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The CFA is NOT Your Golden Ticket to the Finance Factory

in CFA, MBA, etc.

The CFA Golden Ticket to Finance“I have no relevant experience, no industry contacts, I don’t know how to network, but I’ve passed CFA Level 1. Why can’t I break into finance?”

The above quote is a fictionalized, yet all too common plea from those who are on the outside trying to break into the world of finance.

There is a common misconception that passing a CFA exam is a golden ticket to the world of finance, as if Johnny Depp will welcome you with open arms and give you are finance job for life. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The good news is that the CFA program can help you break into the industry in asset management, equity research, and hedge funds.

The bad news is that there is a lot more you need to do than just passing the exams.

In this post, I’ll discuss everything you need to know when using the CFA to break into finance, including:

  • History of the exam,
  • An overview of the CFA program,
  • The benefits of the CFA program,
  • How to find out if the CFA program is right for you, and
  • How to effectively use the CFA program to break into finance.

The CFA program really can help you break into finance, but you need to know the proper path to take. So, let’s get started …

History of the CFA Program

Ben Graham (yes, the Ben Graham of value investing) began trumpeting the idea of a professional rating for financial analysts in the early 1940s to the New York Society of Security Analysts. While the NYSSA agreed in principle to a professional rating, it would take over 20 years to iron out all the details of the program, which included creating a code of ethics and a standard body of knowledge.

Finally, in 1963 the first CFA exam took place. You can see the first exam on the CFA website, which was much that easier than the exams we see today. An interesting fact about that first exam was that most of the test takers were older than 45. Obviously, things have changed over the years.

The number of candidates rose sixfold that first year, from 284 to 1,742, and has continued to grow ever since. Today, there are more than 90,000 CFA charterholders worldwide. With that many people holding CFA charters, you can see how the CFA program has become such an important part in the world of finance.

Overview of the CFA Program

The CFA program consists of three exams, cleverly named Levels 1, 2, and 3. Each exam needs to be passed to earn a CFA charter. In addition to passing the exams, though, certain work experience requirements must be met.

This last part is partly the reason why the CFA alone will not help you break into finance. That’s because you can’t even become a CFA charterholder without being in the business first. You fall victim to the age old chicken-and-egg problem since you need four years of relevant, full-time work experience before you can put “CFA” after your name.

Another unique aspect of the exam is that a bachelor’s degree is required to take the exam. However, undergrads can get around this in their senior year as the CFA allows you to be in your final year of your bachelor’s degree program at the time of registration. However, you cannot register for Level 2 until you have completed your degree, negating the chance to take the December Level 1 exam followed by the June Level 2 exam during your senior year.

While you are taking the exams, you can only list on your résumé “CFA Level [x] Candidate.” Once you’ve read the Ethics section of Level 1, you will have this burned into your memory, so don’t worry about it now.

Passing the exams is no walk in the park either. The exam material is written such that it takes about 300 hours of studying over six months per level to pass. Believe me, that’s a lot of time given the CFA is a self-study course taken while you are still working full-time or in business school.

Of course, you’ll hear stories of people who “studied for 2 weeks” and passed a CFA exam, but those stories are more myth than reality.

Further, it is a mathematical probability that you will most likely fail to pass one level. Pass rates for each exam average less than 50%. On average it takes four years to pass all three levels of the CFA program, which is likely as long as it took to earn your bachelor’s degree.

In short, the best part about the CFA program is when you finish. I don’t remember the day I actually received my charter, but I definitely remember the day I completed the Level 3 exam. I can firmly state that never have a glass of scotch and a cigar tasted so good in the history of the world as they did that day.

The CFA program is no walk in the park, so make sure you are convinced that a career in investing is your passion.

Benefits of the CFA

Now that you know how difficult and painful the CFA program is, why on earth would anyone want to go through it?

There are many benefits to the CFA, but the main reason anyone goes through the program is to get paid more. Various surveys indicate that CFA charterholders get paid more than non-charterholders. Given the relatively small investment required for the CFA program (at least compared to going to business school for an MBA), the ROI is quite high.

While there aren’t any surveys or studies that show why CFA charterholders get paid more, I believe the biggest reason is the signaling effect from successfully completing the exams. Given that the entire program is self-study outside of work and/or school, those that complete the program tell the world that they are capable of working hard on their own.

That’s not to say someone who hasn’t gone through the program can’t succeed and make more money, there are exceptions and outliers in everything. Look at the CFA program as a way to gain new knowledge and to advance your career.

Think about it this way: the CFA can’t guarantee you will get ahead, but not doing the program could hurt you. If you take two identical job candidates, but one has completed the CFA and one has never even taken Level 1, the one who has gone through the CFA program has the edge. In the world of Wall Street, you need any edge you can get.

Another big benefit to the CFA program is you get to join a robust, thriving “club” of finance professionals. I liken this to joining a golf club (yet another golf reference from me – this is not the first and won’t be the last). Golfers join golf clubs for two main reasons: they like to golf and they want to socialize with people who also like to golf.

The CFA program is much the same way: people join the “club” because they like finance and they can network, interact, and socialize with like-minded people. This means the continued education and networking opportunities are tremendous.

Candidates often fail to grasp this benefit, which is why they fail in their job search despite working through the CFA program. But more on that in a minute…

Is the CFA Program Right for Me?

The first thing you need to know about the CFA program is that it is not an ideal credential for every field of finance. The CFA is not necessary if you are looking to enter fields like investment banking, private equity, corporate finance, or venture capital.

