How to Get a Job in Finance, with or without a CFA

Given the number of emails I’ve gotten from discouraged graduates, I think it’s a good time to revisit the question of getting a job in finance.
The usual question is more like, “will the CFA charter get me a job?” Of course the answer is NO, it will not GET you a job. Having the charter or working towards completion will help but you will still need to work for that offer letter.
Sad but true, you have to work just to get a job to go to work. Fortunately, no job is without a standard operating procedure.

Decide what you really want

This is a big one and probably the most neglected among job hunters. So you want a job in finance? Great, what part of finance, what role? You need to figure out what specifically you want to do. You are going to need to do a lot of footwork and cannot do it for every role and every company.

Do your homework

Now that you have an idea of what you want to do, you can start to focus. The internet is a good tool but talking to people will pay unexpected dividends. Every time you talk to someone about what you want and what you can bring to an employer, you will make connections. Those people will remember you the next time they hear about an opening.
Talk to someone from the local chamber of commerce, your local CFA society or another business organization about the local companies in the industry. Phone calls are ok but in-person is 100 times better. Make the time to make it personal.
Once you have a good list of companies, go to the website to look for open positions. Even if something is available, your work isn’t over just by filling out an application. Your next assignment is finding out about the company and the specific department where you want to work. What is the company’s market? Are you a key demographic or can provide insight into that market? Has the company tried expanding into any other industry or vertically? What can you bring to the table?
Who do you know that knows someone that works in the department? If everyone on earth is connected to Kevin Bacon by just six degrees of separation, then surely you have a connection to someone in the department. Do people that work in the department have a certain background? Do they usually come from accounting, do they come from other firms in the same role, are they generally fresh out of college? How are you alike and dissimilar? What can you bring to the table?

Stand out from the competition

There could be upwards of 100 applicants for the position, 10 initial interviews and 3-5 second interviews. How do you stand out from the rest? Your prior work, making those connections and researching the company will pay off but you still need to work on it.
By now, you should have a good idea of what you want to do and what people in the department are doing on a daily basis. You need to show HR and management that you can do that. Do they make a lot of presentations (i.e. sell side)? Then you better have a presentation ready. Sure, they may not have a computer set up for powerpoint during the interview but they will appreciate that you took the time and can look at the printed slides as you talk through it.
They say dress for the job you want. What about doing the job you want? Want to be an equity analyst? Work through a financial model and put together a full equity report to take to the interview. First, it will show that you are motivated and willing to work to get the job. Second, it is going to help you understand the job better and the Q&A will go much more smoothly.
It isn’t an entirely easy process but starting in a position higher than mailroom clerk will be your reward. Stick with it and be prepared for a lot of rejection and non-responses. If nothing else, while you wait you’ll have plenty of time to study for the CFA.
‘til next time, happy job hunting.
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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