As someone who got the CFA charter six years ago, I recall that when I was studying the curriculum, I came across a lot of advice on forums where discussions were centred around passing the exams but after passing my level III exam, I felt that I needed more guidance on reaping the rewards of my hard work. If you passed the level III exam, chances are that you studied over 1000 hours (this is a rough calculation based on the study hours that CFA Institute estimate). Having had six years of experience as a professional with this designation and having changed jobs a number of times, I would like to share some thoughts that I am hoping newly qualified charterholders might find helpful.
The CFA charter should be a means to achieve your goals but not the goal itself
Over 3+ years of studies, I have met so many candidates who end up losing sight of the big picture and see attaining the charter as their key career goal. This is a dangerous mindset and one that candidates should be wary of as ultimately a person’s success in his/her career will be judged by their ability in meeting their targets at work. I noticed that the candidates with the most successful career stories were the ones who were able to identify key areas of the curriculum which apply to their job to help them further develop their expertise. The CFA curriculum is so broad that I don’t think it’s realistic to be a specialist in all the subjects that it tests; in my case, I particularly enjoyed the area of financial derivatives and was able to take advantage of this in finding a job where this expertise could be put into practice. Unless you are already in your dream job or in a role that will allow you to naturally progress towards your dream job, my most important advice here is to find an area of the programme that you enjoyed studying and see how you can get into that type of role.
Should I get paid more now that I am a charterholder?
This is a question that I got asked a lot over the years and my answer has always been that it depends. I heard that certain companies have schemes for remunerating employees who attain this designation (or pass the exams) but I think that for most companies this will boil down to how the charter is perceived by your employer. At the end of the day, the CFA designation is not a legal requirement for any role unlike doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. A lot of the value comes from the employer’s faith that the candidate who went through the curriculum has gained the necessary skills that will allow him/her to excel at the particular role that the company is hiring for. This leads me to the second piece of advice, if you are looking to leverage your charter, find a company that respects it. This advice might sound obvious but I have come across a lot of candidates applying for roles at companies that do not care about the CFA programme. It’s inevitable that if your boss is a charterholder herself/himself, he/she will value more the hard work that you put in your learning. When you are interviewing for a new role, try to get a sense of how they perceive this designation, is it relevant to that role? Is the person interviewing you a charterholder himself/herself? This information should also help you when you are negotiating your salary.
Don’t stop learning
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a new charterholder is to stop expanding your knowledge. I can speak from personal experience that you tend to forget very quickly a lot of what you studied in the curriculum, especially the areas which are not used during your day to day job. Make sure to have a rest after clearing the level III exam. However, in order to remain competitive in today’s job market, it’s probably best to look for new challenges or stay up to date with the curriculum. You could also volunteer to join study groups and help new candidates prepare for their exam; by having to teach/explain you will get a lot of opportunities to retain your knowledge (and to help others).
Networking & People skills are on a par with your technical skills
I argue that networking is one of the most valuable assets of this charter. As of April 2021, there were at least 170,000 charterholders around the world. Chances are that people who passed the exams 5-10+ years ago, have benefitted as well and have attained very senior roles in their organisations. Don’t be scared of reaching out to them via platforms such as LinkedIn. When they see that you have also completed the CFA qualification, chances are that they will respect your hard work and should be more open to talking to you. CFA societies across the world will also organise numerous networking events so make sure to take advantage of those in building up and strengthening your network.