Guest Post: Advice From A Wall Street Executive

Audio Blog, 6:11

Today’s guest post was written by a Wall Street Executive with extensive experience (33 years) in Sales, Trading, Research and Portfolio Management.  I asked him to provide candid advice to veterans on the transition from military service to financial services.  

Over the course of my career in financial services, I’ve offered jobs to about 50 people and probably interviewed 300 or 400 to get there. Included in both of those numbers are a scattering of veterans. I am not a veteran myself, but my father was and I hope my advice here can assist those who so nobly served our country. I’ve also had to look for a job a couple of times, and know what a job search feels like.

Financial services is a great industry, as it pays well and has many super interesting jobs. People in financial services want to see veterans succeed, and will frequently stretch to help them do so. Veterans are assumed to have many attributes that will serve them and the financial services companies that they want to work for well; these attributes include being organized, accountable, motivated, loyal and responsible, among many others. In this blog post today, I’m going to focus on the other side of the coin, and point out the shortfalls I’ve seen in how veterans have presented themselves when seeking to enter financial services.

To start, I’ve seen a number of veterans fail to fully absorb that they’ve moved from a world built on command and control to a world built on persuasion. Financial services, particularly the Wall Street part, is organized differently from many other industries in that there are many high value jobs that do not have managerial aspects. It’s not uncommon for a bond salesman to go his entire career without having anyone report to him; for such a job, the leadership skill development that the military stresses isn’t a meaningful positive for an entry level position.

Instead, veterans who land a job in this type of environment can expect that their initial meaningful relationships will be with their supervisor and with their peers. Having a good relationship with the boss is probably somewhat similar with what exists in the military, as it’s about delivering on commitments and watching out for the boss’s interests. Having a good relationship with peers is also important, and generally there’s enough room for upward mobility so that multiple people can succeed. You can expect that your peers will be sensitive to the feeling of being ordered around, and they will be closely watching you as ex-military for signs of this intent.

Of course, what these business are all about is getting other peoples’ money, and customers are even more about persuasion! Customers get to choose who they want to do business with, and your job will get them to choose you! Being persuasive is even more critical with them.

So, how can veterans enhance their persuasive skills? First off, soften the look; the “soldier in a suit” thing will only take you so far. Grow your hair out a bit and relax your posture a touch. The gray suit with a white shirt and a dark tie is really boring — the gray suit is fine but try a blue shirt and a red tie. Being ex-military is a positive, but your appearance doesn’t need to scream it — people like to have business relationships that feel relaxed so try to look a bit relaxed.

Then, remember to listen. Trying to recite a list of competencies that you gained in the military is not a great tactic. An interviewer will expect that you know what the company does, that you looked up his profile on LinkedIn and that you read the job description closely for hints about the hard and soft skills required to do the position well. As you are ex-military, you will be assumed to have a positive, can-do attitude — let this confidence in your abilities show through but at a soft volume. Don’t rush to tell the interviewer everything you’ve done; sit back a bit in the conversation, subtly working into the conversation what you know about the position and how you see yourself filling it. Persuasion is often about letting the other guy talk, and bending the conversation in a direction that favors you.

Be aware that very few candidates will have all of the skills listed in a job description; your job will be to convince the interviewer that you can acquire quickly, within reason, the skills that you don’t have. So, if a Wall Street job opening is looking for someone who can use Bloomberg, say you will take the time after work to develop an understanding of how it works. Let your confidence in yourself and your motivation be your selling point.

Finally, I believe your military skills will be well applied in financial services. Many parts of our business involve making and executing a plan, with a willingness to alter the plan when new information emerges. Think of situations in which you were required to be flexible and adaptable; these stories can serve as great examples of your skill but I recommend telling them at high levels without specific military details.

Good luck!




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