The CFA is geared toward those individuals that invest in the public markets. As such, the CFA is a good program for you if you are looking to enter asset management, equity research, or hedge funds.

What about sales & trading?

Even though sales & trading positions are in the public markets, the benefits of the CFA are minimal.

That’s not to say the CFA can’t help you in those other fields, just don’t expect it help as much as if you are looking at asset management, equity research, or hedge funds.

How to Use the CFA Program to Break into Finance

As I said before, the CFA program is not your Golden Ticket to the Finance Factory. It can get you past the main gate, but you are going to need a lot more if you want to be invited in to see how the chocolate, er, money is made.

The way to use your CFA candidacy status is through networking. Join your local CFA society as a candidate member and start attending the networking events.

This is the most underused opportunity that can vault you past 99% of the other candidates looking to break into finance. Most candidates think passing the CFA exams is the only part that matters and that listing it on their résumé guarantees them a job. This is simply not the case.

The opportunity to network with other CFA charterholders, who are almost all in the investment management business, is a priceless opportunity to get your face in front of the people who matter: the people who make hiring decisions.

Showing up at these events also demonstrates your passion for investing, which I consistently emphasize as a prerequisite for breaking into finance.

Key Takeaways

Now that you know everything about the CFA program that you were afraid to ask, it’s time to boil the lesson down to just one sentence:

Take the exams AND attend CFA society networking events.

Most candidates get the first part right, but very few get the second part right. Do the second part and you will put yourself far above the competition.

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Alpha

1600 words, nice! You`re gonna make me feel so guilty when I land a job off these articles that I`ll have to cut you in on some comm!

Could you maybe explain where an equity/market strategist fits into the picture(b-s/s-s etc),how you get there and what ammo (Salary) you could expect please?

Enjoyed reading this as always,keep em coming! Thanks

Reply

LBS - Mike

Equity/market strategists tend to be more common on the sell side. Portfolio managers on the buy side usually act as a de facto strategist simply by their role (most of us use sell side strategist work a lot). To break in, follow the path for sell side equity research, but target the strategy groups.

http://www.lifeonthebuyside.com/life-on-the-sell-side-equity-research/

http://www.lifeonthebuyside.com/life-on-the-sell-side-equity-research-part-2/

Reply

Dave

I’ve spent 2 years in Big 4 Transaction Advisory and need your advice. Long term goal was always to eventually be a PM at a Hedge Fund vehicle without getting an MBA. Now, I received an offer to be a research associate at a $10+ Billion investment manager, – it is a 4-5 star rated mutual fund platform, long-only. The catch is that it is about 1 hour 30 minutes minutes by car each way from my house- I would be receiving the same salary, and my wife isn’t really inclined to move now. I wanted to get your insight on the role from a relative standpoint, meaning is it an opportunity worth accepting and dealing with the commute for a few years? Will this open up my path in the buy-side from a long term perspective and allow me to move to hedge funds etc? . I want to make sure I’m not disillusioned with the word “buyside” and that going to a mutual fund as an equity research associate isn’t actually detrimental to my long-term path.

Reply

LBS - Mike

Doing equity research at a big fund manager is nearly the same job as being an analyst at a hedge fund. The job is an ideal career transition to the buy side.

The only question is the commute. 3 hours in a car every day is a lot. If you have similar options closer to you, then I’d explore those.

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Dave

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the response. Assuming no other options now – is it fair to assume the way the market is there may be no other opportunities to switch from BIG 4 Valuation to research/investing within the next 2 years?

Since I’m 2 years out of school, I am afraid that if I don’t find anything within the next 2-3 years, it would be a stretch to make the transition from Big 4 to Finance banking or ER.

If it’s a good enough opportunity I would do the drive knowing there’s nothing else out there, and it would put me on the path…thoughts?

Reply

LBS - Mike

I wouldn’t go so far to say there will be no opportunities, but I don’t think we are going back to the Wall Street hiring boom days anytime soon. And you are corrct to say it’s harder to transition out of Big 4 the longer you go (without going back for your MBA, at least).

I think the Socratic method is pointing you in only one direction now …

Reply

So Ken YOU

I am an Engineer in Toronto, Canada. I am 31 pushing 32 next April….getting old. If I want to switch careers and move into Finance before 35, is that doable by passing all 3 levels of CFA? Finance above meaning Asset Management, Equity Research and Hedge Funds…. not the VC, PE and Banking Analysts… Will couple an MBA from a tier-2 University to the passing the 3 levels of CFA help???
Just want to get into the game/club. Please advise.

What are my chances on landing a career (job to start with) in Asset Mgmt, Equity Research, Hedge Fund jobs in Toronto, Canada or will my chances be better in the US??? My fiancee is a US Citizen but it only helps but still a long way to go if I want to go work in NYC and fiancee will be wife in future but spousal sponsorship won’t gurantee anything…

PLEASE ADVISE on what you meant by:
“The bad news is that there is a lot more you need to do than just passing the exams”. What’s the ‘lot more’ here besides passing exams and networking????
Thanks.
&
“The CFA program really can help you break into finance, but you need to know the proper path to take”. Again the proper path is pass the exams and network like crazy – joining those CFA Society events????

Thanks a lot.

Reply

LBS - Mike

Given your age and experience, the combo MBA/CFA route is probably best since you will have a harder time convincing people that you are serious about career switching otherwise.

