O. Nathan Ronen, CFA, MBA, JD, PhD, FRM, CAIA, CPA, CFP, CMT—Impressed? You Shouldn’t Be!
First, other than the CFA and MBA, I do not hold the accreditations or designations above.
Second, I am going to address what I believe to be the perils of having too many letters after your name, but with a caveat: I know there are others out there who will disagree with my view, and that’s to be expected. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I have worked full time at major firms such as New York Life Investment Management, Andersen Consulting, Salomon Brothers, CFA Society New York (NYSSA) and FINRA and was involved in the hiring of personnel at most of these firms. Today I run a CFA test-prep company, Chalk & Board, that I cofounded, and I’m amazed at the number of unsolicited emails I get with attached resumés of people offering their services. I want to help them because I recall, when I got out of college, how much I wanted to work for a top-tier company, build a career and move ahead in life.
The job landscape today is very different from years ago, and applicants need to make themselves stand out even more. So, what does it take to land that prestigious dream job with the compensation you want? An MBA from Harvard Business School? The CFA designation? A PhD in finance? Aside from having the qualifications for the position, the one factor that stands out above all is good chemistry between you and the interviewer, who is likely to be your future colleague or boss. Everything else is secondary.
How do you create good chemistry? Start out by being yourself. Don’t try to impress the interviewer or tell them what you think they want to hear. Experienced interviewers can see through that. Keep in mind that companies look for focused and consistent people. You need to project that in your answers to their questions, and your resumé (CV) must also support it.
I have found that there can be a negative correlation between the number of letters after your name and your job prospects. Simply put, if your name is followed with designations that are not relevant to the position for which you are applying, it may lead the interviewer to conclude you are, 1) a confused person who doesn’t know what career path they truly want to pursue; 2) a good test-taker, which is the sign of a good academic, not a good practitioner; or 3) an expensive applicant who wants to be compensated for all those initials. This may not be what you want to hear, but companies do want to see a “fit,” which means good chemistry along with credentials that are relevant to the position.
If you are still not convinced that being a “designation collector” can backfire, imagine you are applying for a financial analyst position and the interviewer says, “I see you have the CMT, JD and CFP designations. Wow. That is truly impressive. But can you explain why you decided to get those degrees and designations if you are applying to be a financial analyst?” After hearing your carefully spun reasoning, your interviewer may point out that these designations are in different disciplines, sending a signal that you do not seem truly committed to a career in financial analysis. You seem to be looking for just any job, not the one they are looking to fill. No fit. Next!
“So, Nathan, I got my CFA; should I get the FRM, CAIA or CFP?” I hear this question every year from “disappointed” candidates who passed the CFA Level III exam and are lamenting not having to study through another Memorial Day weekend. That question is analogous to asking, “I got my Bachelor’s degree, should I get my Master’s degree and PhD? The answer to both is: it depends. What do you want to do with those accreditations, designations and degrees? If you have no clear answer to the question, then you probably shouldn’t pursue it. These designations mean something and should not be collected just for the sake of having them.
Think of it this way: when you are invited to an interview, it’s because the interviewer knows you can do the job. The interviewer now wants to put faces to the selected resumés and decide which applicant is the best fit. Chemistry is the key to being hired. The 9-to-5 workday is long gone, and often you will spend more time with your boss and colleagues than with your own family or significant other. So it’s more likely that your future boss would hire you because they wouldn’t mind working late with you on the team to get the job done than because you had all the designations after your name.
So, next time you think of adding more initials after your name, ask yourself this question: “Do these initials have a clear connection to my career aspirations, or am I just becoming a ‘designation hoarder’?”
About The Author
Nathan Ronen, CFA, is a cofounder of Chalk & Board, a CFA test-prep company located in the greater New York City area. Nathan has over 22 years of CFA teaching experience and is recognized as one of the top instructors in the world.