How Do I Find a Job in Finance? (Part 2)

After yesterday’s piece I received an e-mail and a comment.  I also realized that I want to say more.  Here is the redacted e-mail:

David,

I enjoy reading your blog and your recent post “How Do I Find A Job In Finance?”, was very close to home for me. Before I ask for advice, here’s some background for you:

  • BA in Economics from The XXX University, 2007
  • 4 years working as a Financial Assistant for a financial service firm
  • Currently volunteering with the CFA Society of YYY
  • I am a level III candidate in the CFA program
  • Hold a series 65 license
  • Live in YYY, XXX  not willing to relocate

Since 2009, I’ve had 2 interviews with a sell-side equity research firm, 1 interview with a REIT firm and recently 2 interviews with a buy-side fixed income firm. Each time once I received a rejection notice, I followed up and was told “other experienced candidates” as the reason I was not chosen. 

I’ve put in a lot of time and effort into education and I truly have passion for investing. I read, write and even build research reports (which I share in interviews) and manage my own and family’s portfolios. 

This last rejection really hurt and most of the investment firms in YYY are relatively small. The last two months I’ve found myself losing the faith. Am I following an unrealistic path or is there more I can do I’m not already doing?

Friend, it takes time, particularly if you are in a smallish area financially, and are not willing to relocate.  As for me, it was six years before I got an investment-related job, and twelve years before I was investing professionally.  And that was with two moves.

If you are not willing to relocate, local networking is all the more crucial.  Develop friends and mentors; seek a champion that wants to see you succeed.

And then a comment from yesterday:

David,

The investment management industry is very dysfunctional. This is a major reason why your advice for career changers to consider working on “projects with dotted-line relationships to the investment function of the company” and to “look for adjacencies … jobs that are close to investing” is excellent.

The investment management industry is all about who you know and your pedigree, with an exception for those with their own capital. Getting hired to manage investments is not about what you know or having an above average investment track record, never mind that these are major considerations of investment management clients. The business of investment management is about the marketing sizzle and not the steak.

My own career demonstrates this. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that even after building an investment track record that is noticeably above average (in large part because I successfully maneuvered through much of both the dot-com and credit busts), earning a CFA, getting along with people, demonstrating “energy and a willingness to learn”, and following your eminently logical concluding suggestions (“network. Join your local CFA Society; get the credential if you can. Talk with people in investing. Volunteer and show your competence.”), my career has been a struggle and basically did “return void”.

I feel sorry for both of you.  Much of finding a job is creating a firm that will sell one product once.  To that end, create a team of helpers and advisors that will be a spider-web that will catch a job-fly.

I also have experienced that a good past track record is insufficient to attract a job or clients.  In talking with investment management consultants, they look at my track record and tell me it is impressive, but they don’t hire me because I do things differently than their standard risk model.

Maybe the answer for both of you is to start your own firms, at least in the mornings before work, or the evenings afterward.  If it grows, you might be able to leave your work, and grow your business.

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Also, if you have excellent mathematical skills, there are more doors open to you in finance.  It is usually easier to teach qualitative reasoning to one who is good with math, than to try to teach math to one who is good with qualitative reasoning.  Thus knowledge of the investment math can be another entry point; it can aid risk control and model building.

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I want to reinforce one more time that a person with investment skills can be a benefit to almost any organization that one works at or volunteers for.  Many firms I have worked for, even though I was not in the investment department, benefited from my investment knowledge, because it led to approaches and strategies that were borrowed from other areas of industry.  One with generalist investment skills is the sort of person that can do what the hackneyed phrase asks — think outside the box.  As an actuary, my ability to reason through complex situations and come up with unusual solutions created a lot of value for owners.

You become that person that Munger idealizes.  You have a series of mental models covering different areas of reality, and apply them flexibly to the situation at hand.

That’s what I did for years with my friend who made commercial lawn mowers.  I can’t do what he does; he’s a native engineer who is a genius at design/engineering.  But I could give him advice on how his business was losing money because of a lack of a basic finance function inside his firm.

Even with nonprofits, one with investment skills can add value simply by having the broad knowledge that keeps the organization from being bilked by charlatans. He asks the questions that keep the nonprofit on its mission, while avoiding costly mistakes.

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My life is a work in progress.  I have no idea whether I will gain enough clients to make my firm viable over the next two years, or not.  But even if I fail, and I don’t find work in a traditional asset management business, I still think I will be able to add value to any firm that I work or consult for.  What I know can benefit any firm, and that is true for all of us that have knowledge of investing.

You may not be applying that knowledge as a mutual fund manager does; many markets are far less liquid.  But knowledge of investing turns the technical specialist into a businessman, and makes him far more valuable.

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So, on that front, I turn the question on its head, and say, “How can you use your knowledge of investing to benefit others?”  If you have real investment knowledge, you are one of the adults in the room, protecting the organization from frauds, and managing it for results.

I end this series (for now) by saying that if you have knowledge on investing, you can potentially benefit any organization that you work with — enhancing, protecting, and guiding.  These are no small things, so use your abilities for the good of others, and see what new opportunities come as a result.

4 Comments

  • John Q says:

    David,

    Thanks for highlighting my comment. However, I did not post my remarks to elicit sympathy. My point was simply to highlight to those outside the investment management industry trying to get in that logic, experience, doing the “right things”, etc., are far too often not applicable. They might want to know about the dysfunctional nature of the industry for and during their job search.

    Again, I commend you for your excellent advice to consider alternative avenues to utilize ones’ investing knowledge, including starting one’s own firm.

  • Doug says:

    I am the CIO of a mid-sized Trust company (1.5b). We are an “eat-your-own-cooking” type of shop. While IOs have a lot of leeway to invest in a style that makes their clients comfortable, they need to get out and bring in business.

    The number one problem investment professionals have, IMO, is that they like numbers better than they like people. They all want to be quants and sit in a corner and analyze, when what we need are new accounts and lot of them, because our existing account base is aging.

    I have advertised for investment professionals and had mixed results. They usually start out enthusiastically, but when reality kicks in and the honeymoon is over, they want more pay for less work and the most humane way to approach them is to show them the door. Some of those folks are now CFOs for small banks or insurance firms, where their investment knowledge is useful (but not the main job), or they are IOs for small trust departments (100-200mm) where the business is referred by the bank.

    If you’re not getting an investment job after multiple interviews, there must be something going on. That was the case with me: after I got my CFA I had about 20 interviews (in the Boston area) without success. Finally after yet another failure the interviewer (and firm Principal) leveled with me: I came off too strong, and he figured I would scare his clients away–even the institutional ones.

    That was some of the best advice I ever got. Investments is a people-business. Get out and go golfing (or fishing, or whatever) so you meet people comfortable in their own skin and then learn from them. That’s what I did, and it made all the difference.

    Keep at it–this is a tough business to get into, but it’s labor-intensive, it keeps the grey-cells active, and it’s indoor work with no heavy lifting, which is why Peter Bernstein and Bernard Baruch did it well into their ’90s.

  • Paul in Kansas City says:

    Doug; I can’t add any value to your excellent observation. I have been in business for 17 years; it takes a long time to build a client base; it is a people business and knowledge are competence have to come on your own time; the cynic would say these are not needed (and i have ample evidence this is true froma business perspective) but since we aspire to truly help our clients the dedication to improve our skills is a worthy endeavor. Now if only efforts provided real foresight!

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