After finishing school, I ended up working in the back office of a big bank, with no clear idea of where I wanted to go or how I’d ever get there. I was working in the derivatives section on futures, stock options and otc trades learning a lot which was great. I was happy but I knew that it wasn’t exactly my dream job either. I wanted to work in a front office job, ideally as a trader or managing some type of portfolio. That in itself is somewhat specific. Over the years though, I found out that I didn’t just want any trading job. There were some jobs such as retail trading that I was hoping to skip in order to start trading derivatives in that same bank.
Yes, I got to know quite a few people and I did a very good job Unfortunately, that is not always enough and I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get that job. The problem wasn’t even getting the job but even getting an interview. As you know, it’s often about knowing the right people and in my case I did know a few key people. I did have another challenge though. I had been working in the back office and as good of a job as I was doing, proving that I was solid enough to work in the group wasn’t easy.
Over the time that I got experience in the back office, I was also able to do my 3 CFA exams and when I applied, adding those 3 letters to my resume ended up making a big difference. Why? First off, in almost any group, you will have a few who have passed the exam but also others who were unable to complete it. No matter what the reason, the fact that I had passed this exam that so many others had did and failed was proof enough that I deserved a shot. I know of a few others that had a similar background but didn’t get called for an interview. I would imagine that the CFA was a major factor.
In the end, I think that the CFA did not get my job. It did however get me an interview and an opportunity to prove myself which is exactly what I was hoping for. It would be hard for me to tell you how much I appreciate this every day while I head to work. Going to a job that I love, that stimulates me and that is well paid if a gift. I do think that I might have been able to land this job without passing the CFA exams but there is no doubt for me that it would have been a lot more unlikely.
So to me, it was a no-brainer and I’m grateful to have passed the exam. How about you? Do you think the CFA will help you land your dream job?
-to increase my salary
-to further my career, get a promotion, etc
Those two end up meaning the same thing when you think about it. No surprise I guess and I’d be the first one to admit that it was the case for me as well (and it ended up working, more on that soon!)
Last week, I came across a new survey done in Canada with CFA charterholders. The average compensation for title holders in 2011 ended up being $239,215, an 11% increase compared with 2010. Now you’d probably be right in saying that the average could be skewed if a few CFA charter holders are making millions. That makes sense. The median was actually $157,500! Still very decent right?
In case some of you live in Canada, here are the averages for CFA charterholders in a few big cities:
What are your thoughts? I certainly feel like those numbers are incredibly solid and it’d be difficult to find other titles (even the MBA) that would beat those numbers, don’t you think?
I’ve seen a few CFA candidates post their detailed studying plans on forums and blogs. I love the initiative. It makes them accountable, gives them structure, etc. That being said, there are a few things that I’ve seen and have to be critical about.
I’ve seen some candidates trying to study late at night and early in the morning several months before the exam, cutting out sleep out of their lives. There are many problems with such a method. First off, it’s important to keep in mind that your time spent studying the last few weeks is several times more effective than whatever you could learn now. Sure, it might make you feel better to spend 20-30 hours studying while working full time. But the problem is that very few people can remain effective for several months while sleeping 5-6 hours or even less. I know there are exceptions but I’d argue that most of us need a bit more.
It’s All About That Last Month
If oyu know that you will need to study extra hard in that final month, that it will be the determining factor in passing or failing the exam and that time spend studying then, especially in your last 2 weeks will be the critical part, then why in the world would you do something that will likely make you feel exhausted before even starting.
Personally, in all 3 levels, the last month before the exam was very intense, and I would say that there are very few months in my life where I’ve slept less. The only thing competing with that was the birth of my first kid:) So anyway, I personally tried to always prepare my CFA exams with one thing in mind.
“It’s All About That Last Month”
That means clearing my schedule and having an amazing plan for that last month is critical. But as important is starting the month feeling fresh both physically and mentally. It’s not possible (for me at least) to study at that level for 3-4 straight months.. So I focus on what I can do in those previous ones to make sure that I can be 100% effective.
What are your thoughts? Would you sacrifice sleep? If so, for how long and how much are able/willing to sacrifice?
