Friday, May 7, 2010

I Want To Do Sales, But I Don’t Like People

by Keith Dipple, Assistant Director, Employer Relations and Development

“What can I do for you today?” I asked the student in my office.

“I wanna be a trader,” he said. “Have done ever since I can remember. I don’t want to do, try or be anything else. It’s trading or bust.” He’d convinced me up that point, so I thought I’d ask the most sensible question.

“You like taking risks then?”

He looked surprised, sat back slightly and said, “Ooh, no. I don’t like risk. Never have.”

There are many types of businesses that make up the world we refer to as “financial services,” and just because you are a good fit in one doesn’t mean you will be in another. They all require different skill sets and traits. Now, this doesn’t mean that introverts can’t be good sales people, but it sure helps to be a tad outgoing. What I offer here are some simple guidelines as to what you’ll need in just a few select areas—trading , sales, equity research, investment banking and private wealth management.

To be a good trader you need to buy low and sell high, for the other way around is a shortcut to a very quick end to your career. But that is no more than 20% of the job, because lots of people can do that when times are normal and markets stable. But what about when they’re anything but, you find yourself $500,000 down, and the boss is looking at you wondering what your next move will be? How will you react? Do you have that rare ability to think logically under extreme pressure while maintaining the same level of rationale that you had when you opened the position? Think carefully, because psychiatrists say that only one in 1,000 people can actually say “yes” to the last questions, which is why most people chose to do something else for a living. It’s 80% of the job, so the ability to think clearly and logically when chaos surrounds you is vital.

What about sales? Well you may have heard about the four P’s in Marketing 101 (product, price, place, promotion), but you need the three P’s in sales: product, price and personality. Imagine you’re on the sales desk at ABC Bank selling currency options. Your trading desk is great, especially the woman who trades the Dollar against Yen. So you have the product and you have the price, but so does DEF International, GHI Trust and JKL Bros. So how will you sell $/Yen to your clients when these things don’t differentiate you? Easy—make them like you more than they like the competition. In short, do you have the personality? Sales are all about dealing with people, and to do that, you’ve got to get them to like you. (And it helps if you like them too.)

With equity research, you need to know about equities, and you need to know how to, well, research. But once you’ve done your homework you will have to pitch your stock and convince your bosses or clients why the one you’re advocating for is the best at that moment in time. For this you will need superior presentations skills (no animation or sound effects on your PowerPoints, please) and the ability to write and communicate well. But you’re also going to have to defend your pitch in front of people who are there to pick it apart piece by piece, so you need to have a very thick skin and the fortitude to not take things personally. Those who are attracted to equity research—but offended if someone calls them a silly rabbit--need not apply.

Investment banking, or “I-banking” if you’re hip and trendy (or simply IB for those of us who are fully paid up members), is not for anyone worried about beauty sleep. It’s about hard, grind-it-out work, incredible attention to detail, and dedication that borders on the insane. But it’s also about immense creativity and finding new and inventive ways to satisfy clients’ needs while making money for your institution. To be successful here you have to be an innovator and a superior critical thinker. Is it good money? Sure. But that’s the worst reason to go into it. The best reason is because you want to work shoulder to shoulder with staggeringly smart, motivated and successful people in the ultimate meritocracy. Good money? Yes—but you’ll earn every single penny of it.

Private Wealth Management (PWM) combines many of the traits needed for all the roles I’ve discussed already. You’re going to have to understand markets like a trader, get on with people a la sales, be able to get your ideas across to experts and laymen alike, just like in equity research, and you’re also going to have to be innovative and work like a dog to be successful—as if made for IB. You always have to look good and display charm while inwardly getting ready to kill the competition. You are a living paradox because you must be a friendly, smiling assassin.

So there you have it. We have scratched the surface and taken a look at the most important qualities needed for a few roles in financial services. Ask yourself the question, which one do I like the most? Now ask yourself, which one do I best fit? Are they different? Hmmm…food for thought guys, food for thought.

Keith Dipple worked in financial services for more than twenty years before joining CAPS as an Assistant Director for Employer Relations and Development. Keith advises students who are interested in careers in financial services and technology. To make an appointment with Keith, call the CAPS reception desk at (773) 702-7040.