In a hotel ballroom overlooking the South China Sea, Taylor, 24, sits with 13 other college students in hoodies and sneakers, coding on laptops between school hours.
Two raised-armed security guards sitting outside the lobby showed that this was no ordinary summer camp: Students flew business class from as far away as California and Singapore to stay at the five-star Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel in Hong Kong for a few nights. Nearby are plates of crab salad, mini French sandwiches and ham and melon skewers.
The highly sought-after interns were handpicked from a pool of 69,000 applicants by billionaire Ken Griffin’s lieutenants at Citadel and Citadel Securities LLC, the financial giant looking to train the next generation of math and computer geniuses to help become Citadel one of the key components. market transactions.
Over three days, students will assume the role of hedge fund traders, negotiating with peers, writing code, and designing automated strategies based on simulations of news feeds and macro data. It’s part of a roughly 11-week program to prepare them for the often-secret world of trading and market-making, earning about $120 an hour, or $19,200 a month, in the process.
“There are only a limited number of really good students,” says Kristina Martinez, managing director of human resources for Asia Pacific at Citadel. “Because of the complexity of what we do, and the fact that companies that we intersect with would be looking at the same individual, we needed to get involved early on.”
Griffin, 54, the 33rd richest person in the world, knows a thing or two about the potential of his students. He started his finance career at Harvard, trading convertible bonds in his dorm room, asking the janitor to install a satellite dish on the roof so he could get real-time prices. He turned that money into a personal fortune now worth about $37 billion.
Capable of executing $463 billion in trades a day (sometimes buying and selling stocks itself), his Citadel securities are a key part of the underlying pipeline of the U.S. stock market, acting as a counterparty and providing liquidity.
Mathematics and programming are increasingly in-demand skills for employees of banks and investment firms around the world, but especially at Griffin’s firm, where quantitative researchers and engineers devise trading strategies and deploy algorithms to automate the process.
The Hong Kong training camp is one of many for Miami-based Citadel around the world, and Asia will become an even greater focus as the company expands in the region. Hedge fund business Citadel and market maker Citadel Securities have doubled the number of employees in Asia to more than 400 since 2020, even as some Wall Street firms pull out from the region.
During the summer program, each intern is assigned a big project as they work with the workforce of two companies that collectively generated $35.5 billion in revenue last year. Some selected interns receive offers of full-time employment within weeks of the end of the program, while others rejoin part-time as early as their sophomore year.
“It’s very different, and none of my previous internships offered an off-site internship like this,” said Taylor, who asked to be identified only by her first name because of privacy concerns. “The projects they asked us to do were used in practical applications and were very challenging and exciting.”
One of the less than 1% who took part in this year’s internship, Taylor stood out because she previously worked at some of the biggest tech companies, including Meta Platforms Inc. She majored in computer science at the National University of Singapore and later transferred to the city-state from China’s Hebei province, where she entered high school at the age of 14 after doing well in the test for gifted students.
Prior to joining Citadel, she had no knowledge of the financial industry but had a keen interest in mathematics, which highlights the type of talent Citadel is looking for. Almost without exception, the interns hail from the most prestigious universities in their area, and some hold Math Olympiad gold medals or PhDs in mathematics from Stanford University in California. An MBA rarely succeeds.
An employee joked that Citadel is a living proof of an old Chinese saying: “If you learn mathematics, physics and chemistry well, you can conquer the world.”
Strong abilities in these subjects, though, are just a starting point, Martinez said.
“A person who is just great academically but doesn’t do something beyond himself or really show excitement about something may not be successful,” she said in an interview in Hong Kong. are assessing the potential” because “they’re facing problems here that we don’t really know the answers to.”
During the nearly three-month course, students are assessed on skills that go well beyond algebra. These include their level of curiosity and ability to accept feedback and ask the right questions. They are measured by how well they cooperate with their teammates, and how quickly they adapt and adjust as new information emerges. It’s an intricate balance: they have to compete with each other while being team players.
