Career Development: Levelling up with the right qualification and experience

An important piece of advice that I received when I started working as a new graduate was about how I needed to continue investing in my personal development if I wanted to be successful in my career. One manager at my first firm went as far as telling me that he spent 10-20% of his income every year in his personal development during his early career. In my case, I didn’t have a fixed monetary amount but every year I made a conscious effort to have some additional personal development goal outside of work. Very often this was in the form of attaining a professional qualification. Before you continue reading, I want to make my view clear, I’m not professing that going out there and collecting degrees and letters after your name is the winning tactic. Ultimately, your success at work will depend on how well you can do the job and communicate your contributions to key stakeholders. What I am saying is that especially in a very rapidly evolving job market like the one we are seeing today, failing to grow your skillsets might not just stop you from getting that promotion but might even be detrimental for your career and job stability as a wide range of jobs become obsolete due to the development of new technologies.

My Experience, How I Drifted into a Financial Role
I started with a generic business and language degree at university not having a clue what career path I wanted to embark on. I was very lucky in my third year of university in finding I had an interest in the field of Finance. I looked up what qualifications I would need to get into the field and came across the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Qualification. Unlike examinations for being a doctor, lawyer or accountant, etc., the CFA examinations are not a requirement for working in the financial sector; however the programme is well respected by firms in the financial sector so thousands of candidates globally take these exams every year in the hope that obtaining the charter will improve their career prospects. In my case, I decided to sit level I of the CFA programme during my last year of university since I wanted to work in the field of Finance but had zero experience from internships and my knowledge from university courses was just limited to Finance 101. This investment paid off for me as I was offered a graduate job by a Financial Newspaper. It wasn’t an offer from a world known investment bank, hedge fund or asset manager but it helped me get my foot in the door and it allowed me to slowly build my knowledge of the industry. After having been hired, I was told by my employer that my dedication in studying for the CFA exam and enthusiasm for the job and my language skills were the three factors that stood out compared to other candidates.

During the early years of my career, I continued studying for the CFA programme and sat and completed all three levels over a four year period. I also came to the conclusion that I needed a master in finance to be able to compete in such a fierce industry so I completed a part-time masters in Finance. Both the masters and the CFA charter turned out to be very good investments for me as they helped me to level up in my career. Both the brand value of my masters and qualifications were able to get me some interviews that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten and helped me gradually step up in my career.

How do Qualifications Affect my Salary?
Very often I am asked if attaining any of the qualifications had an immediate direct impact on my salary but this is a question that I don’t like as it shows a short minded view towards what should be a longterm game plan. There are companies that provide some form of remuneration for employees passing certain qualifications but I argue that this way of thinking clouds professionals from seeing the bigger picture. The main goal should be for candidates/graduates to gain a more valuable set of skills and knowledge from completing these programmes, this in turn will allow them to contribute more at their workplace and will result them in becoming more valuable which will ultimately result in higher levels of remuneration in accordance to market rates. The point that I want to make is that simply having the qualification is meaningless if the knowledge from that qualification is not being put to good use at the workplace.

Technical vs Soft-skills
Is there a point of diminishing returns in adding qualifications to your resume? From personal experience I can say YES. Especially as I have been progressing through my career, I have been realising that technical skills do matter but so do your soft skills and ability to work within a team. As candidates aspire to move more into managerial roles, the ability to interact with colleagues becomes extremely important and I argue that these skills cannot be learned from simply taking and passing exams. They will never be a good replacement for experience.

In my posts my aim is to cover most of the qualifications that I took with the end goal of sharing informative views aimed at readers interested in studying for those exams. I hope you find the materials interesting and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch. Good luck with your studies and with your career.

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