How the CFA Charter Helped Me Get A Job

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By Sophie

Most of us took up the CFA exams for career advancement and development opportunities – so did I back in 2009, amongst other reasons.

Upon scraping through the last Level III battle and obtaining the elusive CFA charter, I embarked on a job search, not because I wasn’t happy with my current role at that time, but it was in response to my boss’ comment during my year end review and salary negotiation that prompted me to look around to “benchmark my market value”. It was an interesting exercise as there wasn’t a strong pressure to leave per se (i.e. I didn’t hate my job/work environment), but I was also incentivised to secure an offer for real as that serves as a true measure of my market worth (plus it was always interesting, to me at least, to find out what other roles are they out there).

Good practice for interviews? Definitely. Stressful? Certainly (the goal is still to secure a job offer!). Useful? Very, because I also got a good sense of employers’ view of the CFA charter and here’s an attempt to provide a qualitative assessment of the CFA qualification on my job hunting process.

Overview

Here’s a subjective account of my job search experiences upon obtaining my CFA charter a few years ago, right in the midst of the financial crisis. The purpose is to qualitatively assess the impact of having the CFA charter on my job hunting endeavours. I view the job search process as 3 separate stages:

  • Job applications – the number of relevant jobs I could apply, for which I’m interested in;
  • Response rate – the number of positive feedback or calls for interviews I had as a % of number of job applications made;
  • Interview rounds – the final stage, certainly the tricker bit (but not impossible) to master.

Of course, my experience is by no means a definitive guide to what will happen to every charterholder (as they are many varying characteristics between my situation and theirs, as caveated below), but I believe there are things that we all can do and learn from to improve your chances to get the job you want. No one has provided a detailed account of their life post as a CFA charterholder so I thought I’d get the ball rolling!

#1. A smaller impact on my job application, but could be significant for yours

This may sound counterintuitive but it depends on your individual circumstances and career goals. I was keen on a corporate finance/ corporate development role in the industry (i.e. in a corporate instead of advisory firms), therefore having the CFA charter did not significantly broaden the scope of applicable roles for me per se as my target role is quite specific, not to mention the CFA qualification isn’t a strict requirement for that field, though a helpful plus nonetheless. Don’t forget to update your CV and LinkedIn with your new CFA status too, LinkedIn is a powerful way that recruiters increasingly use as a tool these days.

However, the story is likely to be different if you’re looking for a role in asset management, private wealth management or equity research, having the CFA charter is increasingly important for these sub sectors in finance. The number of jobs you could qualify for would certainly increase in these sub sectors given your qualification. However, do make sure you are selecting the jobs that interests you too, spraying your CV around to a zillion recruiters isn’t gonna help your case as you should tailor your applications to each role – quality is better than quantity. Plus word spreads around in the small world of financial recruitment…

#2. The response rate increased, partially due to the CFA charter

Despite the small amount of job application I did (say about 8) of roles that I was interested in, I got call backs for further interviews for more than half of them. I’d argue that this is also likely to be affected by these 2 factors, aside from the CFA charter:

  • Quality of job match – I’ve tailored my CV for roles that I’m interested in that matches both my ability and meets their requirements. This would certainly bias this statistic if you are comparing it with someone who are applying to a wide range of jobs in hope to nail something. The response rate may also be lower for charterholders that are attempting to switch roles.
  • Seniority increased – In general I found that job search is toughest for those relatively new in the career ladder, i.e. 1-2 years of working experienced. This is where you are neither a fresh graduate nor an experienced manager, you’re an in between where no one knew where to place you in organizational chart. I started the CFA when I had 2 years experience in the corporate finance sector (junior analyst level), and had the CFA charterholder when I had nearly 4 years of experience in the industry. Just like a pyramid, the pool of qualified candidates for a manager role is smaller for the niche sector that I was in, hence arguably increased the response rate in my case.

#3. It makes interviews easier to get through

In my interviews, the CFA qualifications wasn’t extensively discussed, although always a conversation starter since it’s listed at the top of my CV (that gets me off to a good start!). It is certainly a quality indicator that built confidence in my technical ability for the role, which allowed more time for the interviewer to probe into other aspects of my work experiences and leadership skills.

Interestingly, I noticed a shift in interview focus from a junior level (1-2 years experience) to a manager level in corporate finance. With less work experience, the questions may tend to be focused around finance theory questions, like how would you value this company etc., whereas interviews tend to be more qualitative for a managerial role (4 years and above) where the focus is on your work experiences so far and what you can bring to the table.

Here’s where your interview skills is key to help push you over the last hurdle and secure the job – the CFA charter can only do so much but ultimately a lot of hiring decisions are also qualitative and judged on likeability and whether you’re someone that they would enjoy working with, no hard and fast rules here I’m afraid! ​

Conclusion

Although unable to provide a definitive, quantitative impact of the CFA charter on my job search and career, I felt it served as a good signal and quality indicator to potential employers of my technical finance ability even though it wasn’t a requirement for a role.

It provided an edge to my CV vs. other candidates with similar work experiences but it certainly is not a guarantee to finance jobs!

What I found was that a great CV and qualifications can only get you so far (i.e getting that interview), securing the job itself requires solid interview skills and experience – something most of us find tricky to master as it’s not exactly a science, but practice makes perfect (that’s a 300 Hours motto)!

Are you a charterholder? How’s your experience like? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

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