Make It

Want to work on Wall Street? Here are 10 tips so you don't crash and burn

Turney Duff was an unlikely Wall Street trader: He didn't go to one of the usual Ivy League Wall Street feeder schools and he didn't eat, sleep and drink finance. He got his foot in the door (by luck, as he tells it) at Morgan Stanley and soared to the top of his game at hedge funds including Galleon and Argus. He also fell prey to all the trappings of Wall Street: money, sex, drugs, alcohol and power. He chronicles the spectacular rise and fall of his Wall Street career in the book, "The Buy Side." Here, he offers his advice to young Wall Street.

A long, long time ago in 2004, before the masses started using online banking, we had to use our cell phones and push buttons when calling our banks. It was just after bonus season and I could see the snow starting to fall on the cobblestones of Tribeca, but I was snug under a blanket, alone, in my 2,700 square-foot apartment. I dialed the 800-number to Chase and waited to hear my balance. The female automated voice said, "Your balance is one million, eight hundred thousand and…" I hit repeat. "One million, eight hundred thousand and…"

Being a trader was very much like tequila. I didn't love the taste, but I craved for how it made me feel. I loved the lifestyle.

As a B student from Ohio University I wasn't your typical straight-laced finance guy who got ahead by doing his homework. While others were reading research on clinical trials, I was doing field research in clubs and bars.

That's lesson No. 1: There's no one-size-fits-all on Wall Street. So you've got to figure out what works for you. I wasn't the most passionate about the markets. And I wasn't the smartest guy in the room. But I played to my strengths. I was acutely aware of my daytime limitations — but I was teachable. And, I was fluent in happy hour.

Though I cringe sometimes when I look back on my Wall Street persona it also makes me laugh. I wanted to be a cross between Gordon Gekko and Jay Z, but in reality, I was more like Bud Fox and Vanilla Ice.

STOP! Collaborate my commissions… (Ice, ice, baby ...)

It's also important to know that Wall Street is a constant game of chess — strategically networking with the rooks, bishops and knights. I did most of my networking at the water cooler or when the office lights went out. But to me, networking sounds so formal. I didn't look at it that way. I was developing relationships. I didn't know who could or would eventually help me. So I didn't try and figure it out. I just established as many good contacts as I could. But I think the thing that helped me the most was always trying to help others. There's a boomerang effect.

Almost everyone has a story on how they got their first job. Even the second, third or tenth is by a relationship they either had or cultivated. I've never heard anyone say, "Yeah I sent my cover letter and resume over to Goldman and I got the job."

Second, respect. It's not the first word that jumps to most people's minds when you say Wall Street, but I don't think my party-boy facade, or my shortcuts to success, would have worked if I didn't try my best to treat people with respect.

"When I was making $22,000 a year, I thought all of my problems would be solved if I could make $50,000. I was having the same thoughts making $2 million a year."

When I first started at the Galleon Group, I thought the only way to be successful in trading was to be a bully. I constantly saw/heard guys on the other end of the phone being verbally undressed, whipped and beaten. I didn't understand it. If a sales trader called our desk with time-sensitive information, but were a little behind the curve, they would be greeted with a "stale" or "late" followed by a click. Why would you intimidate and discourage someone who's trying to help you? To motivate them? I guess, but that eventually stops working. I realized my best move was to assume the role of "good cop." Almost instantly, I started developing relationships and people wanted to help me. Eventually, information started flowing my way — and I became a better trader.

Have self-awareness. I didn't have the most graceful exit from the business. What I lacked most rising up the Street was self-awareness. I had moments of it and very often questioned my behavior, but I was never able to do much with these glimpses of reality. I always considered my issues and problems to be in the future. Sure, I got a performance review every year. But how I defined my success was the number at the bottom — my bonus. Truth be told, I wasn't really motivated to find my own faults when someone was paying me seven figures.

Well, as it turns out, that old cliché, "Money can't buy happiness," is true. Though, a more accurate version would be, "Money can rent happiness, but with a teaser rate, short-term lease and penalty for late fees."

I learned that lesson the hard way. It only took me two drug and alcohol rehabs, a blown seven-figure investment in the L.A.-based chain Fatburger, a short sale of my own $2 million house and damaging the relationship with the mother of my daughter. It was a very expensive lesson, but I'm grateful I got it.

So, don't confuse net worth with self worth. The two are mutually exclusive.

If I'm an expert of anything ... it's what-not-to-do on Wall Street. Here's a quick list of don'ts:

Don't try and buy quality of life — work at it. When I was making $22,000 a year, I thought all of my problems would be solved if I could make $50,000. I was having the same thoughts making $2 million a year.

Don't be the wind-up toy at business dinners. Wining and dining is an integral part of Wall Street, but very often getting the laughs isn't synonymous with getting the promotion.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Know what you don't know and use it to your advantage.

Don't smile when they give you your bonus, but say "thank you." Nobody ever got more money by screaming, "WOO HOO!!!" and doing a fist pump.

Don't tell your boss he's bi-polar (Trust me on this one).

Don't run a race that doesn't have a finish line.

Don't start a fake Twitter account and tweet from the elevator.

Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group and author of the memoir, "The Buy Side." He is a commentator on CNBC's "Filthy Rich Guide" and a consultant on the Showtime show, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.

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