CFA Exams, A Little Perspective Please

Lately, there’s no shortage of posts on the LinkedIn group lamenting how hard the exams are and how tired candidates are of studying for the 6-hour mental marathon coming this weekend. One candidate even describes the whole ordeal as HELL and questions if it is even worth it.
First, the motivation speech.
As someone that has been through the process, I can tell you that it is definitely worth it. I, along with many of my colleagues that I have talked with, have seen the benefits of having the designation.
While my work experience often seals the deal, I have been told by many businesses that the CFA designation was what initially got my offer through the door in the bid to complete a project for their organization. As a contract employee, I need my virtual profile to stand out and show a level of expertise above the rest. Having those three little letters shows that I have not only the broad knowledge of the industry but also the determination to push through a difficult task to get the job done.
Finance is still very much a game of ‘who you know’ and can be very exclusionary. Unless you’ve got the right pedigree or you went to the right school, you won’t get in the door at a lot of places. The CFA designation is a way of breaking down those barriers for the rest of us. The exams do not care if you’ve got a million dollar trust fund or if your last name is Rockefeller. The exams don’t care if your jeans are designer label or if they are so old the label has fallen off.
I’m not saying that, after earning the designation, all doors will be open and life will be easy. Getting a job is still tough in an industry that has been shrinking for the last five years and you will constantly need to work to prove that you merit the implied credibility that comes with the charter.
What I am saying is that I have not met a single charterholder that regretted spending the time to earn the designation and that for the majority of us, it has paid off in multiples of our effort.
Now, a little tough love.
Reading the posts describing the exam process as Hell, I get reminiscent of when I was a candidate. Yes, I questioned the need for the designation a few times and wondered if my time would be rewarded.
But let’s not get overly dramatic. If studying for the CFA exams is the hardest thing you have to confront in your life, you are either extremely fortunate or extremely sheltered. Try being there while a loved one fights for their life after being diagnosed with cancer. Try being one of the billions of those that do not have access to an education and have to work multiple jobs in back-breaking conditions just to feed their family.
Studying for the CFA exams is not that hard. Putting it in context, that 1,100 hours of studying is nothing over an entire lifetime. Yes, you will sacrifice time that you could spend with your friends. Yes, at times it will seem like it is an impossible amount of material to remember.
I can guarantee you that when you put in your first 80 hour week at that investment job you worked so hard to get, that you’ll wish all you had to do was study the curriculum so nicely laid out in front of you.
More than 254,000 candidates have passed the Level 3 exam and you can as well. It will not be easy and it will not always be fun, but if it were then the designation would stand for what it does.
Stay strong and keep on schedule. Just one more week left.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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