Trash Back Office Mindset for an Investment Job

2018-05-20T05:44:41+00:00April 28th, 2018|WORD OF WISDOM|

Dreaming of an investment job?

We see many candidates from back office looking to switch into front office investment jobs. Many of you must be thinking: easier said than done when you read the title. That’s understandable, considering that you’ve probably passed some CFA exams or graduated from a Masters in Finance. But yet, you did not land any front office investment job interview, especially if you rely on job portals such as eFinancialCareers. 

The same thing happened to me in the past. I’ve tried sending my CV so many times but didn’t have much success. I see many others applying for front-office roles, but they too didn’t seem to make it. So are you going to let other people’s success or failure determine yours?

If you choose to suspend your scepticism and read on, you will definitely gain some useful insights towards a gratifying career. This is because I will share with you how I and many others did land investment jobs.

You see, I was one of you guys ten years ago. I managed to break into the investment industry after much trial-and-error because I believed it was possible. That was only the first step.

The next few steps involve reflecting on your mindset and making the necessary shifts. First, let us explore why is it very hard for someone working in the back office to move to a front office position (one of it is investment job). One key barrier is the back office mindset.

The mindset of most back office candidates blocks your way to investment job

Let’s discuss how some back-office roles leads to the front office. If you are operation analyst, you will follow instructions and make sure the settlements are tallied right. Perhaps you have the opportunity to improve the operation process. If you are working in the IT team, you might be doing programming, software engineering, system administration, and IT security. Or in the best case, you are a business analyst crafting user requirements and tracking project progress.

In the back office, you basically follow instructions from top management and carry it out, through your project or your day-to-day work. You have limited room to tap into your creativity. You don’t feel the impact of your work. When things go wrong (numbers can’t tally, or maybe bugs in your software), you get blamed easily. You see all the downside and none of the upside for your job.

As you have little incentive to do more than what you are assigned, you get into a comfort zone. Over time, you will likely develop slackness, kia-see (afraid of being blamed for ‘mistakes’ and therefore be scared to venture into unknown territories), and over-thinking situations. As a result, you miss many opportunities, including opportunities moving into investment jobs.

Don’t let it block your front office dream

After having worked in investment research for close to a decade, I can tell you that you have to get rid of all these ‘mindset barriers’ to be successful in the front office. What kind of people can be found in the front office roles?

Intelligent, street smart, outspoken, fast action-takers, hungry to learn.

Front office workers always challenge their limits, tap on their creativity, and hone their networking skills. That’s the fun part. Not only will that bring you wealth, you will also feel satisfied along the way. You can be wrong on certain decisions but the more important thing is, you learn from your mistake and move on. Nobody in the investment industry can claim that they have not made a single mistake in their investment decisions. A successful asset manager just made fewer mistakes than others in the long run, because he/she made less costly mistakes in the earlier years.  

30 (THIRTY)

That is the unspoken age where most asset managers or investment research firms stop considering for junior hires. This is based on our years of experience coaching junior candidates. Unless you have some very special skills or industry knowledge, your back-office knowledge, coupled with CFA exams, are insufficient to meet the hiring managers’ requirements.

Worse, if you choose to retain your back office mindset. You spent years to *think* about what you should do, rather *act* on it. You keep thinking that you know how to get yourself there and tried to DIY.

Or you simply find it too hard and fall back into your comfort zone and enjoy the stable paycheque although the job will likely lead to dead ends with no visible solutions to the daily grind.

If you are close to the age 30 and feel stuck at your job, there should be tonnes of reasons to keep you up at night. If you are above 30 and are still trying your luck by hitting the hammer everywhere, I suggest you have a chat with us. By overthinking, you might get trapped in your tunnel vision (or mono perspective) and keep heading towards the wrong direction. After the age of 30, the chance for you to go into front office is very slim as you are competing against those energetic, hard-working and self-driven young fresh graduates. Regardless of your destination, if you don’t like your current job, ACT early. On average it takes us 6 months to a year to polish a stone to a gem.

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It’s not impossible.

You just need to do it right;

Once.

Despite all these obstacles, it is not entirely impossible for back office candidates to join investment jobs. Let me share with you the following success stories with you:

  • Myself, who transitioned from a back office IT department at a Singapore based financial institution before I moved to investment research (Link to story here)
  • Rei, from software engineering to quantitative analyst at a global quant investor (Link to story here)
  • Gavin, from investment bank IT to private equity (Link to story here)
  • Sharon, from regulatory and risk management to hedge fund analyst (Link to story here)
  • Yuanjin, from QA engineer to investment banker (Link to story here)
  • Lihiang, from the public sector to investment research (Link to story here)

If you wish to contact us to learn more about how you can break into the investment industry from the back office, please drop us an email here: info AT springboardtm.com.sg.

There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?
— Warren Buffett

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank AKY for his contribution. The author has more than seven years of experience working in institutional research. He currently works as an independent research analyst with a focus on liquidity events and holding company discount arbitrage, and serves hedge funds, long-only funds as well as sovereign wealth funds. He loves coaching aspiring junior analysts. If you wish to get in touch with the author you can email info AT springboardtm.com.sg.

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