by: Kristen Contrera
Unemployment rates are at an all time high in the financial sector and hiring managers have their pick of the litter. So it seems logical to ask, in this day and age while the financial industry is undergoing so many changes, what skills are most valued on Wall Street?
To answer this question, let us break down the financial sector into its two key components: trading and sales trading. General trading takes hard skills and know-how, while sales-trading takes personality and an adept ability to communicate.
People skills are a necessity for this second discipline. Though many aspects of the industry have become computerized and automated, good old-fashioned people skills will always be in demand. They are not programmable and therefore are highly valued in this industry that depends as much on sales as it does on intelligent trading. Marketing trainer Dr. Elliot B. Jaffa explains, “It’s walking their talk with the client, following through, and client obsession: treating each client as if they were your only client.” Particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, the sector needs a new face, and that face must merit consumer confidence.
In addition to sales skills, one cannot discount the general skills needed on the trading floor. Inarguably, one of the most valued skills today is knowledge of compliance. In the past three years regulations have become tighter. There is a growing need for those who are knowledgeable on the current regulatory reform and new compliance requirements. This means BASEL II and soon III for European trading and familiarity with the Dodd/Frank Act of 2010 for domestic shops. Often knowledge of certain applications such as the Banking Solutions with SAP can also be helpful when maintaining these regulations.
In addition to knowledge of current compliance restraints, Wall Street needs people with quantitative skills. In more recent history, “Quants,” as they are referred to on the trading floor, and those that offer skills in programming have become increasingly valuable. This means knowledge of SQL, Visual Basic, and C++ have become much more relevant. Many industry forecasters feel as though the finance industry is moving toward incorporating more technological strategies. More and more trades are being executed through computerized statistical modeling processes rather than the broker jocks of yesteryear. As we’ve seen through the emergence of Microsoft in the early 90’s and now more recently through Google, the trend has turned to an appreciation for the ‘nerds’. We now see the industry prioritizing solid applicable knowledge over personality. As Ben Ross Senior, Account Manager at Forest Solutions Group, stated, “companies no longer seek qualitative intelligence but quantitative.”
The industry also seems to be deviating away from more general education. An MBA no longer seem as attractive as a Masters Program in Financial Engineering, Business Intelligence or other specialized degree. The same can be said for certifications. For example, a Project Management Professional certification (PMP) will offer very limited insight compared to a candidate that comes to an industry with specific sector knowledge. While MBAs, PMPs and the like are certainly not downfalls on a resume, they have become less relevant when qualifying someone as the right candidate.
However at the heart of every good worker is motivation. This remains to stand as one of the greatest differentiators. Wall Street needs people with genuine ambition. As Ken Johnson of 7 City Learning, a company that focuses on financial services training, stated, “You must be an athlete. You have to have and seek content knowledge, and a self-initiated willingness to invest in the knowledge of that business.”
Wall Street is looking for and retaining the self-motivated. New hires must be willing to put in the energy needed to come in at a par, and those more experienced must also be willing to expand their knowledge and change with the industry. In this dynamic period, Wall Street has no room for those that fall behind the learning curve.
At the end of the day, Wall Street has many needs. Those who come into the industry prepared, motivated, eager, knowledgeable, and current will succeed, and those people hold the skills that Wall Street values.
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