Reply

smokinmike

What is your engineering background? If you’re in chemical/mineral engineering, that might give you an edge for sell-side ER. Switching careers is by no means easy, especially if you’re already in your 30′s and don’t have a CFA/MBA (or both) and it sounds like you haven’t been networking either.

Another thing to consider is that you’re in Toronto – the highest CFA charterholder per capita base in the world behind NYC (and you mention going to the US – hope that didn’t mean NYC).

Don’t mean to be a Gloomy Gus, but I have done the MBA/CFA thing and while it’s possible to career-switch, it was difficult. Networking events, keeping in touch, coffees, lunches, studying, etc. Graduated in the financial crash of 2008, spent a year and a half unemployed, interviewed several of times and finally landed a job (through someone I just met for coffee who passed my resume on to someone he knew that was looking for an Associate). After almost 2.5 years of grunt work and long days, just signed an offer for a buy-side PM role. And what was the defining factor amidst a sea of CFA charterholders and MBA graduates? My computer background – the ability to code and my Excel skills.

What did I learn? Often, it all comes down to luck – despite the hard work.

Reply

So Ken YOU

Thanks Smokinmike, sorry I haven’t read this blog for a while so didn’t know you replied to my posting. I am attempting the CFA Level 1 this Dec so it’s 4 weeks away. I am not very confident but I will try my best. Also, it’s not easy to network into CFA or finance jobs here in TO. Per your comments, it’s the most saturated CFA city in the world according to the numbers. I have tried to ask my friend who has recently switched to Finance from Engineering without a CFA BUT he was friends with the boss so things are different.

Any suggestions presumbly I will pass L1? Should I try again in June 2013? If I fail this time, will it have a negative impact on me right away?

Thanks

Reply

So Ken YOU

Thanks Mike.
Would you suggest pursuing the MBA and CFA at the same time or simultaneously and seek employment when I say pass CFA I or apply for MBA Co-op opportunities? My biggest challenge is I don’t know the possibilities of getting even an intern or part time work with any employer after I pass CFA I? I don’t want to get into a stage where I have CFA I or even II done but no opportunities. Please advise if you can. Thanks.

Reply

LBS - Mike

If you go to a top tier school, then you don’t need to do both at the same time. But if Harvard is out of your range, I would suggest one of the CFA partner schools where you complete both at the same time. http://www.cfainstitute.org/partners/university/Pages/cfa_program_university_partners.aspx

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So Ken YOU

Thanks Mike. Unfortunately, the school I have targetted to go is Wilfrid Laurier where they have an MBA/CFA program but they are not listed on the CFA partner schools list. Is that going to work? This is the only school in the Toronto Area (Canada) that I can afford to go and I think I can get in with my GPA and GMAT (other application factors) so this is almost the only option. Is there anywhere else or any other ways I can get work experience?????? THANKS

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Kris

Hi,

First of all thanks for all the buy side advice you have been passing to us.
I was wondering if you could give me a reality check on my plan below.
My situation:
Age: 33
Job history: 1. four years in finance (Japanese IB at Tokyo)
( Debt Capital markets execution, one year and
Before that a Fixed income quant three years at
same firm)
2. Telecommunication Engineer for 1.5 years ( well
known Japanese firm)

My goal is to break into investment management industry preferably at a fundamental focused (value oriented ) firm.

So, I am planning to apply to B school in US ( Chicago/NYU/Wharton) and maybe LBS, hoping that I it will help me to switch my career.
What are my chances of getting to business school at this age and to switch careers?

Thanks

Reply

LBS - Mike

I wouldn’t wait too much longer as you are starting to get close to the “too much experience” stage where switching careers is more difficult. Keep your options open to include sell side equity research jobs as well, since they offer good exit opportunities to the buy side.

Reply

Kris

Thank you for the response.
Just so that I understand you clearly, my paths/chances of getting to investment management are;

1) Sell side Equity analyst -> Buy side analyst -> portfolio manager
2) MBA ( and maybe CFA) -> Buy side analyst -> portfolio manager

In that order, with path one being most likely?
Is my understanding correct?

Reply

LBS - Mike

I was actually suggesting MBA/CFA -> Sell Side Associate -> Buy Side Analyst -> PM. The side side part is just an option if you find there aren’t many buy side jobs available when you get done with your MBA.

Reply

Kris

Hi Mike thanks a lot for your advice above. Since receiving them, I have actually entered a Masters in Finance programme in London.
Now my next goal is to land an internship in equity research, ideally in a value investing firm (but these are testing times so not too hung up on this as a start) , while I am at business school. Now I was wondering if I should also spend money and time on CFA or instead start playing golf and networking as you have mentioned in another thread !
Seriously, I am not joking. Just trying to figure out the most efficient and sensible way to reach the goal of buy side analyst.
Any thoughts on this is much appreciated.
Also, in your opinion how relevant is CFA knowledge and charter for value investors and people who are interested in landing a job in value investing?

Reply

LBS - Mike

Network and use your alumni network. Also, Ben Graham is the father of value investing and helped start the CFA program, so the two are definitely relevant together.

Reply

Tyson

Thanks for the great website and the advice you’ve been giving us Mike.

I was wondering what advise you would give me to get into equity research/asset management. I am 28 and have a Physics BSc from an Ivy League in the US and a MSc in Engineering. I also have several months experience as a management consultant at a mid-tier firm, and many years as a scientist in very advanced electronics/semiconductors. I live in Singapore.

