"I really liked Citadel's interview questions a lot"
Nakul Shenoy is more than just good at mathematics. A double major in computer science and cognitive science and mathematics at MIT, he's a multiple medalist from the US physics Olympiad and got involved with competition math when he was 11 years old at school in San Francisco. "I started on math early," he reflects.
Shenoy now works for Citadel, the multistrategy hedge fund, in New York City. He's an equity quantitative researcher on the portfolio optimization team. "As a quantitative researcher within the equities portfolio optimization team, I try to ensure that the strong stock picks and good work happening at the individual level can be applied more broadly across the portfolio," he explains. "We ingest a lot of high-quality data and extract value from the fundamental ideas by looking at them through a quantitative lens, while also balancing things like risk and transaction costs."
Shenoy wasn't always going to work in finance - his early interests encompassed particle physics and gravitational waves, but at MIT he found that finance was a thing. "There's a big culture of quant research and quant trading there, and Citadel had been mentioned to me as one of the top firms, so I thought I'd give it a try," he says. There were also students who knew about Citadel: "A lot of people who'd come up through the competition pipeline said Citadel was a place where you could really stretch your brain.”
Shenoy applied to be a Citadel intern. The interview confirmed the fund's brain stretching credentials and was, says Shenoy, most enjoyable. "I really liked the interview questions. They were more open-ended than I expected, like mini research projects in a sense. It was the exact opposite of a multiple-choice test and more like a discussion."
What were Citadel's interview questions? Shenoy doesn't say exactly, but he does say they are "very challenging, very open-ended and focused on idea generation." Now that he works for Citadel, he says he has one colleague who asks everyone the same question and never gets the same answer twice. At MIT, Shenoy said he and his friends studied diligently simply for the interviews: "We'd do a lot of practice questions around statistics, probability and brain-teasers just to stay mentally in shape."
This mental flexing seemingly paid off, because Shenoy's interview led to an internship at Citadel between June and August '23, and then he joined full time in October. When he started the internship, Shenoy says he found that despite his mathematical prowess, he had a gap in his skills: "We use a lot of convex optimization, and it was a class I hadn't taken. During my internship, my manager gave me a textbook to read and he and my mentor helped me to ramp up and really understand the problem I was solving."
As with the questions in the interview, Shenoy says the way he was invited to solve the problem at the heart of the intern project wasn't didactic. "I was given a lot of leeway in how I wanted to tackle the problem. It was all about finding an approach that I thought was best. Instead of being asked to design a specific product, I was given a set of problems to solve and business goals to meet and the independence to find the best solution." He presented his solution to senior leadership, and got the job offer.
Having been at Citadel three months, Shenoy says he's joined the company reading group and has taken up the current book on portfolio optimization. He's also developed a new aspiration to learn about geopolitics. "A lot of people at Citadel have very deep knowledge of math, but the senior people also have something else: very, very strong intuition for identifying what is important when they are testing and researching projects based on their understanding of the world and the markets. They have an intuitive world model. I would like to develop that too."