There are many options from which to choose, when looking to improve financial analysis skills or a resume. In all states (and even overseas), there are colleges, universities and private organizations that offer a wide variety of programs to enhance your skills. And while most of the offerings are very valuable, typically it would not make sense to complete more than two of these programs. (Find out how to get yourself ready for these lengthy and often daunting exams. See Prepare For Your CFA Exams.)
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The three sources of gaining financial analyst training and designations are: universities, designation and certification programs and training programs. If you do decide to go the college or university route, you will likely pay a premium - $500-800 per course, over a period of two to three years. The good news is that you will get hands-on instruction, advice, group projects and feedback; the bad news is that the process can take a few years to complete, and unless you can get into a well-known school, few employers will recognize the educational provider's name on your resume. This article is going to focus on designations rather than post-secondary programs, as most people who pursue a designation will usually have a university or college background as well.
Financial Analyst Specialist (FAS)
One financial analysis designation that offers a self-paced solution is the Financial Analyst Specialist (FAS) designation program. This program is entirely internet-based, can be completed from anywhere in the world and can be completed in as little as 5 months. This program consists of video modules, a strategic project, required books, a study guide, mock examination and online testing. It covers everything from basic financial concepts, such as net present value, to more complex ratio analysis methods.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
Another financial analysis designation which has been around for many decades is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program. This is a great program for those entering the investment industry who want to gain exposure to a broad financial base. While this program is relatively expensive compared to others, it is also very popular and well respected. (Find out what is expected of CFAs after they become charterholders. Refer to Does Study End After The CFA?)
Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA)
One additional financial analyst designation is the Licensed International Financial Analyst (LIFA) designation, which is also investment focused and has a high emphasis on ethical issues within the global context. This program covers topics such as asset valuation, economics, portfolio management and quantitative analysis. It is flexible and relatively inexpensive, but also relatively new and less acknowledged than some other programs.
Before you decide that these may not be for you, consider this: Many jobs that pay the most for financial analysis skills are in niche areas, such as hedge fund portfolio management, private wealth management or financial modeling. Since general financial analysis training may be not be as valuable as industry- or job-specific training, you may want to consider completing a program that was custom made for the industry in which you want to grow your career. Examples of these types of programs include: the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA), Certified Hedge Fund Professional (CHP) or Certified Market Technician (CMT) programs.
When choosing a designation to pursue, is important to first understand and have a solid grasp of the doors that the program will open. It is usually preferred that someone have a couple years of work experience in order to determine which designation is preferred for one's career choice.
The final option is paying $0 tuition, and training yourself. The advantage here is that you can save $500-3,000 in tuition dues. The two disadvantages, however, are that this requires more self-discipline than most people have, and your resume will look stronger if you join one of the above programs. In order to have your resume stand out, even if you are a self-taught VBA master, some letters after your name can go a long way. (Become one of the elite who pass these exams by using these simple study methods. Check out Pass Your CFA Exams On The First Try.)
The most important thing to remember is that when you take a class at a community college or university, the quality of that organization's brand reflects upon yourself. If you take a program from your local in-state university that nobody will recognize or respect, you might as well have taken a cheaper community college program for less money. If, on the other hand, you can attend a prestigious school or complete an industry leading financial analyst designation program, you can really give your resume a boost while learning more about the industry.