult to figure out what exactly was I doing wrong in my job search.  They say you should get a S.T.E.M. degree(s) to be desirable in the work force.  They say you should intern at large corporations to highlight work experience.  They say you should network and reach out to professionals in the industry while applying for jobs.  But what was the use of doing all of this legwork when nobody was taking the time to read my resume?

I implemented every strategy in the Book of Job-Searching for a shot at getting a face-to-face with a hiring manager at a top financial firm.  Nothing worked.  I even tried unconventional application tactics, like checking off “WHITE” in the diversity box to see if that alters the companies’ perception of my application.  Surprisingly, some applications promptly moved forward to the online examination portion of the interview process.  A coincidence or a random selection?

I had to re-evaluate my job search strategy.  If companies were filling the most desirable roles with candidates from the best universities, whom were they hiring for the unattractive roles, I asked myself.  With this in mind, I began searching for the unalluring positions that my classmates at BU were ignoring entirely, jobs that did not require quantitative degrees.

I realized that all I had to do was get in a bank, any bank, and prove to them that I can do the same work like any other candidate from the top schools.  I just needed to get my foot through the door.

My breakthrough into the financial services industry came through the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in Stamford, Connecticut as a Trade Support Operations Analyst.  (I know this job was not in NYC.  However, given Stamford’s close proximity to the city, it was a step in the right direction to reaching my goal of landing on Wall Street.)

For those of you unfamiliar with roles in the financial world, briefly, a Trade Support Analyst is someone who ensures the trades in the bank’s system matches the trades in the exchange’s system.  I called it the “clicking job,” because a large part of the day involved clicking “APPROVE” on hundreds of financial trades.

Even though the role was dull and monotonous, the best part about it was working on the trading floor, the second largest trading floor in the country.  Think of a huge football field with rows of computers and monitors projecting various financial charts, and a plethora of Market Risk teams, Salespeople, Traders, and Quants running about.  It was the perfect environment for networking.

A few months in, my manager, Peter, pulled me aside and said that an analyst role opened up in the Foreign Exchange (FX) Market Risk team, and it was up to me to find a way in.  I couldn’t miss on the opportunity.  Getting in the Market Risk team would finally put my education to use, as it heavily relied on applications in financial engineering.

I immediately connected with members on the risk team, showed them my interest in joining their team, and took them out for lunch, bought them coffee, encouraged them to talk about themselves, made them feel important, and tried to arouse in them the eager to want to have me join them.  After a few days of “wining and dining,” their manager, Alex, arranged interviews with all of the Directors in the Market Risk division.

Let me tell you, these interviews were excruciating! And I blame myself for its intensities and difficulties, as it stemmed from me flaunting my education in financial engineering a little too much during my efforts in trying to “impress” the team members by mentioning in conversations various quantitative topics.  Big mistake!

The Market Risk Directors bombarded me with every Quant interview question you can think of, from C++ programming to derivation of the daunting and complex Black-Scholes Option Pricing theorem.  I was being stumped left and right, failing to remember bits and pieces of concepts learned at BU.  It was embarrassing!  And after finishing all five interviews, I instantly knew that it would take a miracle for me to join their team.

Weeks passed by and I had yet to hear anything from Alex, the FX Market Risk team’s manager.  And then, my Trade Support manager, Peter, who probed around the floor for more information on the analyst role, told me that the Directors I interviewed with believed I “did not have the adequate Market Risk knowledge, nor the financial market competency to excel in the team.”

But, Peter had my back, and convinced Alex that with a little guidance, I was capable of learning the role well.  To this day, I am forever grateful for my manager’s advocacy, endorsement, and support.  Thanks “P.”

A week later, Alex offered me the role as a Market Risk Analyst in his Foreign Exchange team.  During the first few months as an analyst, I was petrified of failing and letting Peter down.  I had a huge chip on my shoulder to prove to my team, which included an analyst from Harvard University, that I was more than capable of understanding the complexities that are involved in risk management and, keeping up with the fast-paced environment that resulted from the highly volatile currencies market.

To overcome my fear of failing, I would arrive an hour earlier then my teammates and take my time with executing the daily market risk processes.  During the evenings, I would stay late to catch up and study the different risk management concepts I was encountering throughout the day.  Hard work paid off, as after a few months, I had become the go-to person, the “expert,” for many of the reports, systems, and processes that managed RBS’s division’s risk.

