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I have an upcoming quantitative trading interview (prop desk at a large bank), and I would like to have some good questions to ask about the group. However, I am changing fields from academia and I do not have a good idea about what sort of things I should be looking for, and what questions would 1) probe my fit with the group/firm and 2) give me a better idea of how they work.

Here are two suggestions I have received so far, which illustrate the type of questions I would be looking for:

What markets do you operate in?

What is your Sharpe ratio?

In addition to the question, a brief explanation of how to interpret the group's answer to the question would be appreciated. What does operating in one market tell me? Many markets? An example answer featuring a question/explanation would be

What is your Sharpe ratio? - A high ratio tells you ... Avoid groups with low ratios because ...

One question/explanation per answer, please. Feel free to use the examples I've given, as I am unsure of how to interpret the responses.

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Moderators: if you feel this is off-topic, please read the discussion at meta.quant.stackexchange.com/questions/182/interview-questions before voting to close. –  James Davidoff Sep 15 '11 at 18:21
    
Moderators: Since the purpose here is to deduce the best set of questions, with one question per answer, a community wiki designation may be appropriate. –  Tal Fishman Sep 15 '11 at 18:29
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2 Answers

You want to know about their recent staff turnover and hiring rates.

You want to be at a place that is both stable and growing slowly, and doesn't hire and fire employees (overlapping but distinct criteria).

On the first point, I would avoid new and fast growth firms unless you don't mind being fired in a year since you were hired liberally and the growth has slowed. HFT firms tend to start strong (often because the founders adopted strategies from their previous research/employers), then experience reduced profitability because the research isn't producing what's needed to keep going, or they can't compete with bigger firms continued investments into new tech. There is actual academic evidence for this effect (can't find the paper now) and it is well known in industry that it is very hard to get a HFT firm running for the long-term.

The exception could be if you are actually very very good then you can make it big if you are a key player in such a firm in its growth stage.

On the second point, you want to be one of the very few candidates that has been offered a job in the last 6 months, while also requiring that the firm is quite profitable. This shows they are willing to invest in you instead of hire you and let you go as soon as they see you're not in the top 20% of the distribution of capability that they assigned to you throughout the interview process. Your capability is a random variable from their perspective and it is not uncommon to try a candidate to see if the realisation of this random variable is in the upper end of the distribution originally assigned to the candidate - if not, you may just be gone after a short stint.

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Asking questions like "what is your sharpe ratio" is, IMO, not a good idea. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest in making their firm a success.

  1. What markets do you trade? (you listed this one)
  2. Describe the firm's high-level process for taking an idea, developing a model, and moving it into production.
  3. What constraints do you place on new models?
  4. How do you monitor and manage model-specific and firm-wide risk?
  5. What types of models will I be prohibited from developing? For example, am I free to construct a model that holds positions for 100+ days? What about a pure intraday model?
  6. Describe the tool set or framework that your quants use to develop models.
  7. Are there resources available to develop new tools for internal use to make quants more productive?
  8. How are your quants organized within the organization? Are they encouraged to collaborate or are they competing with one another (whether directly or, indirectly for mind share and resources from other support teams).

Questions that show you're interested in deducing whether you can be a success are much more interesting to the interview than questions that might be perceived as you measuring them to some arbitrary yard stick to see if its worth your while to join.

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Yes, asking about Sharpe ratios seemed to me to be like asking 'are you good at your job?'. #2 is great, and the phrasing of 'deducing whether you can be a success' is exactly what I've been trying to put to words! –  James Davidoff Sep 15 '11 at 18:46
    
Could you explain what answers to #1 would tell me about the group? –  James Davidoff Sep 15 '11 at 20:51
    
Mostly whether you're interested in what they trade. If you're a big energy futures guy joining an equities focused firm might not be the best idea. Unless the firm is super secretive you probably know the answer to this question before you get in there. –  Louis Marascio Sep 16 '11 at 1:25
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