Hey, I am Nikita Singh, a Y17 undergraduate student majoring in Electrical Engineering. I have recently joined JP Morgan & Chase as a Quantitative Researcher. The placement preparation phase can be a daunting experience for many but believe me, it is the time when you’ll realize your self worth, potential and put all your efforts into achieving that “one goal” you have set for yourself.
Let’s dive into my journey which was just like a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs. From wondering if I really deserve a 1 crore job offer (as the people have a general notion about placements at IITs) when I joined IITK to not even applying for companies whose CTC fall below 20 LPA in placements (not saying that you should do the same), it took a lot of growth and self-confidence.
Let me talk about Quantitative Research (quant) a bit to unravel what it really is. So, quant is basically the use of mathematical and statistical models in finance. A good knowledge of probability and statistics is required to build these models for making various predictions.
It also relies heavily on your analytical skills and coding skills (preferably in C++, python).
The role of a quantitative researcher is to perform data collection as well as analysis based on some theory or hypothesis.
I have been enthusiastic about trying new things, exploring new fields, and experimenting since my first year. So, in the first year summer break, I decided to take up an Electronics Club project since I wanted to explore my interest in my core branch. I also joined the Summer of Code internship offered by the CSE department to try my hands on web development as I found coding quite exciting during the Esc101 course. As second-year progressed, I got introduced to my branch subjects and my interest in my core branch developed. Thus, I took a project under my department prof in the second year winter break. It was not very related to EE but involved some Linear Algebra and Machine Learning techniques. It actually helped me in my placements which I realized later on.
After the fourth semester got over, I took up another project under my department prof which extensively used EE concepts and involved research. It was a bit of a difficult project and made me realize that research is not my field of interest. I also took up an econometrics course during the summer break. After the summer break got over, the dreadful intern season started. Honestly, I was not very sure of my field of interest and so I didn’t prepare well for any one profile. Although I did some coding and revised EE courses, my preparation was not good. Also, it was the first time I was supposed to face interviews. I got really nervous on my Day1 interviews and screwed everything up. The same thing got repeated on subsequent days. It followed a series of rejections by a total of 8 companies before I could finally secure an internship. It was the worst phase in my IITK journey so far and cost me my self-confidence.
But somehow, I overcame that phase and revived my self-confidence. So, you see resilience is the key to withstanding difficult situations which you might encounter during your intern season or placements.
I have been very much interested in mathematics since my JEE days and probability theory used to be my favorite topic. I got exposed to programming in IITK itself and realized that problem solving is something that excites me. So, after consulting many seniors and getting an idea about the different roles, I realized that Quant is a field that best suits my inclinations. But I was also told that not many companies offer this role and the ones which offer hardly select 3-4 students. So, it was important to keep backup options ready. Since I already had some experience in the SDE role owing to my internship, I prepared for it as well. As a general thumb rule, I would suggest preparing for a minimum of two profiles and a maximum of four (anything more than that won’t be feasible anyway). Also, make your preferences about the profiles you are preparing for, allocate them time accordingly. I had Quant as my first preference, SDE as second, and core EE as third.
Once I made the decision of sitting for placements, I talked to multiple seniors about their preparation timeline, strategies, and job profiles. I also went through the SPO placement insights and past year placement statistics to get a better idea about the companies which are likely to visit. I can’t focus enough on the importance of talking with seniors and knowing their perspectives. Make sure to consult as many seniors as you can, as they can give you the best advice and share their own experiences. Don’t procrastinate on this process since it takes time to make your own timeline and preparation strategy. Try to do it as soon as you finish your internship.
It was the first week of August when I made a preparation schedule for myself which I followed strictly until the start of placements tests in mid-October. Alongside, I also started working on my resume since the deadline for its submission was around mid-September. First I went through different resumes of seniors focussed on different profiles. Then I made several iterations over my resume to arrive at the final draft. It is of paramount importance to get your resume reviewed by multiple seniors and peers. Since it is difficult to spot errors on your own, take help from seniors and you’ll be surprised to get some wonderful insights as well to refine it. Polish your resume and make 3-4 different versions of it relevant to different profiles that you’ll be applying for. Always remember that your resume is the first barrier to getting you shortlisted for a company’s test. Don’t take it lightly.
I started preparing in early August and tried to devote my time to both coding and quant preparation. I made sure that at least 7-8 hours are devoted each day with some breaks in between. I practiced coding from leetcode and tried to revisit all the important topics like trees, graphs, DP, linked lists, hashing, etc. I first went through medium-level questions and once I was comfortable with them, I switched to hard questions. The key to improving your coding skills is consistency and practice. I believe 2 months is ample time to ace your coding skills assuming you are at a mediocre level. If you haven’t done a Data Structures and Algorithms course in the institute, I would recommend doing an online course. Most of the company's tests include coding questions so any way you have to do it. For quant preparation, I revised MSO201(Probability & Statistics) notes with a special focus on expectation, random variables, probability distribution, and hypothesis testing. Then I started solving ‘50 challenging problems’ book and ‘brainstellar’ puzzles. It is important that you solve these questions yourself without looking at any hints or solutions. It will help in building your problem-solving and analytical skills. During interviews, you might expect questions that are not from these resources and will test your solution-building approach. I also went through the CSE blog, Gurmeet, and Geeksforgeeks puzzles. These are only recommended if you have completed the first two resources.
