Military Service: U.S. Navy, Submarine Officer
Current Job: Wells Fargo, Junior Index Trader
I am the first American-born member of a Cuban-immigrant family, raised in the inner city of Miami in Section 8 housing, next to the projects. This bit of background is important for 2 reasons: 1) I feel as if I have to accomplish something with my life in order to honor my family’s sacrifice in leaving Cuba for the U.S., and 2) the environment I grew up in felt normal to me – I knew nothing other than that lifestyle, and I considered myself fortunate. From my family’s perspective, we were better off in inner city Miami than in Cuba. Moreover, we were definitely better off than the neighbors living next door in the projects, so I thought I was blessed (and I was – I had a loving home and food every day). However, as I grew up and understood socio-economic issues, I started to understand that the socio-economic spectrum was much wider, and I made it my goal to move across it for my family’s sake.
Sometime in middle school I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut. In doing some research, I learned that the U.S. Naval Academy (“USNA”) produced the most astronauts out of any other school, so I made it my goal to go to USNA and become a fighter pilot. I finished high school as the popular man on campus, voted Mr. Congeniality by my classmates, however I had so much fun that I missed the deadline to apply to the Naval Academy. Instead, I went to the University of Florida on a full scholarship, but I did not feel happy there, and restarted my application to USNA. I transferred to Florida International University to be closer to home and my Congresswoman in order to complete necessary steps for the USNA application. I visited my Congresswoman’s office every day for weeks, asking if she would give me her nomination to USNA. Eventually she conceded and gave me the final piece of the puzzle I needed to begin my military journey. To this day, I am good friends with her, and appreciate the opportunity she gave me to pursue my goals.
There was one small problem before I headed off to Annapolis: USNA did not like my college grades, so they gave me a conditional offer pending I attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School (“NAPS”) for a full year before the Academy. Of course, I accepted this offer. Although not the direct path I desired, it turned out to be great for me because we focused on chemistry, physics, and calculus for a full year (3 hrs a day each class), helping to prepare me for the technical future I would soon go into. The year at NAPS also made me more mature, coupled with my previous college experience, when I started at the USNA.
At USNA, I was an Economics major, which is generally frowned upon along with other non-technical majors. Knowing the general lack of respect for non-technical majors, I truly wanted to prove to myself, and my peers, that I can handle a rigorous academic load. That, coupled with a jet ride that I did not find too enjoyable, got me interested in serving onboard nuclear submarines.
To become a submarine officer, candidates must interview with a 4-star Admiral in Washington D.C. I was blessed to receive an interview, which involves two initial interviews with nuclear engineers to test your competence, and then a final interview with the Admiral. Apparently I wasn’t too impressive in the technical interviews, because he was lukewarm about my grades and technical performance. His final question was, “why should I take you?”
I told him that I genuinely wanted to be a submarine officer, and for that reason, I would probably outperform the “smarter” people around me, who were forced to be there and didn’t appear to be as highly motivated for the service. He kicked me out of his office and I thought I messed up, but I later learned that he accepted me into the Naval Nuclear Power Training pipeline, which is the precursor to becoming a submarine officer.
I worked diligently through nuclear training, and by no means was a “star”. More like a piece of coal…After training, I got to a submarine and quickly rose to be the top Junior Officer (“JO”). My reviews stated that I was very competent technically, operationally, and respected by all the Sailors. I loved being a submariner. My peers and senior officers believed I would quickly rise to Captain, and perhaps even Admiral. I was honored and humbled to receive several awards, but the one I cherish most is the Honolulu Navy League Sea Service Excellence Award because I was nominated for that award by my crew.
At the end of my tour, my intentions were to stay in the U.S. Navy for a full career because I loved my experiences and leading Sailors. I requested that my Captain assign me as an Admiral’s Aide, or send me to a school to pursue a graduate degree during my follow-on shore tour. I was selected to become a military instructor at the University of Notre Dame, where I would be assigned for 2 years with the intent of completing a master’s program to prepare me for future leadership positions in the Navy.
