Changing your Strategy to Land a Finance Job

The career landscape has changed.  It has become extremely difficult to get a job out of University.  Students now face the challenges of competing for jobs with a larger domestic pool of educated individuals, increased foreign talent, and seniors returning back to work because their retirement funds have been depleted due to the great recession.  The fact is that every job opportunity now has a minimum of 100+ other applicants applying for the same position, with some even reaching the 500+ range for applicants.  This makes even the qualified not qualified enough for many jobs available.

Because of this failure to launch their careers, the current young work force (20-30 years) are having to postpone other major life events such as owning a home, getting married, or raising children.  It also has the effect that a late and poor start in their careers now has a large impact on the success of their future careers and the positions they will be able to fill in their pre-retirement years (if retirement even becomes an option).

For myself, I have been applying for financial jobs across Canada for about a year now.  The locations have ranged from metropolitan cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, areas known to have stronger work opportunities like Alberta and Saskatchewan, and even smaller rural areas like the East Coast, remote communities, and Native Reservations.  Still there has been no success. I have in the meantime tried to keep positive and have used this limbo time to boost my education.  In addition to the two years of Mathematics and Physics at university (degree not completed) and a BComm in Finance with honors (3.830 GPA), I have passed the CFA Level I Exam, and should be achieving my CSC certificate in September 2012 (already passed test 1 in July 2012).  Under previous market conditions, these credentials would have been able to get a graduate into a decent entry-level position with a good organization.  These days they are just not enough.  Increasingly, firms now seek MBAs or Master students for analyst or other trainee programs.  The fact is that there are so many people applying for these jobs that the companies are able to demand this.

The problem faced is a classic “Chicken or the Egg” scenario, the ultimate catch 22. To get into a position as an analyst you need to have experience and/or MBA, to get an MBA you usually need 2+ years experience in your field, and to get experience you need… well… experience, an entry level job.  This is where I find myself stuck.  I have experience working as a small to medium sized business consultant for a small firm, research assistant at University, and various sales jobs.  But these are not enough to land the jobs that are out there, the basic fact is that there are other people out there who have more experience with the same or similar education.

One thing I greatly regret not doing during my University career is co-op placement or summer interning.   I worked with the business consulting firm for two of the four years in University, but dedicated my summers to taking additional classes to finish earlier.  So, right now as it stands, I have some experience, but not enough.

What I have decided to do involves two main strategies, and both are only possible because I have family who is highly willing to help me out, which I am very, very, VERY grateful for.

The first strategy is to offer my skills to organizations and charities as a volunteer.  I would not be getting paid, but would ultimately gain experience in my field.  That is a very important note: I will dedicate my volunteering to positions that are related to my field, finance.  Some opportunities that I have seen include treasurer positions, business consulting services, and financial planning services.  The hope here is to build up my resume, become more active in the community, and build relationships within my professional network.

The second strategy is my main focus and I believe it will benefit me the greatest in my search for a career. I plan to become a super-intern.  I listened to a radio show on CBC that interviewed a girl who had no clue what she wanted to do out of University, something so many of us can relate to.  What she decided to do was market herself to organizations and offer her services as an intern for periods of anywhere from a week to a few months.  She ended up interning for a year and a half at 40+ organizations.  After the year and a half of interning, she was offered something like 40+ jobs.  That is amazing!  At a time when new grads are struggling to find work, this girl is struggling to choose which job to choose.  I plan on ctrl-c, ctrl-v this plan, but of course alter it to fit my personality, experience, and goals.  So I will be developing a letter, or marketing device, to sell myself as an intern to both public and private organizations.  I will try and solicit myself to the many roles a CFA is known to fill, since one thing I do know is that I would like to complete my CFA.  This includes financial planning, investment advising, buy-side and sell-side analyst, corporate finance, various bank positions (branch & corporate and retail & commercial), consulting, and the many positions I don’t even know exist at this point.  This is one point that is important: I don’t know every job possibility for me out there, part of this experience will be to understand better the types of jobs out there and which one will best suit me.

I would like to keep track of my experiences and I believe social media is the perfect medium to do this.  I plan on using a website with a blog to keep track of my successes and failures and to pass on the knowledge I gain to other individuals facing similar problems.  I also plan on using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to update readers and to keep track of the vast network of colleagues I meet along they way.

When I read this it seems like a lot of work.  It seems like it will consume every minute of my day.  These are both probably very true, but I feel it is very necessary.  If I continue to simply apply for jobs, keep hoping for an interview, and repeat, I think I will be no further in my career.  I will be no further in developing a professional network.

It’s interesting because I feel my mother and father worked so hard to make going to University an option for me.  They wanted my life to be easier than theirs was.  My father emigrated from Italy with only a grade 8 education and a very strong work ethic to put on his resume.  After many odd construction jobs he found work in a tire shop where he eventually became part owner.  My mother was also an immigrant from Italy and faced the challenge of working in a country where she did not speak the language.  She took English classes and eventually got a job in a kitchen, after that she found a better paying job with benefits as a custodian at the primary school I attended and had a second job as a laundry maid at a hotel.  She worked nearly 12 hours each weekday, and over ten hours each weekend.  I figure if my parents can go through all this hard work for me, I can go through a lot of hard work for them and hopefully for my own children in the future.  I don’t think we have a choice to work easy or work hard.  Our parents could have tried their hardest to make life easier for us, but in the end you have to work.  Granted, because they could put me through university, I don’t have to do hard “physical labour” work, but I do have to do hard “mental labour” work.

Again I want to stress that I am able to do this because I have a family who is willing to support me through this beginning phase.  But it definitely does not mean I will be getting a free ride.  I will be trying to get a part-time job while I intern and/or volunteer, I will be living a very simple life with very low costs.  With the exception of my wedding in 2013, my trips and luxury expenses will pretty much be nil, and all the while I will continue to study and achieve my CFA certification.  It will be hard.  I will get very frustrated.  But the thing is, it’s hard and frustrating now.  I might as well work hard and be frustrated moving forward, than working hard and frustrated going nowhere.

Thanks for reading and good luck out there!

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