I kept my seventh semester light since it gets really hectic when you give 4-5 tests in a row. I had chosen those courses which were useful in placements. I took CS771( Machine Learning), Game Theory, economic growth, and 2 HSS. I used to devote time to my academics as well so that my CPI doesn’t fall. During mid-October, the tests commenced and virtual PPTs happened. I would recommend attending PPTs even if it is online since it will help you to get some idea about the company which in turn will help in interviews (especially HR). I used to solve questions from the Inter IIT doc of previous years' questions before the test of each company. It is most likely possible that some of the questions get repeated. Also, I used to revisit the questions which I couldn’t solve in any test. They might get repeated in some other company’s test as well so make sure you get it right this time. Since most of the companies were open for my department (EE), I had to choose wisely which ones to apply for. I applied for all of the Quant companies, some SDE, and some EE core companies (whose CTC was greater than 20 LPA).
Around mid-November, shortlists for companies started coming on the SPO portal. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t find yourself on the shortlist and keep preparing for the interviews. I went through OOPs, DBMS, EE courses (ESc201, EE210), and some HR stuff during this time. I also prepared my resume well. I was shortlisted for 5 companies on Day 1; 3 in slot 1 and 2 in slot 2. Since I secured an offer in slot 1 itself, I didn’t get interviewed for slot 2 companies. I gave interviews for JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Texas Instruments on Day 1- slot 1. I kept JP Morgan as my first priority as it was offering a Quant role.
The D-Day started at midnight (12:00 am - 1st December) and slot 1 timings were from 12:00 am to 8:00 am. It is easy to imagine the difficulty while getting interviewed if you are a day person. I am, so it was difficult for me to stay awake the whole night. My first interview for slot 1 was scheduled with JPMC at 12:00 am itself. I was a bit anxious for the past day. But somehow I managed to keep up my confidence and gave my 100% in the interviews.
JP Morgan had shortlisted around 25 candidates for interviews. Finally, 3 candidates were selected including me.
Interview at JP Morgan:
First Round -
The interviewer started with my introduction, where I talked about my interest in Quant, skills, and experience. Then he started asking questions based on my resume. He asked me about the projects which I had done and went into technical details. Then he asked some questions on expectation and variance calculation, followed by a random process question where I had to find the probability of some event. Finally, he asked me about stacks, queues, and 2 standard algo questions. I answered most of the questions correctly and he seemed quite satisfied. So, immediately I was asked for round two interviews.
Second Round -
Again the interviewer asked me to introduce myself and also about my motivation for the role. Then she asked me two coding questions (approach only) which I answered correctly. One was based on DP and another on the sliding window technique. She seemed quite happy with my response. Then she asked me one puzzle based on logic. I came up with the correct answer quickly. She was very happy at this and asked me to immediately go for a round-three interview. But I had my GS interview (round 1) scheduled at the same time. Then I decided to go for the JPMC interview only since it was my first preference.
Third Round -
The interviewer started with a discussion on my intern project. Then he asked me to find the PDF, CDF, and curve of a random distribution (not any standard one). It seemed a bit difficult at the start but I followed his hints and finally came to the solution. Then he asked me to solve a limit question using first principles. I solved it correctly and he was satisfied with my math skills. So, he asked me a difficult mathematical question. I came up with a solution approach that was correct. Then, he asked me to write a python code for the same. He was really impressed with my quantitative skills. Then I was asked to go for a fourth-round interview.
Fourth Round -
It started with my introduction followed by a discussion on my courses. The interviewer started asking me some questions related to Game Theory. Then he asked me two probability questions of medium to the hard difficulty which I answered correctly after getting some hints from him. Then he asked me one simple Algo question (approach only) which I answered quickly and accurately. He then started talking about the role and informed me to wait for my HR round.
At this point, I realized that my interviews went really well and I felt quite relieved.
Meanwhile, I also gave my round 1 interviews for GS and Texas. I was already tired by that time and also late for their first rounds.
HR Round -
I was asked my introduction and some standard HR questions (why quant, long-term goals). I answered it in a manner to show my interest and passion. He also asked me if I have plans for higher studies to which I refused.
I couldn’t sleep due to anxiety and kept waiting for the results. At around 1:00 pm, the results were made available on the SPO portal. It was a moment of immense happiness to see my name on the list of selected candidates for the JPMC Quant role. I informed my parents and friends who were ecstatic to hear the good news that I have secured a job offer in placements. I finally took a sigh of relief and went to sleep :)
In the end, I want to point out that placements depend on your luck, hard work, efforts you put in, communication skills, and confidence. The decisions you make lead you to different paths and contribute to your success stories. Your preparation is a major but not the only part which determines your result. It depends on several other factors like CPI, achievements, personality (shaped by which clubs or councils you have been part of), and leadership skills (which are enhanced by taking up PORs). I had a CPI of 8.2 at the time of my placements. I was a secretary of the Electronics Club and Head events, EEA (department association) in my second year. I was PR Manager in Udghosh in my third year. I had performed in most of the inter-hall competitions in my first year.
Some concluding tips from my side which will definitely help you to write your own success story:
- Even if you don’t have a good CPI, don’t worry and try to keep your preparation strong. Some companies don’t have any CPI criteria.
- Start preparation as early as possible and devote a good amount of time to making your resume stand out.
- Work a little harder than the internship season since everyone is working hard.
- Don’t consider your friends as your competitors, instead see them as your peers who will help you sail smoothly through the placement season. You need their emotional support and help at times. Apes are strong together :)
- Don’t hesitate to take help from seniors. They’ll be happy to help you. Also, you can ask them to take mock GDs or interviews.
- At any point, if you feel overwhelmed, stressed out, or depressed, take a break and reach out to your loved ones.
- Maintain a healthy sleep cycle and diet. Do some exercise or meditation.
- Keep calm and don’t be under or overconfident.