Did you always know you wanted to be a trader?

Absolutely not.  I found my way there very indirectly and ultimately was successful and thrived in the environment. 

I began my job search in the fall of my senior year of college.  I was a Finance major, and knew I wanted to pursue a job at a large firm in New York City, but I had not yet narrowed my search to a specific division/function.  While I did go on a few interviews for Sales & Trading programs, I struggled to grasp exactly what went on on those loud, football-field like floors.  And likely as a result of several 1980s books and movies, I had a view of what traders looked like and that was not a job for me.  Traders were grumpy old men who spent the day starting at several blinking screens, unable to even leave their seat go to the bathroom.  Oh, and they were definitely extremely quantitative.  No thank you. 


What would have been helpful to me at the time (besides an internship – I was studying abroad during the spring & summer of my junior year) was knowing relatives or family friends who had various jobs on Wall Street and having exposure to their backgrounds and lifestyles, or even asking to visit them at work.  Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Boston in a town known for apple orchards and golf courses; it was not exactly Garden City or Rye NY, where thousands commuted to the city each day to jobs at investment banks. 


There are far more resources available to young people today than I had at my disposal in 2000.  But in my opinion, nothing is as valuable as real-world experience.  I wound up joining Lehman Brothers as an analyst in their Finance division, the main draw being it was a rotational program throughout various groups working under the CFO.  I figured that spending eight months in three groups would be a good start to actually figuring out what I wanted to do next. 


Throughout my two years in Finance, I had the opportunity to be a part of three very different teams.  And along with learning how an investment bank funded itself, reported its revenues, and budgeted for legal expenses, I also learned even more about my own skills, strengths, drivers, and values.  It was during these formative first years of my career that I figured out I would not be happy continuing in my current environment; my competitive nature and outgoing personality were better suited for a seat on the trading floor.       


In every aspect of my life, I am a firm believer in what is meant to be, will be.  I feel confident in saying had I joined a trading desk immediately after graduation, I would have never lasted in the job.  Instead, I took a less glamorous and lucrative path, but one which ultimately gave me the foundation I needed to slowly build knowledge, confidence, a network, and most importantly, a deeper understanding of who I was.  And when I did move to the trading desk, I took a step backwards; I had three years of work experience at the firm, yet took a job typically offered to those right out of college.

It’s important to remember an initial step back can often lead to many, many more steps forward.  Don’t pursue a job or path just because your friends are or because it is what you think you are supposed to do.  I believe a disciplined approach to your career can ultimately boost overall job satisfaction and thus, longevity.  Don’t stress if you don’t know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life; research, network, observe, absorb and date – don’t marry – several jobs if for nothing else than process of elimination. 

I just don’t suggest you watch 1980s Wall Street movies. 

Megan Philbin