THE CFA INSTITUTE PUBLISHED AN ASIA-PACIFIC CAREER GUIDE: 2014 CAREER ADVICE. THERE IS A SPECIAL SECTION ON KICKSTARTING YOUR CAREER DEVELOPMENT WHILE STILL IN COLLEGE. IT OFFERS EXCELLENT ADVICE AND SHOULD BE CONSIDERED BY STUDENTS PREPARING FOR FIRST YEAR POSITIONS AND INTERNSHIPS.
You don’t have to wait until you have completed your degree and received your diploma to prepare for your career. While still in school, there are several steps you can take to set the stage for a successful entry into the finance and investment industry.
Seize every opportunity to meet people who have experience in the finance and investment industry and learn from them. These opportunities may come in the form of career events, seminars, conferences, and lectures at your university. Networking is more than just exchanging name cards. It’s about striking a connection with the people you meet, and nurturing and leveraging those connections. Introducing yourself and asking questions to a school alumnus who’s now a senior banking executive may be intimidating. But think of it as practice for the real world.
Your ability to conduct yourself with ease in social and business settings shows your confidence and you can only build up that confidence through practice. Outside of school, don’t hesitate to reach out to relatives, family friends, or friends of friends who work in the industry. Even if you live well outside a financial center, you can hone your networking skills with your local business community.
DO SOME DUE DILIGENCE
So you have decided on a career in finance. But which area? There are many fields in the industry and myriad roles. Research these fields, find out as much as you can what professionals in those fields do, and the skills and qualifications required. If a CFA designation is typically required for the job you’re angling for, prepare for the CFA Program as early as possible.
Keep yourself up to date on industry developments so you know how to position yourself in the job market. Read the financial news — it’s always a good conversation starter in networking events.
BE ACTIVE IN CAMPUS ACTIVITIES
Employers not only judge you based on your grades or relative experience, they want to see a well-rounded person. Your extra-curricular activities can demonstrate your leadership abilities, time management skills, collaborative skills, resourcefulness, and other soft skills.
One way of showing employers your serious interest in the industry is to join the CFA Institute Research Challenge — an annual global competition that provides university students with hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis. Considered as the “investment Olympics,” the competition is held in three progressive levels — local, regional, and global. CFA charterholders mentor students as they assume the role of research analysts and are tested on their ability to value a stock, write an initiation-of-coverage report, and present their recommendations.
Fresh graduates are understandably short on work experience when they join the job market. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have zero work experience. One credible way of demonstrating your potential is by getting yourself an internship at a financial institution or company. Many of today’s leading global business leaders spent time learning the ropes as interns: Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a U.S. congressional page, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns was once a mechanical engineering summer intern at Xerox, and JP Morgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon interned at Goldman Sachs in the 1970s.
An internship in a prestigious bank would look good in your resume, but more important is what you learn in the process. What were your responsibilities and what business functions were you exposed to as an intern? Don’t just spend your internship photocopying or fetching coffee for the team; be proactive in finding meaningful assignments.
Large international banks have highly competitive internship programs, but you don’t have to limit yourself within this circle. There are many other banks and companies that can offer you a place. Oftentimes, you just have to take the initiative to look for these opportunities by contacting organizations directly, even if they are not advertising for interns. It’s a chance to hone your ability to market yourself to potential employers. Internships may lead to a full-time job offer.
FIND A MENTOR
“Mentors and sponsors are hugely important in careers. We know that people who have them do better,” says Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. Some people are lucky enough to stumble upon good mentors early in their careers, while others have to seek them out. Sheryl Sandberg’s own mentor was her Harvard University professor Larry Summers, who later became U.S. Treasury Secretary and her boss. If you did your networking homework well, you would have a good group of potential mentors to start with.
Mentors and sponsors are people who can offer you practical insights and advice, and can help open doors for you in the industry. They don’t have to be influential figures in the industry. A university professor, a family friend who has years of experience in the finance industry or your supervisor at your internship or summer job may be a potential mentor. It all depends on the kind of relationship that you are able to establish with them and the value that they can add to your career development.