On the sidelines, around lunchtime, a student brazenly vowed not to overeat so as not to slump ahead of the afternoon’s rigorous trading simulation.
The students were divided into groups, and each group was assigned a Citadel staff member to provide instructions, but not answers. Over the next few hours, they are expected to create algorithms to hedge risk and identify arbitrage opportunities as part of training to help them understand the market-making process.
What they don’t know is that their actions and interactions with each other are also part of the test.
“Unlike job interviews, the intern program is full of real-time problem-solving, networking, learning and highly interactive activities,” Martinez said. “There will be no surprises at the end of the process.”
Even eating is a test. One of the many hallmarks of the students was their interaction with company leaders at the networking dinner, held this year at the chic Madame Fu and Porterhouse restaurants in Hong Kong.
To be fair, the students weren’t blind. Citadel hired professional trainers to train them and offered exercises, including writing an e-mail to the boss by compressing 163 words of rambling notes into 60 words or less.
Another approach is to shoot a video of themselves introducing themselves, teaching them how to express their voice, match facial expressions to messages, and avoid the pitfalls of using filler words and raising the tone of voice. They also take personality tests and are taught how to seek feedback by summarizing what other people have said.
war for talent
Citadel spares no effort to develop these students because the competition for top talent is fierce.
Griffin’s company is competing with tech giants including Meta, ByteDance Ltd. and Alphabet Inc., as well as market-maker rivals including Optiver Holding BV, Jane Street Capital LLC and Susquehanna International Group.
Levels.fyi examined user-submitted salary data for finance jobs across the U.S. and found that median intern pay jumped 19 percent at 16 top firms. At hedge funds and proprietary trading firms, hourly wages soared 29% year-over-year to $111, with Citadel topping the list. Hedge funds and banks are also competing for talent in industries with fewer resources, including medical research, which could benefit from artificial intelligence and quantitative analysis skills.
Many finance interns also receive other benefits, including signing bonuses, living allowances and corporate housing, with compensation packages similar to full-time employees. Five-star hotels, business-class flights and structured internships have become the norm at top Wall Street banks, said Tony Ernest, managing partner at hedge fund talent consultancy Monroe Partners Asia in Singapore.
“Gone are the days of interns doing dog work,” he said, adding that if the internship goes well, “it will be a great sales tool to generate interest from other students at the same school.” .”
On-campus recruiting now begins much earlier than before and often continues throughout the year. HR departments are no longer just handing out stacks of resumes to hiring managers and making one-off school visits.
“Ten years ago, hedge funds never went to school,” Ernest said. “Now they’re taking the top 1% of graduates.”
Martinez and her team took a targeted approach, picking professors from schools like Stanford and the National University of Singapore who had a proven track record of developing talent to thrive at their companies. They also discover students through data marathons, where participants investigate large and complex datasets and present their findings.
First-year and sophomore students can put themselves in the spotlight through the Discover Citadel, where the top 40-50 students from thousands of applicants are invited to attend a one- or two-day event. The company also identifies high-potential candidates through targeted recruiting and referrals, and then invites them to dinners in cities including Hong Kong, New York and Singapore.
While Citadel and Citadel Securities don’t disclose their hiring rates, only “really good people” make the cut, Martinez said.
“Usually early in the internship you can identify the stars, the really standout people, at which point we tell the managers to find out everything about them as individuals, who their parents are, who their siblings are, everything to make sure they return ,”she says.
Back at her desk at the Citadel in Singapore, Taylor is racing against the clock to finish her big project.
The tasks assigned to each intern are different – depending on whether they work in quantitative research, trading or operations – but they all deal with real issues facing businesses. They need to do a 15-minute demo showing their work and their solution ready to go.
For Taylor, who was asked to improve the efficiency of a particular project, her biggest takeaway was “to think bigger, not just to focus on the immediate problem, but to focus more on cause and effect.”
As part of their off-site training, students volunteer at a charity in Hong Kong, packing and delivering meals. In true Citadel style, they are divided into teams and compete to be the fastest team.