4 Traits of Successful CFAs

If you want to catapult your financial career to an entirely new level, becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is a pretty good strategy. But you might be wondering: Do you have what it takes?

Why Become a CFA?

The acronym gets tossed around a lot, but do you know what a CFA is exactly? More to the point, why should you take the trouble to become one?

As economics professor Adam Hayes explains, “A chartered financial analyst (CFA) is a globally-recognized professional designation given by the CFA Institute (formerly the AIMR (Association for Investment Management and Research), that measures and certifies the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates are required to pass three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis.”

Becoming a CFA is a distinction many industry professionals hope to achieve, but a lot of work is necessary to obtain that certification. Historically, pass rates tend to fall below 50 percent on each section of the exam. This makes it one of the most difficult financial certifications in the industry.

Studying for the CFA exam requires a minimum of 300 hours; many candidates devote closer to 500 hours to prepare for it. Students who pass the first time around usually have taken CFA exam prep courses that guided them through the process.

The benefits of becoming a CFA include better job prospects, higher earning potential, opportunities to advance your career, and global recognition and respect as an industry expert.

4 Traits You’ll Need

You’ll obviously need the technical skills required to become a CFA. However, there’s a good chance you’ll develop those naturally in the course of your preparation to pass the exam.

There are a few things a CFA exam prep course can’t teach, though. The following traits are critical. Cultivate them now or a career as a CFA might not be in the cards for you.

1. Discipline

It’s easy to be lured into pursuing a CFA charter designation. You can envision the increase in pay, new job opportunities, and the respect – it can be a pretty magnetic package.

But if you aren’t prepared for the work that lies ahead, you’ll never make it. The level of discipline required to stick with the program and prepare yourself to pass is intense.

You’re looking at 22 to 24 months of intense focus, at a minimum. Not only that, but you’ll likely have to turn down other opportunities: to say “no” to opportunities you’d prefer to accept.

Hobbies and other facets of your personal life will likely need to be put on pause. You might even have to set stricter boundaries with friends and family for a while.

2. Time Management

One of the trickiest aspects of aiming for a CFA certification will be the fact that you can’t put your full-time job on hold as well. Most people aren’t hitting the pause button on their work so they can dedicate the entire work week to exam prep.

They have to study in addition to working 40 to 50 hours a week. If you’re going to pass the CFA exam and earn your designation, you must become an expert at managing your time. Scheduling your obligations and carving out an appropriate amount of time for work is an absolute necessity.

3. Focus

This goes hand-in-hand with discipline and time management. When you’re working a full-time job and simultaneously studying for the exam, it’s easy to get stuck in a place where your mind is constantly racing to wherever you’re not at the moment.

In other words, when you’re at work, you’re thinking about how you could be studying. And when you’re studying, you may be worrying about falling behind at work.

Focus is the key. Learning how to be 100 percent present will ensure you accomplish more with your time.

4. Attention to Detail

You’ll need plenty of attention to detail in order to pass your exam and launch a successful career as a CFA. One of the reasons people hire CFA charterholders is for their ability to catch highly specific details that others miss. You’ll have to refine this skillset and develop systems for improving your accuracy.

Putting it All Together

Becoming a CFA is not for everyone. It requires a tremendous amount of work and effort.

But if you have the right traits, it could pose an amazing boost to your career. Study the potential and make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

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