While at Notre Dame, a position I thoroughly enjoyed and cherished, I earned the reputation with students as a tough and caring professor. The students understood that I was challenging and preparing them for their naval careers. They also recognized that I was consistently pushing myself, just as much as I pushed them, in an attempt to further prepare myself to teach them and be a better Naval Officer. During this time, I worked at ND from 6:30am – 5pm every day, and then studied at home for my MBA until midnight every night. On weekends, I travelled to the University of Chicago where I was getting my MBA to go to class. I kept that up for 2 years, finishing the 3-year program a year early with the intent to continue on to a submarine after my 2-year assignment at Notre Dame.
The more time I spent with friends in Chicago (peers at Goldman, Blackrock, McKinsey, and F100 companies), the more I realized that there were other interesting life options that I had never considered. My path in the military would be well-defined, and that was uninspiring. After considering the options I would have as a retired submarine officer, I thought it best to leave the service now and gain other valuable life experiences. At this point, I knew I needed to leverage my MBA from a top business school to find a new career for myself.
Albeit my technical background and schooling, I knew I had to make myself more competitive for the transition process. I did a few “Training the Street” courses to learn and gain more experience in analyzing financial statements. Additionally, I was accepted into Harvard’s HBX Core program, so I completed that program in parallel with my MBA. In my opinion, being a nuclear engineer was not sufficient to land a great job, especially given my lack of relevant business experience. I tried building experience through this type of supplemental education, but I would later learn, that it does not count as “real experience”, although it did make me stand out throughout various interview processes. I recommend supplemental education for departing veterans interested in highly sought after career fields like consulting and finance, although it is important to note that these supplements won’t land you the job, but merely express your genuine interest in going into business.
I aggressively leveraged the Naval Academy alumni network. How? I used LinkedIn and the Chicago Booth Alumni database to find other Naval Academy alums in the companies I was targeting (top consulting firms). I am happy to say that I easily spoke to over 60 alums, and built a strong network for myself internally at each company. I received tremendous support from my fellow Naval Academy alums. I think in all, only 2 people did not return my call or e-mail. Leveraging the USNA network, specifically targeting people with similar backgrounds (Booth, submarines, or both) was critical in getting my foot in the door at many of these top companies.
When I started interviewing with consulting firms, I got very positive feedback, including comments like “strong leadership experience and inter-personal skills” and “excellent problem solving and solid math skills”. However, I lacked “business experience and insight”. Unanimously, each consulting firm told me a variation of the same thing: “No offer”.
I didn’t let rejection keep me down. I reached out to my network at each firm, and they all spoke to my interviewers and came back with the same advice: go get real civilian experience and come back. In talking to a good friend at Goldman Sachs, he highly recommended I pursue finance given my personality. I initiated the exact same process for all the major banks, focusing most on those firms with a veteran recruitment program. At the time, I had no idea that Wells Fargo Securities had a VET Program.
How I made it into Wells Fargo:
One day I was at work at ND, and I got a phone call from a former freshman (Plebe) of mine at the Naval Academy, while I was a senior. He called me for some career advice, so we chatted for about an hour. When he asked me about my future, I said I didn’t know just yet, but I was thinking about going into business. He recommended I talk to his dad. A few days later, I was on his dad’s calendar to chat. We chatted for over an hour and hit it off. Turns out he is the CEO of a pharma company. At the end of our conversation, he said I should talk to his banker at Wells Fargo. A few days later, I was on the phone with his guy, and we chatted for an hour about his career and the various careers in banking. At the end of the conversation, he asked for my resume and I sent it. I thought nothing of it, but simply did as he requested. A few days later, I got a call from HR asking me if I would like to interview for the VET Program, so I said yes.