In essence, my new job-search plan worked.  I got in the door of a top international bank through a non-technical role, and within a few months, I was able to get a position, highly desired by my classmates, that would propel me to the next stages of my career.

My future outlook seemed fantastic, and I was loving it.  I loved being challenged, learning complex concepts, talking shop with traders, and feeling like a part of the “cool kids on the block” who everyone respected on the trading floor.  But this jubilation was short lived.

In early 2014, RBS started to go through the process of downsizing.  They were involved in a huge market scandal and began selling off its businesses to pay off hefty fines.  People were being laid off, and the second largest trading floor in the country became a vast and desolate factory with endless arrays of empty computer stations.

And so, my manager, Alex, who patiently, and, I assume, painstakingly, guided me through my risk management learning process, was forced to resign, and the remaining members of my “squad” joined a global Market Risk team ran by a Director named Miguel.

Now, Miguel and I never saw eye-to-eye.  For some reason, unbeknownst to many of my colleagues, he treated me differently than the other analysts.  He instructed my daily responsibilities in a patronizing and condescending manner.  My theory behind all of this was he just didn’t like the fact I bombed his interview, but, was still able to join the Market Risk team under Alex.  He probably felt I didn’t have the “credentials” to be a part of his team, and didn’t deserve to have the title as a Market Risk Analyst.  (While interviewing for the Market Risk Analyst role, Miguel was the Director who had asked me to show him two different methods, step-by-step, on deriving the Black-Scholes formulae, which I had forgotten how to do immediately after my first semester in grad school.)

It was quite evident that he wasn’t too fond of me.  The best example of this was during a meeting for a project we were working on with several other departments outside of risk management.  In the meeting, Miguel and other directors were discussing the intricacies of a financial market product known as a Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO).

At that time, I had no clue what a Synthetic CDO was.  I usually do not ask questions until I have taken the time to do my own research and try to figure it out myself.  If, and only if, I still do not understand after a Google search, then I will ask my colleagues to explain it to me.  With this in mind, I jotted down a reminder on my notebook to “Google Synthetic CDOs” after the meeting.

As I wrote the note down in my notebook, I can sense that Miguel was looking towards my direction, and not paying attention to the director who was speaking at that moment.  In the middle of the director’s spiel, Miguel interjects.

“Sorry, Roy, for cutting you off,” Miguel said. “Gerome?”

“Huh, um, yes?”  I was thrown off guard, given that the nature of the meeting was to be short and quick between the directors only, and I was told to just take notes on topics I did not understand.

Miguel continued.  “Gerome, do you know what is a Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligation, a Synthetic CDO, and do you know how it works and how it affects RBS’s risk management?”

“No, but,” as I began to stutter, “but, I will make sure to research it after the meeting and get back to you with questions I may have.”

“If you don’t know, then why do you just sit there and look pretty,” Miguel said, as the tinge of a smile gradually dissipated on the side of his mouth, and his entire face transformed into a forbidding, stern look.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.  I felt everyone’s eyes piercing right through me, like safari spectators intently watching for the King of the Jungle’s next move as he backs a vulnerable wildebeest into the corner.

There was silence.  Seconds felt like minutes.  I was dumbfounded, and so I sat there and stared at him, while he stared back at me, knowing that he had superiority over everyone in the meeting, as he was the second-in-command within the Market Risk department, and nobody was willing to reprimand him, especially if I had no significant hierarchical ties in the company and was easily replaceable.

After that meeting, I felt livid, and I knew it was time to leave RBS.  I was tired of feeling not worthy enough, nor deserving, of the analyst position, as it was obtained through Peter’s advocacy and not by my credentials.  I wanted to earn it myself, truly show them from inception that I was qualified for the challenging and demanding tasks required by the job.  

So, I decided to architecture my own MBA experience through the exposure of different roles at various companies, and discover my personal “Business School of Hard Knocks,” be Wall Street’s Jack-of-all-Trades, and create my very own adventure.  Several people would tell me that I would deeply regret jumping to different roles every year, because it will showcase to recruiters that I am “not committed nor serious” about my career.

But, I had no clue on what was right or wrong, or what repercussions would arise from switching jobs often.  Neither did I know where my journey through these different roles would take me.  And that was okay.  I needed to take a chance, learn through trial and error, as I knew within all the unknowns in this world, I will one day unearth my story of where I belong.


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