Your First Job on the Trading Floor

By Derek On September 12, 2011 Under Uncategorized


“If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” Warren Buffett

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Desk

If you get lucky and are offered an entry level job on the trading floor you will likely be a “desk assistant.” A “desk” is a team of people with the same job description. There is the “sales desk,” the “trading desk,” the “execution desk,” etc. Research does not have a “desk” because they do not sit on the floor, they sit in “research.”

We say, “He works in research,” not, “He is on the research desk.” When I began working in New York for UBS, I was a junior salesman and under my name on my business card it just said, “Far East Desk.” It was like I was a piece of furniture! When I got a promotion to AD, assistant director I no longer belonged in the Ikea showroom.

Hey, Coffee Boy

As desk assistant you will be the general “gopher” and run a lot of errands, mainly getting coffee in the mornings for the whole desk. Embrace it and do it well. This is a test. Yes, you have a college degree. Yes, you have a brain, blah, blah, blah. We don’t care. You have to earn your stripes. First thing in the morning ask, “Anyone want coffee or something?” Show them you are keen. They are busy and you are not. Not yet.

While I was busy being a piece of furniture at UBS, another junior guy was the desk assistant for the sales traders. He had to run and get coffee, or order up lunch, or stay late helping trades settle, basically whatever was needed to get done he was told to do it. And he did. He is now based in Tokyo and runs global Asian sales and sales trading for a major IB and making several million dollars a year. His story is a good example of the opportunity ahead of a desk assistant.

Early Birds and Wussies

Get to work early. Never be late. As a junior person you should be one of the first people on the floor in the morning; you have a lot to learn so don’t waste time sleeping in. Your efforts and keen attitude will immediately be noticed and your days as “coffee boy” or “errand girl” will be short as you move on to better and bigger things. Sleeping in is for weekends and wussies.

If the phones are ringing and nobody answers by the third ring, jump on it. Be polite and write down the message. Always take a message or you will forget who called and that can be deadly in this game. Put the message on the keyboard of the person the call was for and when you see them ask if they got it. Follow up is a skill not often used outside finance but it is essential here.

Keep Your Wits

You will often be invited out to desk drinks and dinners. Go easy and don’t make an ass out yourself. You aren’t going to impress anybody your senior by how much beer you can slug. These people are friendly but they are not your friends. Drink one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you are given. Try and keep your wits about you because, guess what – this is a test too.

The coffee runs you have to make for others in the rain, the repetitive and meaningless tasks you are given every day and the drinks pushed your way after work, are all part of the weeding out process. It is subtle but very efficient. Just being aware of the above and what is really going on will help you make it and show you “have what it takes.”

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew Riddick
    September 29, 2011
    1:24 pm #comment-1

    I can’t remember being sent for coffee for anyone in my career while I also remember a few years back making an issue of it at CLSA that trainees were not there to act as the domestics staff of the sales or trading desks. But I toltally agree that having the “right attitude” is critical (but that should not mean having to be subservient), that being keen is important and that there is no excuse not to be at work on time.

    • Derek
      September 29, 2011
      1:29 pm #comment-2

      Andrew – Thanks for commenting! In fact, you are the first comment on my blog. That entitles you to something, a bottle of champagne, perhaps. I do remember you making an issue out of that very issue on the trading floor too. Good times! Cheers. Derek

  2. mary beth mcnamara
    October 11, 2011
    12:27 pm #comment-3

    NOt only was I sent for coffee AND to wendy’s every day, but the one time I complained I was told to be grateful I wasn’t taking the guys urine sample to the doctor.

    • Derek
      October 11, 2011
      2:23 pm #comment-4

      Nice. This was before Riddick stepped in to protect young interns everywhere. Subscribing to Adam Smith’s rule on strict division of labor however, we still have a new guy here who gets coffee in the mornings. Will have to try the urine samples next.

  3. Bob
    March 15, 2013
    3:20 am #comment-5

    Life sucks when you’re not a millionaire.

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