How To Get a Job With a Contrarian Investor

I haven’t blogged consistently as much as I would have liked to in the past few weeks. However, as I started writing the answer to a question asked on www.showmedamani.com/ama, it went from a short form answer to a full-blown blog. It was the best trigger to restart my daily blogging habit.

The question asked: How can I learn more about investing? How can I get a job with a marquee investor?

The first question to answer is, who is a marquee investor?

A marquee investor is someone that consistently beats the market over a long period. Anyone that has invested for a living will tell you that beating the market is not easy; therefore, the select few that do, do it by refusing to follow the market. These investors few enter (or exit) investments against market sentiments because they figure out that the market has mispriced a stock, sector, instrument, etc.

Investors that invest against the market sentiments get branded as contrarian investors.  I consider myself to be one too.

I  understand why finance or investment professionals want to learn from contrarian investors, and it isn’t about the money.

Contrarian investors represent something far more significant, the ability to speak up (through their investment decisions) against the majority and – win. At its very core, contrarian investing is the classic underdog favorite story of David vs. Goliath.

It isn’t a surprise many contrarian investors get bombarded with requests for “ability to learn” from them. What is surprising (to me) is how individuals that want to emulate contrarians do it by approaching them conventionally. They send resumes with cover letters praising the portfolio picks, but their resumes and praises get lost in a pile of many deserving candidates.

So how can a candidate stand out?

The biggest challenge for contrarians is to find people that want to challenge the status quo. It takes a lot of guts to develop a contrarian thesis and an even stronger constitution to hold onto that belief. Contrarian strategies look incorrect for a long time before they look correct, and a contrarian can lose employees, friends, family, and investors by holding onto that belief.

Michael Burry’s predicament in The Big Short is an excellent example of how lonely (and frustrating) it can be as a contrarian holding onto their predictions.

Therefore If a candidate wants to showcase that they can think, act, and hold onto contrarian views, it shouldn’t it reflect in their attempt to seek a job?

Here is an exciting approach that I thought of (and could work on me, possibly):

  • Study your target investor’s thesis and learn how they pick their investments.
  • Try to find the next investment that would excite your target.
  • Prepare an in-depth investment recommendation note for your target.
  • Your note should highlight your ability to research, analyze, model, and recommend.
  • But it should showcase your nonconformist approach to investing, the ability to find information where no one is looking.
  • Most importantly, it should put it on display that you do not think about where the ball is right now, you think about where the ball is going to be.
  • Send that note to your target with a detailed cover letter explaining why you chose the investment you did and how you went about your process.
  • If you have gone a step ahead to tie up the investment for them too – major brownie points.
  • Most importantly: do not ask your target for a job or an opportunity to work with them. Just ask them for feedback on your investment note.

This approach requires effort. However, if one wants to run ahead of the crowd, like Usain Bolt, they must practice harder than everyone else too.

Summarizing my exit interview with a venture capital intern 

Two interns finished their learning cycle with Artha this week. One of them wanted to speak to me and get my feedback on his performance during his 4month internshipThe schedule short feedback session went on much longer, and at the end of it, we got into an exciting topic – the importance of forming an opinion.  

I believe our discussion applies to anyone who wants to work in the investment business, especially earlystage venture capital. I am sharing a synopsis of that conversation with the permission of the intern.  

 

Intern: What is one piece of advice for me? 

Me: Form an opinion and be vocal about it. It is acceptable to be wrong, completely wrong, and heinously wrong. However, it is cardinal mistake to have the ability to accumulate and analyze data but lack the courage to form a decisive opinion. The best investors have often sought out views from their peers and from people who could provide them with a fresh perspective. In fact, the investors I emulate often seek out contrarian views to their own to test their hypothesis.  

 

Intern: Why is the trait of forming and communicating our opinions so important? 

believe that investing is the ability to predict future outcomes of current decisions, and an investor’s brilliant foresight finds appreciation only in hindsight. That is why I consider investing more of an art than scienceA room full of experienced appreciators of art would almost inevitably have deep-felt disagreements on the value of Van Gogh. They could all be right or be wrong – we would only find out once the money gets transferred into the sellers account 

 

What should an intern do?  

fondly remember eyeopening realizations I have had during discussions (sometimes heated) with interns, associates, principalspartners, coinvestors, and even entrepreneurs over the last 10 years in venture capital. Initially, it was intimidating for me to showcase my opinions in front of the experienced hands of this game. But I realized that I wasnt learning anything by keeping them to myself. I learned more by expressing my incorrect opinions and recognizing the gaps in my understanding, over keeping my opinion to myself for fear of getting called out.  

A newcomer to the investment industry should seek out experiences where they can form these opinions. Join investment clubs, seek out investors who have strong opinions, even if they are contrarians to their own, but learn how to build and present your investment viewpoint. 

 

Don’t be afraid of being wrong; we learn best through the mistakes we make. Expressing your opinion is a win-win situation. You either get called out and learn where you went wrong, or your opinion contributes valuably to the discussion. Most importantly, you grow with each interaction and learn to receive constructive criticism.