What route would you advise for me to get into equity research or asset management?
I don’t mind doing an internship or starting as a management associate but want to be sure I’m not missing any roles that would be more suitable as an entry point. I’m also not keen on spending 150K on a MBA at the moment.

Thanks.

Reply

LBS - Mike

You have a solid background, but the hard part will be convincing employers that you are truly passionate about investing. This is where either the CFA and/or an MBA comes into play since you are making a career switch.

Regadring the cost of the MBA, nobody can ever really afford an MBA. That’s where loans, grants, scholarships, etc. all come into play. The payback comes in the form of a much higher salary when you graduate.

Reply

Nikesh

Hi ,
I am 28 years old, i am an software engineer by profession working for financial services, though my current role has nothing to do with IB industry will my experience be considered for a CFA charter in case i manage to clear all 3 levels.
In case i take up an IT (Information Technology) role in an investment bank and complete 4 years from now,will that be considered as relavant experience?

Reply

LBS - Mike

An IT role is not likely not to qualify as CFA work experience. It’s not where you work, but rather what you do that matters for the CFA work requirements.

Here is the link to the reqs:

http://www.cfainstitute.org/about/membership/process/Pages/work_experience.aspx

Reply

Nikesh

Thank you very much for your advice…

Reply

sana

hey..I have done b.com and i wanna start my cfa!!!I have no information about it…can anyone tellme where this degree belongs to and what is the fee structure????

Reply

LBS - Mike
Raj

Hi,

I am software engineer, trying to break into finance meaning into trading, asset management stuff. I have been trading for about 3 yrs and have lot of interest in capital markets.
I am based in india, where there aren’t really too many opportunies, Considering this is it a good thing to move to US considering i the job i am looking for.
If i land up in US, a engineering degree with CFA ( have cleared L1 ).. will that be sufficient to get such a job.. or is MBA too a must?

Reply

Kenny

Are courses facilitated by ‘Breaking into wall street’ and ‘Investment banking institute’ actually useful??? Sounds too good to be true! I mean even people with finance background, CFAs and years of experience may not a get a job and just taking the above courses I can get in???? I just want to know more if this is a way to get into investment banking, IPOs, PEs, equity reserach, capital markets and etc quicker as age is working against me and I am 32 already. I am doing an MBA later this year but Oy…. it will be years….

Reply

LBS - Mike

Copy this article into Word and replace “CFA” with “financial modeling courses.” There is no golden ticket, just a lot of things that can help.

I am an affiliate of BIWS and highly recommend their courses. You can check them out here:

http://www.lifeonthebuyside.com/breaking-into-wall-street

I don’t know anything about “Investment Banking Institute,” so I can’t comment on their quality.

Reply

Masters

Great website Mike. I’ve read almost all the articles and I can’t thank you enough for all the advice.
Yes, I was one of the many who expected to break into finance right after passing CFA L1. I’ve got a consulting background though, and I do know how to network, but it still isn’t enough. I’ve decided to do a Masters in Finance course at a top university in Europe and have received offers from the top four on the 2011 FT list for pre-experience masters (http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/masters-in-finance-pre-experience-2011).
My aim is to break into HF/AM/ER after the program and I was hoping you could answer a few related questions.
1) Of the four, which program do you think is best suited for my goals.
2) Is aiming for HF right out of the program feasible?
3) Do US firms higher out of these programs?
I would appreciate your advice.
Thanks

Reply

Danny

Hello, I am 24 years old and I finished my undergraduate education in Business Administration specializing in finance. I am thinking about my future plans and the CFA came to mind. I work in a big bank as a mortgage underwriter but I wonder if it will count towards my 4 year relevant experience in the financial industry that is required to get the charter. I am also contemplating MBA but since my grades were not that great in college (above 3 but below 3.5) and I attended a tech school, I would think my options for getting into a top 10 business school is limited. My school offers a MSF program which is ranked top 5 in the nation by FT but I am not sure if this is the right path to take. Future goal – Call me greedy but I would love to earn a lot of money in the future and I want to make sure that I take the right steps now as I goofed up in my undergrad. I would love to hear what you have to say.

Reply

smokinmike

Mortgage Underwriter experience does not count for CFA experience.

Your grades and underwriting experience will not be good enough to get into a top-tier school in Canada or the US. If you score in the 99th percentile on the GMAT and have stellar life/volunteering experiences, they may take a look at your application, but don’t get your hopes up.

Unfortunately, making good money will be that much harder for you. You’ll have to bust your a** more than your peers to get in front of the people you need to. That means a lot of networking and a lot of reading – current events, news, stocks, financial statements, macroeconomic issues, geopolitical issues. Coding and Excel knowledge would be a great asset too.

Reply

Himanshu

Hi,

I have been working in Business Operations consulting (telecom) for last 7 years post MBA. Been part of IBM, Two Big 4s and would like to switch career from telecom operations consulting to finance consulting. Do you think doing CFA will help. Else would be obliged if u can guide as to which course iwll work best for me considering my age and experience. I am at manager level.

