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The Job Search: Yajun Yan

October 14, 2017

The Job Search is a series for international graduate students in professional programs.

Yajun YanWhen motivation meets curiosity, the results can be rewarding. Yajun Yan's fascination with the world of finance began when he was younger.  By the time he was 16, he saved about $5000 and used these funds to buy a corporate bond issued by the company his mother worked for.

Indeed, both parents had jobs in local utility companies held by China's Hunan Province. According to Yan, "their income was relatively low but we were able to receive some financial assistance for basic living." Despite these circumstances, they encouraged their son to explore his strengths and find a field of study that provided fulfillment. They put a high value on education and providing opportunities for Yan. And he was happy to be able to explore his interests. In high school, Yan heard the story of Warren Buffet and George Soros and was observant of their success. These stories coupled with his skills in mathematics, physics and gaming, got him thinking. After studying Economics at Central South University, he came to the conclusion that in capital markets he could make the most of his talents.

After graduation he worked for a year in proprietary trading, finally ending up at the Smith School's Master of Finance program. Currently, he works as a risk modeler at Radian Guaranty Inc, in Philadelphia.  Despite landing a job in the U.S. and navigating that complex and tenuous process, Yan is a relutant "hero."  He admits he is still "working on his social interactions and finding his way in the non-work world." And yet, he did some things right and he is keen to share what he learned with others.

When you came wanted to study in US what were your perceptions? Expectations?

I was, I think, mainly encouraged by the fantasy Wall Street names like Warren Buffet and George Soros. I thought it would be a big pity if I could not study the world's financial hub here in the U.S. and its most advanced techniques. At the time, I expected to find professors who were experts in quantitative investment.  I hoped to join his/her research team and then get a job in investment analysis after graduation.

 How did you prepare for your job search?
 
The first thing, for me, was to prepare more than one version of qualified resumes and cover letter templates. Most students do realize that CVs need to be customized.  But in fact, most may not know that it is helpful to create more than two or three versions of your resume. Otherwise, you cannot apply for a wide range of positions. I did networking and online application at the same time. Basically I searched and asked Nicola Daniel from our program if there are alumni in my field or available positions, that she might be aware of. Meanwhile, I applied for many jobs through LinkedIn, Career4terp and Indeed.
 
What does networking mean in your home country? How do you do it there?  What are the "unwritten rules" or conventions?
 
In China networking basically means getting familiar with each other and asking for help. I was (am) very shy and basically I did not really successfully network with others. One unwritten rule is that it helps to encounter people in a comfortable and social setting - such as a restaurant or bar.  And it helps to meet over drinks, coffee or a meal - and offer to buy it for the other person. Lastly, never forget those who helped you along the way - thank them, and treat them well.
 
Networking in U.S. seems more easygoing.  People here appear more comfortable talking about their life and work. I still don't think I know networking in the US well enough.  For now, I try to attend most school and company activities if I have time. Not sure if this is an unwritten rule, but it seems understood that everyone should be mindful of their own time as well as that of others.  It is important not to occupy someone's time for too long, especially those in leadership positions - because they already have people lining up to talk to them.
 
What advice or tool worked well? What did not work?
 
Informational interviews work well, especially for alumni. Trying to impress speakers in a professional workshop or lecture [to get an interview] seems unrealistic. I don't think trying to ask an outrageous or unique question in those career activities would really be helpful.  There are too many students doing the same thing.
 
One thing to mention is that I don't think there is obvious separation between networking and general job hunt. Students should feel comfortable combining the idea of making friends and job searching at the same time. Of course, it helps if you start practicing with people who have some natural academic or business connections with you, such as a professor, an alum, or teammates from volunteer activities. Start with maybe inviting them to have a cup of coffee and talking a little bit about your ideas. If your views or ideas impressed them they will support you in what you are trying to do.
 
How did you work on your resume? What was the process?  Who looked at it?
 
The first step for me was writing a draft of my resume according to the guides of Smith's handbook. After that, I asked Nicola Daniel to take a first look and changed some obvious mistakes. Then the layout and text is revised through Vmock. After that, I contacted one of our program's general assistants and our career advisor for deeper review, and realized some of Vmock suggestions are not very meaningful. It takes many advisors and several rounds of reviews to get a finished product.
 
Career aspirations?  Stay here or go home?
 
My goal is to work for an algorithm-based hedge fund as a quantitative researcher, and then investment manager if possible. Using math and strategy to make money in the market is my original incentive for studying finance I hope to continue working in the United States, eventually ending up in the New York City area.  But who knows what the future holds.
 
How is a U.S. work experience or education perceived in your home country?
 
Most people think studying and working in the U.S. is a valuable experience and achievement, but perhaps too expensive. Many students actually not familiar with the job search process and think it is something mysterious. There are also many Chinese students enrolled in some low- quality U.S. graduate programs. As a result, employers in China don't think highly of the U.S. graduate degree - at least not as much as they did before.
 
What was the job application process like?  Any surprises?
 
I obtained an offer from the ELP program - ran by Professor Cliff Rossi, the previous Chief Analytics Officer of Radian. The program is recognized by senior managers in the Radian risk department so they decided to offer up to 5 intern positions to all of the 2014 MFin graduates. I applied for this position, had two rounds of interviews and eventually got hired by Radian. I was surprised that the initial salary was higher than I expected.
 
Any advice to other international students?
 
For Chinese students, I would advise them to not overestimate the influence of immigration policies while underestimating the importance of personal efforts. You are always competing with other human beings for work not a policy or a certificate like CFA. If you are head of your class, or even if H1B quotas double you may still have trouble of finding a job. I would recommend focusing on what you learned in your studies and what you were trained to do as a graduate student, than worry about whether your background is sufficient or not.  If you do your homework, prepare for the job search early on in your studies then by the time you graduate, you can navigate the process more easily because you have the background, you just need to let people know.

More information about Yajun Yan can be found here. #youarewelcomehere
 
(By Anna De Cheke Qualls)
 

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