At the interview, I was adamant that I wanted to be an investment banker because I thought that was the most technical and prestigious job in banking. When the senior manager, who happened to be a West Point graduate, offered me a Sales & Trading internship, I was not 100% positive that S&T was the appropriate path for me, and expressed my concerns. I remember he told me something along the lines of “Victor, you have no idea what S&T is like. I think this is the right call for you. Take it or leave it.” Given no other option, I trusted him and accepted the offer.
Turns out, as he said, I knew nothing about Sales and Trading. During the S&T internship, I appreciated the fact that I got home at a reasonable hour, was able to study for my MBA at night, and travel freely on the weekends back to Chicago to finish my studies. I enjoyed the atmosphere on the trading floor, and really hit it off with the CDS (Credit Default Desk) trading desk. Moreover, I really enjoyed learning about the different securities and how they are traded.
Now, I am finished with my MBA and enjoying my new career as a CDS junior trader. As an Analyst, I am in a support role to the main trader. My goal every day is to ensure that when he gets to work every day, all he has to do is log in and start trading – every piece of admin, setup, calculations, etc are done by me before he gets in. Just like I used to do in the military for the Captain every morning, when the senior trader gets in, I immediately brief him on the previous close, futures, the European market, how I set him up to trade, and what I expect to happen.
As the day starts, we discuss what he expects to happen, ensuring that we don’t miss a major macro event or underestimate the impact of some pending news. Throughout the trading day, I intercept all unimportant communications that distract him from trading: I book all his tickets, and just this week, I was directed to communicate with other CDS traders to develop new business. Every day, I try to learn more about the business from the senior traders, and I think creatively about how I can help to make their days more productive. To my understanding thus far given their feedback, my curiosity, ability to pick things up quickly, and my initiative to help out and anticipate things has provided value to the team.
I’ve already decided that I am going to be doing this for at least the next 10 years. My goal is to continue to learn and to earn my way to senior trader status. My goal is to get promoted some time next year to Associate, and continuing to build my reputation on the street as a solid, smart and competent junior index trader.
1) Veteran status may earn you a look, but it doesn’t earn you a job. You’ve got to prepare yourself and perform at a level competitive with your non-veteran counterparts to be successful. No excuses, just do it.
2) Rejection sucks, but don’t get phased by it. Keep your chin up, take it gracefully, appreciate the experience/lesson, learn from it, and move on.
3) Be honest and transparent during your job search and when you get a job. People respect honesty, and if you share your true desires, you are more likely to be rewarded.
4) Carry a notebook and write everything down. Contacts, conversations, lessons, notes, procedures, look ups, etc. People will notice your diligence, and you will never find yourself in an awkward position asking someone to repeat themselves because you forgot something they already told you.
5) There is no substitute for hard work. If you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t use the excuse “I don’t know”. This day in age, you can learn anything online. Use Google before asking a stupid question. People say there are no stupid questions, but if you could have figured it out on your own, well then… up to you for interpretation. Unless a question is time sensitive, think about things for a bit before asking. However, under no circumstance should you ever fail to ask something if you truly don’t know and put forth an honest effort to figure it out.
6) Clean up your social media presence. Build yourself a LinkedIn page (while you’re at it, Google LinkedIn for Veterans to gain free premium access for a year), and use that to learn more about the careers you are interested in. Once you have an idea about what you want, reach out to people with a similar background and get on the phone with them to build that relationship. Ask great questions!
7) Spend hours and days writing your resume. When done, have friends look at it. When fixed, have those contacts you’ve made in the industry you want to get into have a look at it. Your resume is a living document, continue to tweak it and make it stronger. I used www.vmock.com for help with my resume, along with a handful of friends.
8) Treat every conversation or visit with a hiring firm as an interview. Take copious notes, do your research before each call/visit, and dress to impress.
9) Know that you may have to take a supportive role coming out of the military. Don’t feel diminished by that, but rather take advantage of the situation to learn as much as possible and prove your ability to fill the main role.
10) Understand that no one owes you anything. You served your country – thank you for that, but don’t expect anything else in return. You have to earn your respect in corporate America just like you did in the military.