Friday, February 10, 2012

Why The JPM Cover Letter Was Exactly What They Wanted; And Why You're Wrong if You Disagree

For those that don't know, a cover letter sent to J.P. Morgan for an internship has gone viral. Yeah, a "cover letter"... like the preview to a resume "cover letter." Just to catch you up if somehow you've missed reading the headline, ya know, everywhere -- here it is in all of its glory:


J.P. Morgan

Dear Sir or Madame:

I am an ambitious undergraduate at NYU triple majoring in Mathematics, Economics, and Computer Science. I am a punctual, personable, and shrewd individual, yet I have a quality which I pride myself on more than any of these.

I am unequivocally the most unflaggingly hard worker I know, and I love self-improvement. I have always felt that my time should be spent wisely, so I continuously challenge myself; I left Villanova because the work was too easy. Once I realized I could achieve a perfect GPA while holding a part-time job at NYU, I decided to redouble my effort by placing out of two classes, taking two honors classes, and holding two part-time jobs. That semester I achieved a 3.93, and in the same time I managed to bench double my bodyweight and do 35 pull-ups.

I say these things only because solid evidence is more convincing than unverifiable statements, and I want to demonstrate that I am a hard worker. J.P. Morgan is a firm with a reputation that precedes itself and employees who represent only the best and rightest in finance. I know that the employees in this firm will push me to excellence, especially within the Investment Banking division. In fact, one of the supporting reasons I chose Investment Banking over any other division was that I know it is difficult. I hope to augment my character by diligently working for the professionals at Morgan Stanley, and I feel I have much to offer in return.

I am proficient in several programming languages, and I can pick up a new one very quickly. For instance, I learned a years worth of Java from NYU in 27 days on my own; this is how I placed out of two including: Money and Banking, Analysis, Game Theory, Probability and Statistics. Even further, I am taking Machine Learning and Probabilistic Graphical Modeling currently, two programming courses offered by Stanford, so that I may truly offer the most if I am accepted. I am proficient with Bloomberg terminals, excellent with excel, and can perform basic office functions with terrifying efficiency. I have plenty of experience in the professional world through my internship at Merrill Lynch, and my research assistant position at NYU. In fact, my most recent employer has found me so useful that he promoted me to a Research Assistant and an official CTED intern. This role is usually reserved for Masters students, but my employer gave the title to me so that he could give me more work.

Please realize that I am not a braggart or conceited, I just want to outline my usefulness. Egos can be a huge liability, and I try not to have one.

Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Source: The Internet

The commentary has been pretty harsh as the title of the Huffington Post (Awful Cover Letter To JPMorgan Becomes Laughing Stock Of Wall Street) article rightfully points out. It (and he) has become a laughing stock. Now I'm no apologist for finance or traders (yes, I was a market maker on the NYSE ARCA floor). In fact, you probably won't find a harsher critic. But if you think this letter is out of line, or inappropriate for its purpose; you're wrong... you're dead wrong. And here's why...

The big banks make money trading. They make a lot of money trading. And I don't mean "a lot of money" like normal reasonable people think. I don't mean a million dollars a year. I don't mean $10 million a year. I mean a lot of money like -- larger than the GDP of nations. Several nations. Combined.

So, when banks interview for open trader positions it's big business. This is an industry that produces nothing other than wealth. There is no quality control. There is no product differentiation. There is no version 2.0. The measure is money, and that's all.

For those of you not in finance, or not in trading, let me tell you what the banks don't want you to know. The interviews aren't just about intellect, skill sets and coding efficiency. They're about competitiveness and confidence to exhibit peak intellect under extreme circumstances.

There are special exams designed to measure each candidate's competitiveness and self confidence. The higher the score, the better the odds the candidate gets to trade their money. It's simple -- take highly intelligent over achievers, make them confident in their prowess and competitive with their peers, you get someone that helps make billions for his firm.

Think about this... You go to Harvard, MIT, Columbia, NYU, Berkeley, Chicago or Stanford (sup), bust your ass for four years (or more) and win the lottery. The lottery of getting an interview at JPM, Sachs or Morgan. You walk down Wall, find your way into the building, sign your name with a shaky hand and count the seconds until they call you in for your interview.

Some junior lets you in -- you greet them with a sweaty palm, probably a crack in your voice. But you did it. You made it. The big time. Your big shot. Finally, Mr. Swinging Dick calls you in. You walk into an office. He sits in a $25,000 chair behind his desk with a Wall St. Journal opened full, blocking his face from plain sight. What this man earns in a 6 1/2 hour trading day puts him in the top 1% of wage earners in the world; then multiply by that by 252 trading days a year.

You think for thirty seconds -- "should I sit down?" -- "should I say something?" -- "is this the right place?"

But in thirty seconds, you just lost your once in a lifetime. You see, as an interviewee, if you don't realize that you're supposed the tear the paper out of that man's hands within 30 seconds, then guess what, you don't have what it takes. Of course, that's in their eyes -- but they're the master's of that universe. And you're SOL if it takes you more than 29 seconds to realize that. You're not confident and you're not competitive -- not how they measure it.

So what do they want in a cover letter to offer you the privilege of that thirty second test? A good school? Brother, if it ain't from one of the top schools you don't even have a chance, so that imprimatur doesn't get you anywhere. No. They want someone that can stand up in a crowd of hollering men selling everything they can, in chaos, in a collapsing security, and make a market (a correct one) to buy until you hit your risk limits... and then buy some more.

You know what that takes? Confidence, intelligence and competitiveness. And... well, let's be honest, a screw or two loose as well.

Read that letter again. Do you see a confident man? Do you see a man that pushes his intellectual capacity beyond those surrounding him at a top tier university? Do you see someone that competes?

Yeah. Me too. (A screw loose too.. he he).

The funny thing is -- the joke isn't the cover letter.

The joke is, he did what he was told.

The joke is, he should have gotten the interview.

The joke is, he'd probably make a damn good trader.

The joke is... that letter, isn't a joke at all.

Don't blame him for the monster they've created.

All that said, a proof read was probably a good idea.

*** And yes, I know it was for I-Banking, not trading. Just sayin'...


  1. being a good trader is more about recognizing the obvious than anything else

    1. I would say recognizing what seems obvious after the fact, but point well taken.

  2. lol someone's read Liar's Poker too many times. The world of banking has changed a great deal since the 80's. That type of behavior from bankers and prospectives is completely unacceptable.

    -Someone who actually knows what they're talking about

    1. It's true -- I have read Liar's Poker too many times. I've read many books too many times. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

  3. Anyone else catch the irony?

    Letter to JPM promising to "work for the professionals at Morgan Stanley" (last sentence of paragraph 3). Yea right kid, you are an over achiever that can't, or won't proof read a letter. Too bright to care about details and too lazy to pound out a separate letter.

    "Sure, your hired Ace! Just make sure you drop the mail off at the right desk."

    Good thing he tries not to have an ego--nothing left to injure.

    1. Agreed, the Morgan Stanley slip is pretty bad... OK, very bad.