CFA vs Self Study

Is it better to spend time studying for the CFA level 1 or spend time self studying, reading 10k's, and mastering writing reports and doing valuations. I have a constraint of both money and time since I work 2 jobs, so I can't really do both. Would the CFA give me any real edge in the short run, or can I possibly do my own research and invest that same money that I would use paying for the CFA as a way to show interest in investing and also have the "experience" of investing?

My goal is to somehow break into ER in the next 1-2 years out of my back office hell job, so I am trying to create some kind of an edge to try to network and break into the field.

Thank you.


Thank you for the response. I am not trying to advance in the industry, I am trying to break in. I will eventually take it and was planning on taking it this December, but was wondering if self studying might initially be a better way to gain skills (such as writing research notes, doing my own valuations) and bring more value to the table.


Working is the best way to develop the skills. However, CFA is basically the cheapest option for boosting your resume sans experience. That being said there is zero reason you should not be applying.

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Having passed any level of the CFA or having the charter is very attractive and having that on your resume would help. On the other hand, having a sample report for an interview is also a great way to stand out and potentially bypass a lot of random technical questions to instead focus on explaining your thought process. If you are up for the challenge, try picking a stock and write a sample report in the next couple of months. Then start studying for level 1 around September.


definitely CFA, not just to have it on the resume and to get noticed in interviews. But the things you learn will help down the road. It's not relevant immediately, but I have had a few 'aha' moments at random times looking at obscure metrics, where I recalled going over them during exam study.

As far as reading 10k, I am a bit curious what your thought process was, as far as that activity helping you to break into ER from BO?

Best Response

If you really want to get a job in ER, I would just forget about CFA. Here is what I would do.

1) I would pick a sector (i.e. softline retail - yes very specific, covering A&F - NYSE: ANF). 2) Go to A&F Website. Look at Investors > Analyst Coverage: 3) Write down the names of people who cover them. 4) Go to Bloomberg, Capital IQ, Reuter to download the latest report + an initiation report on ANF. 5) Go through Annual Report and Earning Sections and download all the financials. 6) Build a full blown model* that break down revenue drivers (*my own model): Sample See Here: 7) Put together a company report: Sample See Here: 8) Go back to step 3 - Find out the email and phone number of analyst who is covering A&F. 8.1) Email your research report and write: "Dear Mr. John Morris, My name is John Doe. I am interested in softline sector. I put together a research report sharing my thought on A&F. I believe that A&F is a [Buy] at [US$2.0] per share in the next 12 months. I would like to speak to you to learn more about your opinion on this. Thanks." 9) Give him 1 week. If he doesn't email you back, call him. Be polite. "Hi Mr. Morris at BMO Capital Markets. My name is John Doe, the kid who emailed my report on A&F. Would you have 5 minutes to give me advice on getting my foot in the door to cover softline retail sector? If you were busy, I understand. Please let me know when would be a better time to call you back?" 9.1) If the answer is okay then: listen to what he said. 9.1.1) He will say that he will keep your resume on file > then send over your resume. 9.1.2) He say that he is not hiring, ask him if someone else within the same sector is hiring. If yes > ask for the name and ask for referral. If not, say thank you and move on; 3 months later, call him again to check in again. 10) From there on, keep calling the same sector with different companies. If this failed after 12 months, move to another sector. The point is that you want to appear focus. Don't tell people that you are covering multiple sectors.

Background: non-target student. 3.0 GPA. international student. that was how i got my first job at ER (about 10 years ago).


Different world today than 10 years ago... I haven't seen this happen recently, but it certainly doesn't hurt. I dont think dismissing the CFA outright is appropriate though and doesnt limit the poster from doing both.


Even 10 years ago, everyone was taking CFA; perhaps today even more. Even then, the bar is pretty low for people who passed Level 1 or 2 upon applying for ER jobs out of college. But I think it is still relevant today, if you see a candidate who can show 1) genuine interest in the job, 2) have passion for a particular sector and 3) can actually put together a marketable product, which would definitely outshine any candidate who 1) just have good grades and 2) manage to pass the CFA exams.


In my opinion, as a non-traditional applicant, you are better off spending your time gaining personal experience investing and writing ER reports, than you are studying for the CFA.

If you aren't coming from a related front-office role, or university, chances are the Analysts who put a lot of weight into pedigree won't seriously consider you, just because you have the CFA, while lacking the other credentials.

The analysts who don't place as much weight into pedigree, however, are far more likely to hire a non-traditional candidate that has a really great grasp on value investing and financial analysis, than a non-traditional candidate who also passed all three levels of the CFA, in my opinion.

That said.... if you don't have an extremely good understanding of advanced financial accounting concepts, and modelling, there's no chance you'll be hired either way. So material covered in the CFA can be helpful, if you didn't study very much accounting (I'm talking advanced undergraduate courses) in university. Then again, the CFA holds accounting to a pretty bare minimum.


I don’t think that they are necessarily mutually exclusive. The CFA will give you a very good foundation and it is generally looked favorably. Independently doing research and learning the tools to put together a well formed research report is also a very good skill. I think it will be pretty difficult to break into the specific industry even with both without significant networking over several months.

I’m a fan of the CFA broadly for those that have the time to take it because it’s a very good learning experience and tends to open some doors (the benefit of this part however is a bit intangible vs. the explicit benefit of an MBA.). I think in the immediate future you would put yourself in a good spot to secure some interview with a combination of a methodical networking plan, signing up for and passing the CFA level I in December, and continuing to sharpen your technical / research skills. Networking over the next 6 months should help you with building some relationships and garnering some contacts at banks. Passing Level I would signal that you are a serious candidate and one who was willing to put in a significant time investment (~300 hours) in hopes of becoming a charterholder. Polishing your ability to effectively dissect a 10k and walk an interviewer through a well formed and defensible research analysis shows that you are a competent applicant who can potentially be successful despite the lack of experience and non-traditional background. If you are successful with this step you would end up at the firm continuing to progress through your CFA II and III studies, hopefully with the firm offering to pay for it.

This would be an ideal timeline for you in my view if everything broke right. As I stressed above there really is no guarantee that any of the above factors will allow you to break into research, but applying yourself in all three over a representative period (say 4-7 months) will put you into position either when that opportunity presents itself, or you will have yourself a much more robust network of contacts than you have today. If you put in this effort, I’m sure you will be in a pretty good place by the time 2017 ends :D

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Thank you everyone for replying. I have an okay financial background since I have an econ degree and have read a few books on investing, but I still don't have enough base knowledge to analyze specific stocks/sectors and do advanced valuations. Your responses didn't give me a clear answer but I will definitely try all of the above. I know that one or the other will not guarantee anything that's why I need to be relentless and do everything and anything. My concern was my limit of time to study but I think I will take the CFA first and go on from there.


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