The other day, I was looking around some CFA forums and stumbled upon a candidate that was exhausted after studying every day since June, trying to get ready for the December level 1 exam. That is insane.. I can’t blame her, I know that is exactly how many candidates do it. I would argue that it’s not the right way to go though. Sure, every person has its own method but I’d argue that my 12 week CFA studying plan ebook is a much better way to increase your chances of passing.
It’s Not About The NUMBER Of Hours
I don’t really understand why the CFA institute always talks about the number of hours that its candidates spend studying on average. I guess they want everyone to know just how difficult passing the exam really is. But let’s face it, that number is worthless!!!
The number of hours that you are able to spend in the first few months don’t help anywhere near to how studying hourrs can help in your crunch time. In fact, in some instances, those hours can end up hurting the candidate. How? I would say the main benefit of studying very early on is to get familiar with the material. The main drawback would be to get yourself exhausted before the actual important period starts. If you’re not 100% ready, focused and physically able to study in the month before the exam, you are setting yourself up for a disaster. You cannot ensure that you will pass the exam by studying months ahead, but you can ensure that you will fail.
Keep Yourself Rested And Interested
It’s not even only about keeping yourself rested. As important is keeping yourself interested. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE finance. I’m generally very interested in the exam’s material (could not say that about every section..cough ethics cough… but even I would get totally bored by the material if I ended up spending several months studying every single day. I always though it was key to get away, think about other stuff (anything but the CFA). It might just be me?
I wrote about this a bit but I think it’s very important to arrive at the exam with a good and positive attitude. It’s not just about knowing your material and showing up. Why does it matter? Because it’s one thing to do mock exams at home when you have nothing to lose and you know that you will get another chance the next day. It’s a whole other story when you are doing the actual exam and suddenly you start wondering about the possibility of fialing the exam, of telling your boss, etc. That is when it can get to your head and end up having an impact on your actual performance. That is exactly what you need to avoid at all costs.
Arrive At The Exam With The Right Attitude
What is the right attitude? I would say that you need to be:
How do you achieve this? Here are my top tips:
-If at all possible, spend your last day or a good part of it relaxing, going to bed early and doing some sports/exercise
-Get someone to call you to wake you up (you can do the same for someone else), it will reduce your anxiety about not waking up
-Get prepared as best as you possible can (ideally using our CFA studying strategy ebook!) – shameless plug I know:)
-Don’t think about all of the possibilities
-Do your best in each and every question (in the end, this is what it’s all about, being able to simply do your best on each question)
-Start the exam with sections that will give you confidence
-Manage your time correctly
-Don’t worry about questions you’re missing (there are tons of questions, you can afford to miss many of them… don’t lose much thought or energy over missing a few)
What are your thoughts? Any other tips you can think of?
In the past, I’ve discussed the importance of using favorable studying locations but also the debate over studying in groups or alone. Then, I received a few interesting questions regarding what position candidates should use when studying the CFA. Standing? Seated at a desk or in front of the tv, maybe even in a vertical position?
It’s All About Being Efficient
I’m not convinced there is one superior position to use. Most probably study in a seated position, ideally with a comfortable chair and a well adjusted desk. That can obviously work wonders and is certainly the more standard position. I’m a big believer in the fact that we are all very different and we each have different levels of productivity.
For Me, It’s All About Diversity
Personally, as I’ve already mentionned, I try to do a bit of everything. That means sitting, but also doing some stuff while watching tv, studying some things to learn by heart while taking a walk, taking small notes that I can look at while in the bus or subway. I typically only keep the same position for a few hours or so and then change.
How about you? What is your most productive studying position and how often do you alternate those?
Over the past few months we ran a survey on our LinkedIn profile, which you can check out if you have not done so already. My main question was how candidates felt in regards to the fast approaching CFA exam. Here are the results:
Surprising? Probably not. I guess most candidates that visit this site have a detailed plan that they have been following. Hopefully some of them have been using my 12 week CFA studying plan!
Most candidates that do have a solid plan are able to feel like while not ready, they are well on pace.
When Should You Feel Ready?
I don’t think most candidates ever get to the point where they are fully confident. There are so many different things to consider and there is so much material to cover that feeling like you understand it all, is a very difficult point to reach. I personally feel like I could never get there because I’d always be focusing so much more on the critical sections so those less important ones would always end up being overlooked.
