How the CFA Program Shaped my Career
According to family lore, I was reading at age 2. I don't ever remember not reading, so I assume it to be true. This early interest in reading blossomed into an interest in creative writing, which was the discipline I pursued as an undergraduate.
My father was an excellent salesperson and an entrepreneur. He instilled an interest in business and particularly in the power of compounding at a young age. I developed an interest in the stock market and paid for my first car using the proceeds of a successful trade in LA Gear. Due to his influence I found many ways to earn money in sales throughout my early life. My last job that was defined as a sales job (all jobs are sales jobs to some extent) was an unhappy 3-year experience as the sales manager of a recreational products store. It was then that I decided to pursue an MBA.
While in the MBA program I met an equity analyst, and read some of her reports. When I realized that there was a job that involved writing about stocks, uniting two of my passions, I was sold. My accounting professor, Tom Robinson, learned of my interest and suggested that I pursue the CFA designation.
An article in the Economist once said "Whereas there are tens of thousands of finance degrees available around the world, ranging from the excellent to the worthless, there is only one CFA." My own MBA degree, from the University of Miami, was somewhere in the middle. Because Wall Street only tends to recruit from the "excellent" side, I had my work cut out for me. My plan was to try to make sure my resume landed on the desk of the right person at the right time by making sure it was on everyone's desk all the time. I was able to get equity research reports from the major firms, and they often included the names and phone numbers of the firm's analysts (many of whom, I noticed, held the CFA designation.) I mailed, I called, I repeated.
I garnered a dozen or so interviews over several months of this practice, and landed a part-time job with a local investment manager. Finally, in an interview with the Director of Research at a regional brokerage firm in Boca Raton, Florida, I was told "I have to hire you cause there's no more room in my waste basket for your resumes," and landed a full-time equity research job. I pursued the CFA while in this role, and passed Level III just before the firm was acquired and I ended up back in the job market.
I had decided that I wanted to move over to the buy side, and decided to pursue roughly the same strategy I had used to get the original position. This time, though, I had access to the CFA Institute job line and member directory. My barrage of resumes could be targeted much more carefully. One of them landed with the Director of Research for the State of New Jersey Division of Investment, one of the largest pension funds to manage equities in house. The pay was civil servant level, but the experience was outstanding. Within three years I was effectively the sector fund manager for about $5 billion worth of equities, primarily in the telecommunications sector.
I parlayed that experience into a better-paying job with a New York-based investment manager, and at the same time received a call from Tom Robinson. He was involved in writing questions for the CFA exam, and the organization was looking for more writers. Knowing of my background, he suggested me and I accepted. I enjoyed working with the writing teams, who represented a diverse range of experiences and cultures but shared a common objective to ensure the high quality of the exams. Three years later (notice a pattern?) I was let go from the investment firm.
For the next three years (the pattern continued) I worked as a freelance writer and consultant to various organizations, including CFA Institute. I was approached several times to apply for employment with CFA Institute, but was not sure I wanted to do the work year-round. Ultimately, as I did more and more consulting I decided that I probably could. With the added incentive of the financial crisis reducing my other employment options, I finally accepted.
It has now been 9 years. The pattern was broken. I still enjoy working with the writing teams for the same reason I enjoyed being on them.
Obviously this is a very personal experience, and I am sure the other 140,000 or so CFA Institute members and 250,000 current candidates all have different ones. What is yours?