Landing my dream job against all odds
Finding my first job as a stockbroker
02 December 2019
How I got my first job as a stockbroker in 2007 having received a disappointing bachelor's degree result.
Having just being rejected from my 20th job application, my parents suggested I take time to sit down and reflect on what I wanted to do with my life. The year was 2007 and I had just completed my university degree in Geography with a 2:2, which although a passing grade I soon realised was below that required to get into pretty much any graduate job program. I was asked what I enjoyed doing with my free time, and to allow that to influence what jobs I should apply for — follow your passion. At the time my hobbies ranged from computer gaming, running, to investing (which I did to pay my way through university). Sadly back then Twitch did not exist thus gaming was not a valid career option (and frankly I wasn’t very good at it), running… well I was hardly Mo Farah. Investing however I was fascinated by, and so I landed on the decision to commit myself to a career in investment management.
My first port of call to getting a job as an investment manager was to go to the universities career department to ask for advice as to my predicament - I was an under qualified graduate in a subject completely unassociated with my desired career field, and had shown no interest publicly in Finance. Rather than offering me any advice on how to pursue my chosen career they simply told me to look for something more suited to my existing CV, and if I was truly stubborn in committing to this path to give up on it after a month of trying. After such a critical blow to my ambitions by career professionals - the ones that are meant to know what they’re talking about, it took some deep soul searching before deciding to continue in my search for a job in finance. I accepted help from my parents who had connections to friends and family in the Finance industry. They put me in touch with investment professionals ranging from a hedge fund manager, to private client investment managers and stockbrokers. I was told by these professionals that the degree was clearly a negative on my CV, however if I truly wanted to get a job in Finance it would not be an insurmountable red flag. I was given a copy of the Private Asset Managers directory (PAM), which contained a list of all asset managers in the UK, and I was advised to contact each of them to see what they had to offer.
I formulated a strategy to get in contact with each of these asset managers, around 90 in all. I was told that writing personally to someone has the biggest impact rather than the Human Resources department where you don’t stand out - i.e. get in touch directly with the decision maker. As such my strategy was to call every single company in the directory, ask to be put in touch with the head of the investment management division, and ask for their name and if I could write to them with my CV and covering letter to apply for a job if they were amenable. This approach worked well and I received a fairly warm reception from most mid-sized companies. The larger ones palmed me off with company policies of “oh we don’t offer names, if you want to apply for a job email firstname.lastname@example.org”. Of course I did this, but little surprise I never got a reply.
I initially placed 90 cold calls, noted down the names and addresses, and wrote to each one a personalised letter having studied the companies website and why I thought I would be a great fit for them. After a week or two of posting the letters I called each company back up asking to speak to the person I wrote the letter to and if they had any feedback. It was clear at the time the industry knew something was on the horizon as most said they had a hiring freeze on - it was November 2007, the whole industry was clearly preparing for a winter storm. From my applications I received interview offers from two companies, and I was fortunate enough to receive a job offer (after three interviews) from one of them as a trainee stockbroker. I was over the moon and couldn’t stop smiling, and thus I landed my first job at Killik & Co where I went on to work for 5 years eventually leaving as a fully qualified stockbroker.
Starting out as a stockbroker
I’ll never forget the first week as a trainee broker. Within the first hour I was sat at a desk, the stock terminal in front of me, access to the client accounting system, and the phone started ringing.
Knowing nothing about their systems, stockbroking, or the clients, I was instructed to pick up the phone and answer any admin questions the clients had, and to only pass the client over to the broker if an investment matter arose. Needless to say I tanked the call and it ended up with the client shouting at me down the phone demanding to be put through to a professional. 'Great introduction to stockbroking' I thought to myself that evening as I mulled over my already diminishing enthusiasm for this industry. By the end of the week I had been given my first stockbroking book to study by CISI to gain my investment management certificate (this no longer exists), and was told that should be my only priority outside of work until I had passed the first three core exams required to provide stock market advice to clients.
In terms of a formal training program, none existed. There used to be, however with the forthcoming financial crisis all training budget had been pulled, and brokers were expected to bounce from team to team until a manager liked you enough to take you on. In other words, sink or swim over the first twelve months, and if you didn’t make an impression you would likely be out. By the end of my first week I was in turmoil. Everything investment related I was overjoyed to be working with. Sat there day to day and seeing my ProQuote stock ticker moving was just so cool. Proquote terminalHowever I could see that there was an enormous amount of administration involved in being a broker and advising clients, a lot of studying involved, and ensuring always that you’re within the regulatory boundaries of the job.
Thus began what ended up being a nine year career in finance, culminating in me quitting my job to learn to be a software engineer with the eventual goal of starting my own investment company Kytra to tackle the inadequacies the Finance industry has accepted is part of the job. This is the first post of many as I talk through my career in the City of London and stockbroking / investment management, and I will eventually come onto how I changed jobs to software engineering at the age of thirty two, and then moved on to be a co-founder of a startup Kytra.