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Careers in Finance

SALES : Jane Ross

Photo of Jane Ross
How would you describe your job?
I sell high-yield securities to many different types of investors. The high-yield market (or junk-bond market) comprised the riskiest rated companies. As a result, these companies must pay higher interest rates on their debt than other better-rated companies. The market is also an "over the counter" market, which means every trade is a negotiation. My job is to talk to people who invest in these companies, to make sense of the marketplace and individual companies for these investors, to trade as many bonds as I can with these investors, and to sell to investors the bonds of companies looking to raise money for different corporate purposes. I am also the head of the high-yield team, which means I have management responsibilities as well.

Describe how you got to where you are today. What was your smartest move? What would you do differently if you had the chance?
My first sales experience was in high school as a commission-based shoe salesperson. That job served me well because it forced me to learn how to deal with many different kinds of people and in learning how to close a sale. I got a BA at Stanford University (in liberal arts, not business) and an MBA from Columbia University. My first job after business school was at an aggressive-growth-oriented investment bank. It was a great place to start as the corporate culture was very entrepreneurial. It was a true meritocracy and not too structured. As a result, you could move forward quickly if the right opportunity arose, and in my case, it did. My smartest move was seeing that sales positions were the ones to get, and asking for and getting a seat on the international institutional equity sales desk. The next smartest thing was creating an opportunity in high-yield sales when my firm was building a sales effort. At that time, high-yield was going through some real market turmoil, which often creates opportunity. I really wouldn't do anything differently.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?
I really enjoy getting difficult transactions done. It is also gratifying when you're proven right on an investment thesis. I like the managerial aspect of my job, particularly helping young people get started in the business. Securities sales can be quite lucrative. Also, as a wife and mother, I appreciate that my working hours largely correlate to market hours.

What advice do you have for young people considering a career in finance? What did you wish you knew?
My advice would be to read as many business publications as possible, talk to people in the business to become familiar with sales jobs in different asset classes, and to be confident and assertive. Try and seek out opportunities in higher-growth areas that are undergoing changing dynamics.

What do you see yourself doing in five years' time?
I hope to be doing more of the same with more philanthropic work in the mix.

What personal characteristics are required for someone to be successful in your job?
The best attributes would include a quick intelligence, strong and sharp communication skills, the ability to stay cool under fire, and the ability to get along and establish credibility with smart and often difficult personalities.

What other job could you do with the skills you have gained in this field?
Securities sales could translate into any other sales jobs, PR for companies, marketing, and fundraising for different types of money managers.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?
Sales positions on Wall Street are, by nature, very competitive and stressful given the pressures of the marketplace. The ability to make quick sense of news and be able to assimilate lots of information in a coherent sales pitch is a necessity. The biggest challenges today are brought on by technological change. As a result, one needs to always be aware of continuing to create personal worth, which in sales translates into solid production and strong relationships.

Are there many opportunities in your field? What should people do to get started?
There are always opportunities in securities sales. My field is very competitive, so the best strategy is to get a seat on a good trading desk. Be assertive in seeking out more opportunities. The business is really "sink or swim," so getting that first opportunity and continuing to move forward is key. Other valuable tools would include an advanced degree, internships, and real-life sales experience.

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