It’s not necessarily the designation that gives CFA candidates the advantage over their finance peers, it may be something far deeper.
We’re just few weeks to the CFA exams and candidates are laser-focused on one thing; passing the CFA and earning those three little letters. They think the designation proves their worth to employers and to an industry where cyclical restructuring is commonplace.
Don’t get me wrong, having the CFA designation has helped me get a lot of freelance analyst jobs. I’ve gotten my foot in the door to more places than I would have otherwise, including spots on Bloomberg and consulting at venture capital firms, and I think my work on the CFA exams had a lot to do with it.
But it’s not the designation itself that helped me get all those things and it’s not your true advantage as a CFA candidate. It was my WORK on the CFA exams and what it represents.
I don’t know about you but I worked hard to pass the three CFA exams and earn the designation, harder than I ever worked on two undergraduate degrees and a Masters’ degree. I’m not sure the 300 hours usually quoted as the study time it takes to pass an exam is even accurate. Besides the hundreds of hours studying, CFA candidates sacrifice their personal lives to be a better investment professional. It’s long weekends and empty libraries for three years or more just for the chance to break into an industry where you’ll be expected to work even harder.
CFA candidates have a get-it-done mentality. That’s not something you develop suddenly but something you have that is uncovered by the trials of the CFA exams. Employers see the CFA designation as a crucible that has weeded out weak job candidates before human resources has to do it.
Possibly more important than the hard-working spirit that the CFA exams show in candidates is what it says about the candidate’s ability to stay ahead of an industry that’s constantly in motion. Layoffs have been announced by nearly every mega-cap bank. The last few years are no different and these types of massive changes are only increasing as technological change takes hold of the industry.
Every segment of the financial industry is constantly in flux. An analyst that can’t stay one step ahead of others will fall behind. An asset manager that cannot innovate and evolve will see his clients jump to another firm.
CFA candidates are proactive, one of the most sought characteristics within finance. Nobody is forcing you into one of the toughest professional designations in finance. You signed up for the exams and pour over the curriculum on your own because you know it has to be done.
While the CFA designation or being a CFA candidate may bring these traits out, it’s your job to keep the momentum going after the exams. You’ll work hard in your role as analyst and asset manager, what will set you apart is your ability to push yourself even harder and keep using those characteristics that came out during the CFA exams.
The continuing education program by the CFA Institute isn’t mandatory but you should consider it as such. Take an hour or two every week to think on what you are doing for your clients and what else you can do, and learn.
As you finish the CFA exams and earn that designation, don’t forget what it really means.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA