How to position yourself in a complex finance job market
Given a more complex market and the changing demands of employers, job candidates face a significant challenge in presenting their skills and credentials in a way that will be persuasive for hiring firms.
Today, it is not enough to have mastery of one subject area, such as accounting, finance, business, or technology. Employers are looking for candidates who have cross-functional knowledge to go along with specialisation.
A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that financial firms want candidates who can use computers to enhance their research and analytical capabilities, handle vast datasets, render probabilities, and assess the impact and quality of inputs.
However, with this focus on technical knowledge, there can be a tendency to overlook employers’ needs for other valued skills, including the ability to assess the local impact of global events, filter noise, assign appropriate levels of magnitude, evaluate potential opportunities, and translate complex financial concepts into easy-to-understand language.
With all these variables, job candidates face a significant challenge to present their skills and credentials in a way that will be persuasive for hiring firms. “A lot of banks will talk to you about record applicants, but they probably won’t talk to you about the attrition rate,” says Jade Bouhmouch, CFA, previously a senior analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “How many of those are staying to move up to partner level as opposed to going somewhere else?”
Diverse backgrounds and training
The demand for investment professionals who can combine different types of expertise means candidates with diverse work histories and academic backgrounds can adapt to a variety of opportunities.
For example, Hemant Sood, CFA, worked in technology consulting for six years. He then completed his MBA from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in 2013, after which he worked in private equity for four years. His current role as vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase is in financial analysis in the bank’s credit card business. Each job enabled him to develop skills that he could transfer over to his new position.
Similarly, Chris Kennedy, CFA, a quantitative finance manager at BankUnited, has a background in engineering and has worked in the health care industry. His skills in problem solving with quantitative methods and IT make his financial modelling more robust.
Even for those who stay with one employer, working in different areas can be beneficial. James Buckley, CFA, works in fixed-income trade support at Vanguard, collaborating with traders and portfolio managers to reconcile cash within funds and confirm trades. He started at the company after graduating from college, and he has been there for more than four years. However, Buckley has not stayed on the same track at Vanguard. He started out on the retail side of the business, then switched to the institutional side because he felt he could apply more of the concepts he learned while studying for the CFA exams.
Automation is disrupting the industry, and many traditional roles and paths could be redefined or even disappear. Some analysts are afraid of this automation. Instead of looking at it as a tool, they view it as their replacement. Ironically, many analysts dislike doing the repetitive tasks automation can handle more easily. They prefer spending time on abstract thinking to identify the unique patterns that might make a difference in a firm’s prospects.
Computers can perform certain tasks better than humans, which can free up time for humans to add value through other activities, such as building and maintaining relationships for channel checks, gaining better access to management, improving the quality of inputs, and pattern-matching at a highly abstract level. Bouhmouch points out that anybody can plug in some numbers. Determining, using, and adjusting inputs are things that make or break an analyst—and ultimately a team.
Bouhmouch also thinks that outsourcing and regulation are not necessarily structural threats for today’s job candidates. Labour competition has been global for a long time, and knowledge-based jobs are prime candidates for outsourcing because they are not tied to any physical location.
To stay relevant, CFA charterholders need to remain up to date with current events and understand how new technology is being applied to and changing the industry. Candidates also need to be flexible and willing to learn.
“Things are changing more quickly than ever before, so you need your talent to be willing to learn more quickly than ever before,” adds Kennedy. “Companies are looking for talent that is willing to take a course, get a certificate, or talk to experts.”
Sherree DeCovny is a freelance journalist specialising in finance and technology. A longer version of this article originally appeared in CFA Institute Magazine.