As a candidate studying for the CFA, the end goal is to maximize the quality (and pay) of the job you can land. Candidates will be eager to update their resume whenever they pass one of the exams to increase their value on the job market… or so they think.
The typical candidate (including me back in the days) uses his level 1 passing as leverage to get a better job. The sad truth is that passing the CFA Level 1 has a negligible impact on the ability of the candidate to land a good finance job. The job market differs from country to country and I can only speak with confidence of the North American finance job market. I have many friends in emerging countries in Asia and the Middle East who have found it more easy to find an acceptable job after having passed only level 1 or 2 of the CFA. However, there are a lot of CFA charterholders with experience in the U.S. and Canada who are experiencing difficulties in finding a suitable employment opportunities… imagine for CFA candidates.
Given the high competitiveness of the finance employment arena, having great credentials on paper is just the starting point; it is not even enough to get your foot in the door.
I live in Montreal, Canada and one of my good friend works at the human resources department of one of the smallest of the big banks here in Canada. She says they receive 700 applications for various jobs every single day! This illustrates the large volume of application financial institution receive.
At this point, if you just passed the level 1 exam and were dreaming of making a career move, you are probably depressed. Chances are you have tried the usual route to find a job which is to fill out application and send out resumes to dozens of firms. The good news is that there is still hope for you to find your dream finance job even if you have not earned your CFA.
There are usually two routes to get a top job in finance: be the best or know and impress the right people. For some strange reason, most people focus on the first route which includes having a stratospheric GPA in university, collecting professional designation and being a walking finance encyclopedia. Unfortunately, most of the CFA candidates are smart but not complete braniacs nor geniuses. This is why the job hunting strategies that works for the top performers cannot be applied if you are not one of them. You have to know where you stand and adapt your strategy accordingly.
In my case, I am a very quick learner and am somewhat knowledgeable in finance and investment theory. However, relying on that is grossly insufficient to land a top job since I would compete with people who have much more knowledge and who are much smarter than I am. This is a losing battle.
This is why the best strategy for most people is to be effective at networking and getting noticed by recruiters and decision makers. This may seem like a no brainer but if you are spending your time filling up applications and browsing job boards on various finance website, you have already loss the battle. There is a saying that says you should always select the less crowded channel. The most crowded channel for job search, especially in the finance/investment fields is the careers websites, job boards, and sending resumes to recruiters.
Most people know these to be low probability, very crowded channels but they do it nonetheless either because they do not know of other options or by laziness. Sending 100 resumes a day gives people a sense of satisfaction and a feeling you have done something productive at the end of the day. In most cases (and I speak from experience), this strategy works approximately 0% of the time.
So at this point you know that unless you are an absolute genius (be honest with yourself), it is more about who you know and how you can network your way to a top job. You also know that the most crowded and less efficient channels is the standard careers section/job board approach where you fill out an application and send your resume along with a letter saying how amazing you are.
If you have just passed one of the CFA exam and you are having a hard time using this as leverage on the job market, here are some actionable items. More specifically, I will provide you with three “least-crowded” channels, three extremely valuable advice from top people and three amazing resources on finding a great job in your field.
Three Less-Crowded Channels
This may seem weird since nowadays most people do not even call their friends unless there is an emergency. This is why calling up the decision maker at the firm you wish to work can get you noticed. Just the fact that you called will show that you are not just one of the hundreds of applicant and you have more willpower. The difficulty here is getting through the gatekeepers and speaking directly to the target person. Once you succeed and have that person on the phone, you can talk about who you are and what you want. There is a proper way to use this technique which you can find online but the point here is to get yourself noticed.
Linkedin is an amazing tool to get in touch with anyone. This social tool could be used a number of ways but one route is to use it as an information gathering tool. You can check who the decision makers and potential gatekeepers are and work on networking with them before you apply for a job.
3- Career Fair at Universities
This is another great way to get to talk to individuals directly. The problem with the traditional application to the HR department is that you have no idea who reads it . All you get is the automated response saying they got your application and are “reviewing it”. There is absolutely no human involvement and there are good probabilities that no human will ever see your application. Even if you have graduated already or are not a student of the university or organisation, you can still drop in and attend these career days where you can meet representatives from various firms. This is a way to get noticed, ask questions about the hiring process and network.
Three Tips for Landing a Good CFA Related Job
1-Improve your presentation skills
Even you determine that you are not a finance genius, networking effectively is your only chance of landing that dream job. When networking, the way you present yourself to others and communicate is key. Presentation skills does not only include public speaking and presenting yourself; it also include what you project to people. You need to come across as friendly and approachable yet confident. From my experience, most finance interviewees (especialy males) are cocky, arrogant douchebags. This even shows on their resumes and when they communicate on paper. The other extreme is for a candidate to be passive and shy; which is equally detrimental to your chance of landing a job. There are many books that can provide you with some advice on how to improve your presentation skills and they just might be the best investment you make for your career. If you have just passed the level 1 CFA exam, your presentation skills have a larger impact on the quality of the job you can land than your academic credentials.
2-Know what you want employers to think
In a way this is branding yourself to determine how you want to be perceived. For example, do you want to be perceived as the analytic guy who loves to run Excel models and crunch numbers. Maybe you want to be the employee who is good at managing people and inspiring others. There are a million of ways you can market yourself but you have to pick one which represents who you are and stick with it. Too often, when looking for a job, candidates are trying to be everything and just please the interviewer. I have interviewed people in the past and trust me; this always comes across as fake and turns me off when someone tries too much to be everything and pleases everyone.
I actually now include some contradictory questions on purpose just to identify if the person is bullshitting me or not. For example, I could ask if the candidate has a great attention to details and are perfectionist. They usually claim that they are 100% perfectionist and always strive to produce perfect work. Then I would try to find out if they are result oriented and focused on productivity and see the “big picture”. Most humans cannot be both perfectionist and productivity focused. If you say you are, you are just pandering to the interviewer and they will notice.
The point here is to take time to really think about how you want to be perceived and what are the key characteristics you want the employer to remember about you. Then these characteristics need to be obvious in your resume, presentation letter and during the interview.
3- Be specific when talking about your skills
Before you apply for a job, learn about the tasks and make a specific list of what you are going to do to help your employer. For example, if you are looking to be an equity research analyst, you can outline your process for analyzing a firm. Use what you have learned in the CFA program to show you know what you are talking about. You can even perform some of the work in advance to show you are prepared. Perform a discounted cash flow analysis or a multiples valuation analysis for example to impress the potential.
In addition, it is not a bad idea to actually make a list of ways you can benefit the firm since, at the end of the day, that is what the decision to hire you or not is all about.
I hope these small tips and resources were helpful. I would really like to know what works for you if any of you tried these techniques to stand out from the crowd. There are many other ways to land a great job in the investment field and sharing your success and failures could help guide other candidates!