Thanks in advance
Himanshu
India

Reply

Kunal

I have just given my CFA Level 3 exam, i am working in a commercial bank in Dubai, in the corporate sales team on the FX desk. And i am interested to get into a asset management/fund house type of firm where i can actually use the knowledge i have gained while doing this great program. Unfortunately, there’s not much fund management in Dubai and after using all my networking skills and being unsuccessful, i have started contemplating the idea of moving to another city (Maybe Singapore/Hong Kong), basically anywhere i can do what i am really really interested in. Appreciate if you guys have some good advice for me

Reply

MM

Hello Mike,

Thanks for the article and great insights into the finance world. I’m a little confused and was wondering if you could help. I graduate with a BSc in Business Administration with a major in finance and minor in management. I worked in a big bank as a credit analyst for two and a half years and moved to Boston to pursue an MBA with a concentration in finance. I opted for part-time so I can get more experience. Luckily, I landed a job with another big bank as a portfolio monitoring analyst in their commercial bank and my job is, primarily, to help manage a portfolio of business banking clients.
I really want to break into either Investment Banking, Asset Management (eg. fixed income, equity, etc). I started my MBA in fall 2010 and will be done May 2013. How can I get into this finance or investment arena considering my background? I’m considering taking the CFA in December 2012 and will work extremely hard to pass because I want firms to give me a chance based on my education and passing the CFA Level I assuming I’m fortunate enough to pass. The CFA has become the gold standard and may be the best chance for me. I also have a lot of student loans to pay back which I must start paying one month after graduation. Under my current salary, there’s no way I can afford to make payments on those student loans and don’t want to ruin my credit history. I want to take it in December 2012 so that perhaps, I can leverage that to get me into my next job and keep working on it. Or would you recommend that I pursue the CFA after graduation?

I’m just confused. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

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Zorro

Hello Mike

I am ACCA qualified accountant with 9 years of experience in accountancy but I would like to pursue a career in investment management, the reason I embark on the CFA Program. I plan to immigrate to Montreal, Canada next year. I would like to know what are the other things I need to undertake to have a sound career in asset management or finance there besides obtaining my CFA Charter designation.

Will the Canadian Securities Course upgrade my chance of landing a job? Do you know any other qualifications or courses that I need to do to boost my job prospects?

Thanks very much in advance for considering my concern.

Reply

Rahul Kharya

Hello Mike,

First of all….Great Article. I am a software engineer having 3 years experience in I.T. Now I am planning for CFA (Level 1) in 2012 and MBA (Finance) in 2013 from U.S.
After that I want to go for Equity Research. Can you please tell me, how much the above package (CFA + MBA) be helpful to me in applying for Equity Research?
Apart from this what other fields can I apply after completing CFA + MBA (finance)

Thanks in advance….

Reply

Rishabh

Hi Mike,

Great insight into this course. I am a Chartered Accountant with 4 years exp at Big4 and have appeared for the L3 exams of CFA. I currently reside in India but plan to pursue a career in the financial services field in SIngapore, USA or Hongkong in order of preference. Could you advise on my chances in getting a good job at a reputed I banking company in either of these locations.

Thanks in advance

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Jaanvi

I am an acca affiliate and probably would be acca member by next year. I am cfa level 2 candidate and have completed my level 1.I work in a bank as a customer service represantive right now but am not satisfied with my job. What should i do to move my career to finance or get a more attractive job. I dont want to get highly paid job directly but would like to enter financial market as early as possible may be as an intern. Where should i apply and will my current work experience helpful for the better financial job in the future.
Thank you.

Reply

Smriti

Hey
since the post is quite old and i am new to this forum..i dont know if i will get a reply or not..but its kind of urgent.
I have complete eco (hons )..and the word finance attracts me..I dont know if its my passio or not..cfa is too expensive to check if my interest lies here…Advice >
oNE more thing..how good/bad is it to do cfa after masters ?

Reply

LBS - Mike

If you don’t know if it is a passion or not, I would say it probably isn’t.

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John

Hi,

I was wondering what I can expect to make with an engineering undergraduate degree, a Masters in Statistics, and two levels of the CFA (I haven’t passed any level yet). Your responses are very much appreciated. Thank you.

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Inge

Dear Mike,

I am currently 23 year old chemical engineer working for a gold mining company in South Africa. This year is my first year working full time after completeing my engineering degree. It hasnt taken me long to realize that plant life or any other hardcore industrial hands on job is not what i want to do for the rest of my life. The engineering degree was a great intellectual challange and now I find myself faced with daily production work which is down right boring. To make matters worse i would probably have to wait for someone to pass away before the oppertunity for promotion will arise.

So something needs to be done. I have always been interested in economics and accounting, having taken both of these courses for my high school diploma (matric) scoring well above 80% for both.I have done extensive reaserch into the body of knowlegde required for the CFA and find it very interesting and challenging. I am considering doing the CFA part time while i work for the mining company. I do however have some concerns and was hoping that you could advise me in these regards.

1) I have sold my soul to the devil. By this i mean that i am currently working back a bursary obligation. This means that i am tied into my current empolyer for the next three and a half years. In this time i will be gaining invaluable experiance, however in the world of engineering- not in finance. I intend to use this time to complete the CFA but i am very scared that i wont be able to make the career shift into the finance world seeing as i will have very little finace experiance. Will the CFA help me to not have to “start at the bottom” once i make the transition into the finance world?

2) my second question would be what would be an accurate expectation of my day to day challenegs once qualified with both an engineering degree and a CFA (I know that this will be highly dependent on the nature of employment but seeing as my exposure in the finance world is very limited, i was hoping that you could maybe just map out two or three possibilities)

your assistence will be greatly appreciated

Thank you

Reply

LBS - Mike

If you have another 3.5 years to go, I would consider an MBA for a career switch. Business schools like engineers.

