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Ageism: Confessions of a young Wall Street trader

When Jimmy Fallon was tapped to replace Jay Leno as the host of "The Tonight Show," it was a pretty clear attempt to appeal to younger viewers.

When that sort of thing happens in Hollywood, it's not surprising. But guess what? On Wall Street, which is in the middle of its layoff season right now, it's not as much of an Old Boys Club as you'd think. Age matters — A LOT.


Crowther & Carter | Stone | Getty Images

I remember when I was a managing director in derivatives trading at Bank of America looking for candidates to hire. Sure, my team and I would look at the normal factors such as education, experience and trading track record. However, maybe because my team was such an eclectic crew (or maybe because I was young and very slightly deranged), we had to consider other factors. We talked about how a guy's personality might fit in — and, yes, age came up.

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We found ourselves asking things like: "ls he as hungry as a 25-year old?" "How would he feel about having a boss 10 years younger than him?" "Would he stay until 11pm if needed or would he feel he was too good for that?" "Is he too set in his ways, to be taught the way I want things done?" "Can he handle the new technology?" "Can he handle a boss that one minute is yelling at someone about a multimillion-dollar loss and the next minute organizing a Chicken McNugget eating contest?"

If you're too experienced, it can work against you in other ways. If you have held a senior position, the jobs you can be hired for are far fewer than lower-level jobs. And you won't be offered a job that you're overqualified for. The reason being that 1) You either won't be motivated enough to do that job or 2) you will be a threat to the person hiring you.

Wall Street is insanely competitive and the last person you want to hire is someone you think would be in direct competition for your job.

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I'll admit, when I was a young, smart-mouth trader in my 20s, I used to tease the older guys.

I used to ask them, "What was it like trading during the crash?" Then the older trader would tell me his war story about Black Monday in 1987 when the Dow dropped almost 23 percent. Then, halfway through his story I would interrupt him and say, "No. I meant the crash of 1929." We both had a good laugh about it but now that I'm older, it's slightly less funny. (And for the record, HR never found it funny — I was actually warned once about jokes like these that could be construed as discrimination.)

An executive recruiter friend who specializes in hiring for sales and trading at banks swears that age discrimination doesn't exist on Wall Street but her comments are telling. She said "The candidates are judged on how much they are willing to give to the business vs. the rest of their life." And "My clients are looking for the best candidates and care about energy not age."

You tell me: Which guy has more energy: The older guy or the younger guy?

I know I don't have the same amount of energy I had five years ago. I'll admit: I have thought about going to Cenegenics to check out my options on energy-boosting treatments like testosterone but so far have resisted.

And numbers don't lie: That recruiter said of the candidates she has placed in the past year, 60 percent of them are under 35 years old. That's more than half.

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I spoke to a friend who works at an investment bank that just went through layoffs. He said that the layoffs were about 5-10 percent of most groups and generally mid-level employees with experience. Often a mid-level employee tends to be a little older, makes good money but just isn't pulling his weight. I don't think age is a direct factor in layoffs but I do think that Wall Streeters believe that after a certain number of years you peak. And if your peak isn't much better than the guy below you with room to grow, it's time to cut bait. Remember the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog, new tricks."

Truth be told, experience just doesn't matter as much as it used to. Since 2008, there is a new Wall Street where there are more qualified people for less positions than ever. Remember Joshua Persky, that unemployed investment banker who, in 2009, slapped a sandwich board over his suit that said "experienced MIT grad for hire" and stood outside of New York firms to try to reclaim his place on Wall Street?

Sure, things are a lot better than they were when Persky hit the Street — literally — but it's still hard out there. There are fewer jobs to go around than before so, like the NFL or NBA, youth, talent and drive trumps experience.

Is it fair? No. But Wall Street was never about fair — it's about better and best.

I think there's only one way to fix this: If he's willing to give 110 percent, Goldman Sachs should hire Jay Leno. Now that's doing God's work, Lloyd Blankfein.

— By Raj Mahal

Raj Mahal (that's his stage name) is a former Bank of America trader-turned-comedian. Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets.

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