Feeling Fully Prepared
What I aspire to is being fully prepared for the exam. I always discuss the critical studying week and I am able to make so much progress during that time that I do feel fairly good about it once that period comes to an end. I truly hope that you will have that opportunity either next week or the following one. At that point, after doing plenty of mock exams and qbank questions, you should get to the point where:
-You know what to expect from the exam
-You know how to answer and solve all of those questions
-You know by heart the important formulas and concepts
Are You There Yet?
Do you feel ready or fully prepared? If not, what would you need to get there?
This is one of the most frequent questions for CFA candidates and I think it’s a good one to look into today. First just to be clear, I personally am talking about a 3 hour, 120 question exam. You might be able and want to take the 6 hour complete one to get the feeling and all but it’s never something I felt was useful. I personally prefer doing a 3hour one and then correct it carefully while questions are still in my mind.
So How Many Should Be Done?
Valid question and I guess each person would have a different answer although I would caution you. I have never heard of someone post-exam that said:
-i did too many mock exams
-i started doing mock exams too early
It simply doesn’t happen
As all candidates that bought my 12 week CFA strategy ebook will find out, I think you should do a first mock exam about 2 months before the actual date. Seems early? Maybe even too early? Great! It should add pressure and you should not feel entirely ready, especially if you are on a 12 week study plan.
That being said, the earlier you can find out your overall level, strengths and weaknesses, the earlier you can move on to the critical part of your exam.
How Many Should You Do?
I personally feel like doing one every week initially is about perfect and helps make the rest of the week more productive. Then, in the critical study week (which ideally ends one week before the exam), I try to start most of the days with a mock exam.
What are your thoughts on CFA mock exams? Do you intend to write one? Two? Several?
I’m not the type of guy to sound alarms, start screaming or tell others what they should or should not do. But if you are planning on taking (and passing!) the CFA exam this June, this is pretty much the time where you should be getitng very serious.
I’ve said it before, I’m not a big fan of studying for 12 straight months although that can work very well for some candidates. I prefer using a method that maximizes results through 2 months of intense studying.
That is also why I wrote a detailed ebook that gives a detailed plan on how to pass your exam. In the end, passing the exam is much more about having a consistent and solid studying plan than anything else.
I sincerely believe that the ebook is worth much more than its cost price and the comments that I’ve received so far have been very solid.
But no matter what material, study plan or strategy that you decide to use, it’s critical that you start going 200% from now till exam time. What does this mean? Basically that you social life is winding down, so is your sleep to some extent. It also means that within a week or two.
It is CRITICAL that you do one mock exam. Don’t tell me you’re not quite ready, that you prefer waiting a bit longer, etc. I don’t want to hear it. Doing one exam will make an incredible difference. Why?
-You will likely get a bad score (giving you even more urgency)
-You will get a better understanding of the format and how to prepare for it
-You will get more information about your strengths and weaknesses
I’m telling you, there is no valid reason for not taking an exam. Set the date and stick to it. In the meantime, you can struggle, spend as much time as possible and do your absolute best to get ready.
Today, I wanted to do a CFA level breakdown. It’s something that many candidates wonder about, what the differences between the levels of the CFA. First off, if you do not know what the CFA is, I have written quite a bit about what it is, what it stands for and what you need to pass it. Basically, the CFA title can make a big difference in the job, the salary and conditions that you will end up making. How do you get the title? The first thing, and by far the most important is to sign up for the exam.
So many potential candidates have a difficult time deciding if the exam is right for them or not. If you are able to commit yourself to passing the exam and want to pursue a career that relates to investing, research or trading, there is a good chance the CFA is for you.Then comes the tricky part, you must pass a series of the 3 exams:
Once all 3 exams are passed (which can take anywhere between 2.5 years and 10 years (yes I’ve seen some take that long), you can apply to become a CFA charter holder. Actually getting it depends mostly on what type of experience you have (it must be considered relevant by the CFA institute so generally that means being something where you apply a portion of the CFA material). I would say though that passing the exam is by far the most important.
Once all of that is done, you must simply pay your annual fees every year in order to enjoy the benefits of holding a CFA title.