Reply

Bakare Joshua Adeolu

Hi Mike,
I am a civil engineering graduate of a reputable university in Nigeria with some experience in construction and I will soon become 25yrs old. I found out that I am not really interested in Civil engineering anymore even though I graduated with a good result. I want to pursue a career in finance (I hope its not late) specifically asset management and investment banking, I have registered to take the foundation exam for ICAN (institute of Chatered Accountants of Nigeria) this November. I also have plans for ACCA and eventually become a CFA….Please Mike I want to know if this dream is possible and I need you to advise me on how you think I can go about it.

Thanks

Reply

Rohan

Hi Mike,

Interesting read this blog, thanks.

I am a 25 year old commerce graduate, Chartered Accountant, Company Secretary & CFA (Level 3 cleared) individual working as an IB Analyst at a Swiss bank. I am confused regarding my career since I do not feel very keen on investment banking as long term career choice.

Please share your thoughts.

Thanks

Reply

Emma Tameside

I don’t think this article could be any better for me. I recently applied for a CFA in hopes of moving into the financial sector. I trust that it’s going to be difficult, but articles like these really give me some confidence that I can achieve.

Is there any other advice you would be able to offer me? I really want to get into banking, that would without a doubt be my end goal.

Reply

robin

hey mike
i’m 22 and a final year student of ece engineering in india . i have got a job (through campus placement) as a business operations associate in a US based consultancy . i would be joining it in july 2013 . originally i had plans for mba after 2 years but now being acquainted wid cfa , i’m thinking about going for level 1 exam in 2013 . should i go for it ??please advice

Reply

Topsy

Hello Mike,
I just got my Canadian permanent residence visa and I am wondering about getting an investment banking related job when I land in Canada. I am relocating from Africa with an MBA from a top school in UK. I have 10 years experience in FX, Fixed Income and Money Market trading across Africa and current 33 years old. Also, I am writing the CFAL1 exam this December.
As you advised, I have been networking with contacts in Canada already and I plan to write the CSC exam in March when I land.
Please advise.

Reply

tayo

hey, i registered for the the cfa exams again sometime to be honest i just need that push , kind of feeling down on how best to pass this time around

Reply

Adam

Tayo—
I sat for Level I, three times, passing on the third try. I did no outside coursework other than the CFA curriculum. I passed II and III on my first attempts, using an outside study course. a lot of money, but well spent (I think..no job currently). if you dont want to spend money for level I; investopedia has a huge question bank….spend two hours a day, everyday taking questions, over and over and over and over….and it will work.
good luck!
Adam

Reply

tayo

thanks man facing the curiculum squarely its been a dream i have had since 16 , iwould dedicate two hours to taking the exams , dont know if you have any of your practice questions on soft copy

Reply

adam

….investopedia.com….thousands of questions with explainations….old tests are out there, but only give you a few q’s per topic….you need to take 2000 practice questions and read the explanations and it becomes likely to pass.

Reply

Adam

Nice article, very accurate in that not pursuing and advanced education can hinder you, but achieving MBA/CFA is no guarantee. I have earned my MBA, passed level 3, and am about 9 months short on experience to receive the Charter. I left a large broker dealer 2 years ago (after 3 years in retail sales), tried trading for a short time and now have been looking very seriously for several months and have come up empty. 50 online apps, for jobs that ‘prefer MBA’ or would like someone pursuing the CFA….only 1 callback. networking has been slightly better, with 2 interviews. The issue seems to be I lack the ’10+ years experience’ these PWM and trust companies are looking for. There doesnt seem to be any middle, or ‘jr’ positions.
I am considering going independent with an RIA, but will make no money for years (selling is not my forte) but I think I can accrue experience to recive the charter and appoint myself as PM…..what are your thoughts?

thanks
Adam

Reply

Levon

Hello Mike,

Very interesting and beneficial article.
I am currently a level 2 candidate (27 years old) and have an MBA in finance.
However, I have no experience in the financial sector. I am currently the financial director of a jewellery factory in Beirut, Lebanon.
I eagerly want to enter into the financial sector (financial & capital markets, research, investment banking) but there are little opportunities here. I am a European citizen at the same time.
What advice can you give me?
Thank you in advance and I appreciate your advice.

Reply

PropGrad

Hey Mike

I know you get quite a few posts, so i’ll make it quick. I’m a 22 year old South African hoping to work in commercial real estate finance at one of the large banks. Is the CFA going to be beneficial if i’m looking to get into the IB sector of one of the specialized private banks in SA?

Regards

PropGrad

Reply

anu

Hi Mike,

I am an Indian working in London in IT field for 4 years. I am looking for a career change into Finance(Investment banking) and have registered for CFA level 1 exam in 2013. But I am worried whether this will help me land a job in Finance considering the lack of experience in Finance domain. So I was thinking I should go for an MBA/Masters in Finance from a good UK university. Please advice if this will help and if so, what course will be better(MBA/MiF)?

Thanks
Anu

Reply

Philip

Hi Mike,

I’d be interested in your opinion. I am a 30 year old working in Group Treasury for a large Australian mining/engineering group (ASX 100 company). My role involves analysis on derivative and debt intruments but is primarily centered around debt market deal execution. I worked for three years in New York in commercial real estate brokerage and three years in Dubai/Abu Dhabi in a mix of real estate and treasury roles. I have just passed the level one exam and will likely move back to New York following the level two exam.

I really want to move into the fixed-income or equity buy-side space but realise I have very little directly relevant experience. Does my background, interesting but not directly relevant, help me sell my story? I really don’t want to have to get an MBA!

