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1) What do you do now, and what did you do before?
I currently work in the electronic trading industry for a large hedge fund. My group monetizes, routes and executes retail and institutional order flow in equities and options. My specific job is to maintain client relationships, address client concerns, and contribute to the management and maintenance of our automated system. Previously, I was an officer in the United States Army, where I held several different positions. The two most impactful were as coordinator of our discretionary Commander’s Emergency Relief funds, and as a Platoon Leader of a Combat Engineer unit. The former involved keeping track and properly managing our unit’s several hundred infrastructure and relief projects in Iraq, the latter involved clearing local roads of Improvised Explosive Devices.
2) So, why the change?
I had never planned to stay in the military as a career, and had long thought about a job in the financial sector, leading to an economics major in undergrad. As my tour of duty ended, I had enjoyed my service time, but was looking to join the private sector.
3) How did you pitch yourself to the desired industry/role? What worked well? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
I was unfortunately trying to enter the financial industry in the spring of 2009, when the industry was suffering badly. It was very difficult to compete with recently laid-off competitors who had experience in the field while I had none. As a result, I acknowledged up-front that I did not have hands-on experience, but was eager and ready to learn. Though it was not in the same sector, I tried to tie in my experience in the military as proof of hard work under pressure and a habit of success.
4) What was the most valuable thing you did in preparation for the new industry/role?
Network. I searched out everyone I could who had a connection to the industry to see if anyone was hiring. A vast proportion of job openings are never posted to the public because they are filled by employee referrals, so I wanted everyone to know that I was looking and eager if anything came up. To be sure, I applied for every opening I could find, but in the end the best offer I landed by far was the result of a friend who worked at the firm.
5) What other advice or insight do you have for readers seeking the same career transition?
Be ready for it to take a significant amount of time. In the financial industry, a most entry-level recruiting is done on-campus, and coming from the military (or really anywhere that isn’t college or an MBA program) does not have that direct line to job openings. Be somewhat flexible as to your exact position–you may have a job in mind that would fit best, but be willing to shift if a great opportunity comes along. In the same vein, think ahead: your dream job may not be available, but what jobs can you get now that could transition you there in a few years’ time?
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