The CFA charter is a great career enhancer in the right industries and when utilized to it’s full potential. Although it is challenging to attain, if you are well prepared it is perfectly possible and will significantly boost your career.
However, don’t take it to the extreme. For example, questions by people considering the CFA charter can often start like this: “Hi, I’m so and so, and I’m currently in Industry X, with Y years job experience. Would the CFA get me a job in finance industry Z?”
No. CFA qualification does not equal to a job. Much as I’d like it to.
The CFA is NOT a magic bullet to get you your ‘dream job’. No qualification is. That’s the whole issue with this thought process – that having more qualifications somehow give you a magical boost in your job search and the offers will start flowing in.
Some qualifications are requirements – that is, you need it before you can apply for a job, just like you probably need a medical degree before you cut someone up on the surgical table. But it certainly does not mean that a job offer comes with the certificate. As far as I know the CFA charter is not a technical requirement for any job – however in many roles in finance it is increasingly common (and preferred) to the point of ubiquity.
That’s not to say that the CFA is not worth your time. The CFA charter is essentially a testament from the CFA Institute that you have a high level of investment, asset management and ethics knowledge. It is especially relevant in asset & investment management, private wealth, equity research, and sometimes investment banking. I essentially boosted my financial knowledge from newbie to pretty advanced in the space of 3 years, and the CFA exams provided a perfect template to make sure I knew my stuff. So it gives your CV an edge over the others in some cases, and will help your credentials and your work performance. If you’re looking to address these, I would absolutely recommend the CFA charter.
But the CFA charter alone is not going to radically change your job hunting results. Trying to get a job by beefing up qualifications is like trying to score at singles’ night by having the best damn suit there is. It gets you some initial attention and helps you stand out, but ultimately your personality and charm will have to follow through. No amount of wardrobe tweaking will compensate for that.
The most desired jobs will always be hotly contested. CFA designations are part of the CV arms race (together with Harvard degrees, MBAs and all the rest) and will make you stand out if no one else has them, but in the end networking and acing interviews can be more useful. They are soft skills that some of the more introverted tend to avoid unless absolutely necessary – hence the focus often shifts to getting more qualifications.
It’s true that obtaining a CFA charter or an MBA opens up new professional networks & more opportunities, but again your networking skills will be key – without them you’re still going to draw empty. Guess what? No one is going to go ‘oh, this candidate has a CFA/MBA/whatever, let’s just give him the job’.
A version of this article first appeared on 300 hours, a blog which covers CFA exams.