Reply

shobi

Hi Mike,
Thanks for such a interesting and valuable article for all of us I have one question or confusion would like you to help me I am 27 years old with 4 years post MBA experience in Corporate/Investment banking at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, now I am cosidering to accelerate my qualification in finance and keeping in view my previous experience and my interest is it good for me to take CFA?? Or please advice me any qualification that will add edge in my banking career.
Thanks Shobi

Reply

Bako

Hello Mike!
Thanks a bunch for this valuable article and comments. I’m confident that you are the right person to advise me. My goal is to get some experience in the hedge fund industry prior to opening my own hedge fund. Here’s my story. I’m 32 with a BS in Computer Engineering and Math, an MS in Statistics (took all PhD level course but 1 – which I took when I started working) and have been working in medical research for almost 5 years with focus on Time Series Analysis. I’m in the process of applying to a top 50 MBA program because it will be free of charge since the school is affiliated with my workplace and there is a well-known professor there who specializes on portfolio management. Beside, I’ve never payed for school and do not intend to break that rule. I have 7.5 years of experience in the field of network marketing (5.5 with a product oriented company and over 2 yrs with a service-oriented one) where I project to draw some of my clients from (I’ve already made lots of connections in the field). My current residual income is not far from the $20k/month mark and I have made some serious investment in the gold industry in the part of Africa I’m from. My goal has always been to study finance and run my own firm and that goal hasn’t change even tough I took different routes. I’m sitting for the level 1 CFA this December, level 2 next year, and level 3 the following year. I will actually be taking a course in Financial Management and another in Financial Accounting this summer, both of which will count towards my MBA. I would love to send you the curriculum of my program so you guide me as to which courses to take first. I married with 1 kid and another due in early summer. Your advise will be greatly appreciated.

Reply

Yasir

Hey Mikey!!

I am a permanent resident of US residing in Dubai, UAE. Have got 11 years of experience in corporate/ investment banking. Most of my prior work experience is related to credit risk analyst and relationship management outside US.

Now I am interested to relocate to US and want to persue my career there in banking or portfolio management. I am CFA Level 2 candidate for June ’13 as well. What would you suggest with regard to my move to US. How can I brighten my chance to get a good job there.

Regards.

Reply

Mike

You guys keep asking your individual situations to the guy, who is obviously very busy, while many of the questions have the same or similar answers above. If you network, you will get a sense for how everyone found their path, and ultimately you will find your own path as well. Study hard and go after the CFA or any credentials you want/can get, if that’s what you want to do of course. The rest will come as long as you network and explore for opportunities to advance.

Reply

Daniel

Hello my name is Dani and i am from spain. This year i finish my degree in business administration. I am thinking to do a master in maths of financial instruments and prepare cfa level 1 in december and cfa level 2 in june.

Do you think that is a good idea? how can i get into a investment bank in the city of london for example?

thanks for your advices.

Reply

Shivika

Hi.I am working in a financial service company from a week. Do you think CFA will be helpful for my job profile ? What does the subjects in CFA deals with basically? Is it any help in learning stock trading and stock analyzing ? I’m an average student so do you think CFA certification is still achievable for avg peoples ? I mean all the levels …? Is it tough or they just need serious 3-4 hrs study and thats all ? I’ll be waiting for your reply Impatiently! And thanks for the blog! Its a great help.

Reply

Ken

Hi, I’m currenty working for a London based Private Equity firm as a fund accountant doing largely a back office role. I’ve been qualified for almost two years and salary is close to GBP 60k after bonus.

Am I likely to have to take a drop in salary if i choose to deviate from my current career path, and embark on the CFA? Will the CFA simply be a complimentary qualification along with my accountancy one? Something to bare in mind, I will be 30 this year.

What sort of role can I get into without taking a big hit to my current salary. I am happy to take a small hit, so long as I am more than likely to recoup this later on. I appreciate no one can tell the future. I just need to know whether I should do the CFA or not given my current position.

Your comments and wisdom are much appreciated.

K

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Matt

Mike:

I am in my mid 30′s with over 10 yrs experience of selling capital equipment in the medical industry. I have an MBA and undergraduate degree that focused on finance.

I wanted to hear your opinion if I could get back into the finance industry in a sales capacity at this point? Should I get my CFA?

Thanks for your opinion.

Matt

Reply

LBS - Mike

You don’t need the CFA for sales. In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to get the designation because of the work requirement. You should be able to transitions to sales in finance as those guys (and gals) have very varied backgrounds. It’s just a matter of networking with the right people, so start talking to some recruiters.

Reply

Recent Graduate

Hi Mike,

I recently graduated with an economics degree, with BB IBD internship experience. For personal reasons I turned the offer down. I’m now considering a career as a research analyst, but I have no experience in personal investing. Would signing up for the CFA Level 1 (and passing it, of course) be a good thing to do to get a foot in the door (at small investment firms say), i.e. is the CFA a good substitute for no investment experience? I’m based in Asia.

Thanks.

Reply

Hayes Chan

Hi Mike,

I have completed CFA L1 in December 2012 but marginally fail in recent L2 (brand 10). I am doing as a retail broker for 5 years. Following USA, it becomes a sunset career in Hong Kong due to fierce competition from online banking, discount brokerages and even private banking. However, I am still passionate in investment industry and want to start from a junior post in Buy Side or Sell Side Equity Research.
Just taking your advice, I sharpened my financial modeling skill set during waiting for the result. I am confident in my accounting foundation and believe to decode footnotes well. I know nobody takes it serious for L1 only but it is frustrated being rejected for an interview chance for all research associate post that required minimum 1 year research experience many times. No one count my trading experience as formal investment experience either.
I don’t mind retaking L2 next year and confident to pass next time. What I am worrying is that I will face the same situation next year being rejected in the door. The entry level posts here seem only open to graduate program.
What would you like to suggest me? So down on that…………

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Peter W

Great article! Just curious to know as you mentioned that CFA is NOT the token to Finance Factory, it’s just to get us past the main gate and it probably shows that the person has the drive and willingness to get in, so the real token is ‘networking’? but I mean nothing is certain from networking and it can be a shoot in the dark quite often. I haven’t never attended a CFA event, but I would imagine it will be packed with people having the same thing in mind: “Oh, is the Hiring Manager of such and such investment firm here?” and “Hi my name is Joe Blow and I want to know what do you expect when hiring an Analyst?”

I am just thinking the chances are slim if not worse. With a pass of the CFA, will it at least show that you have the ability to do something or am I completely wrong? Is there anything else that you would suggest one should do to increase the chances of getting our feet in the door? To the finance factory?

Thanks
P

Reply

Mandarr

hey mike,
first of all nice article…
I am Mandarr, 20 yrs-age
i have completed my BMS this year nd i am planning to do CFA level 1 on june 2014..
as u said 4 years work experience is required
what job profile should i look for which will match match with CFA studies and help me even in future?

can i work as a mutual fund broker on free lancing basis nd will this be relevant and count as work ex?

and pls if u can suggest me anything extra …

Reply

AJ

It is not “more a myth than reality” that people pass on 2 weeks of study. I’m a charterholder and never studied more than that for any exam, including level 2 where I began 9 days out. I know a couple other people who studied even less than myself, so definitely not a myth. If you’re a typical finance/IB type maybe it’s hard, but if you’re actually good at math and have worked in finance it’s really child’s play compared to things like the Putnam Exam or graduate-school coursework.

Reply

SSAFS

Hi Mike,
I am 22 years old and I just completed my undergraduate degree and currently interning at an agency for stocks in Kenya. Not to brag or anything but I am good with figures. Heard so many comments from people to do and MBA other to do a CFA. After looking at what the programs entail, I feel like i should do a CFA but at the same time I fear backing out from the way many people have discouraged me not to do it as its a waste of time.
And if i have to do the CFA does research analyst or equity sales and trading at a stock brokerage qualify for the 4 year experience? If not what job should I look for??
Please advice.
Thanks

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Thomas

hi all. I am seeking some general career advice. I am 22 years old with a BS in biomedical engineering from a top 25 university. I interned as a financial analyst at GE real estate and was offered a position at a REIT (10B+)upon graduation from university. I worked there as an acquisitions analyst on the buy side deal team for 6 months and am now in the portfolio management team as an analyst. I will be taking the cfa level one on June and will be seeking to move to a more finance heavy firm as opposed to real estate finance. I am hoping for equity research for REITs or biotech. I eventually would love to work for a hedge fund or asset manager. will a cfa help me reach these goals ? would I be competitive in the next step of my career after level one cfa or level two? please advice

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Alek

Hey Mike,

Recent grad in Economics currently working 7 months in as a Management Analyst for City Government, LA. Currently switching to a government position as an economist soon.

I’m trying to break into Equity Research, Buy Side (would take anything to be honest) as that’s my passion.

My GPA was not stellar (3.2), and I don’t come from a top-tier undergrad school.

I’ve been considering taking the CFA exam, but I’m wondering if the effort is worth it at this point or if I should try to do other things that might help me break into a top MBA program in 3 years (Like starting a small business, writing a book, getting involved in politics, etc).

What are your thoughts? If I get into a top MBA school I’d also be networking to get into IB, so i could have good exit opportunities.

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Alek

Also wondering if my free time, currently, wouldn’t be better off by taking courses in Excel and/or coding.

Reply

SHABAZ

SSAFS
Hi Mike,
I am 22 years old and I just completed my undergraduate degree and currently interning at an agency for stocks in Kenya. Not to brag or anything but I am good with figures. Heard so many comments from people to do and MBA other to do a CFA. After looking at what the programs entail, I feel like i should do a CFA but at the same time I fear backing out from the way many people have discouraged me not to do it as its a waste of time.
And if i have to do the CFA does research analyst or equity sales and trading at a stock brokerage qualify for the 4 year experience? If not what job should I look for??
Please advice.
Thanks

Reply

Tony Tabet

Hi Mike,

Am an engineer and work for a multinational conglomerate for 6 years now.
Got my MBA in dec’12 from one of the top 10 business schools by FT.
Can’t seem to land a new job in finance as I’m looking to make a career change, targeting asset/portfolio management…which roles should I target first to ultimately transition to portfolio mgmt in the next 3-5 years.

Thanks,
Tony

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Mihran

Hello all,

I’ve just stumbled on this article, and I have some things which I hope could be clarified.
I am a 26 years old mechanical engineer. Recently, I’ve become seriously interested in changing careers to investment research and portfolio management. I am looking to find a job in firms with value investing mindset and 5+ investing horizon. Eventually, I want to start my own firm.
Do you think that I will be able to pursue this career path if I obtained the CFA within the next 2 years?

Reply

Shun

Hello,

I am thirty nine years old with a bachelor’s degree in political science and no finance background. If I pass all three levels, do you think I would have a chance?

Any thoughts or comments are welcome.

Reply

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