Ask the Expert pfeatures

As part of our annual special report on financial training, Jacques Olivier, programme director of the MS Finance at HEC Paris, shares his advice to students, accompanied by Gareth Howells, executive director of the MBA and MiF programmes at London Business School and Paul Smith, chief executive of the CFA Institute.

Prof Olivier: Make sure to choose investment banking for the right reasons. Work hours are horrendous and pressure on the job is high. If you are solely driven by the paycheck or by exit opportunities, you are unlikely to last long in this industry.

When choosing which programme to attend, the first thing is to make sure you join a school which is a “target school” for bulge bracket banks as this will be a major driver of the career opportunities open to you and of the quality of your peer group. Once this point is established however, nothing can replace direct feedback from current students or recent alumni. This is not so much to establish which is the “absolute best school” but to find the one which is the best match for you. Programmes can differ significantly in terms of curriculum and peer to peer interaction. Pay special attention to feedback about the quality of the alumni network: how tight are the links forged during the programme, how supportive are alumni of current students and other alumni.

When interviewing for a job in a bank, you need to have thoroughly researched the latest deals of the bank: its position in league tables, its current stock price, the name of its chief executive. The same is true when interviewing for admissions in Masters in Finance: no matter the school, you will be asked about recent company news, market news, macro news . . .

Mr Howells: Without question, acquiring strong technical knowledge — the tools and techniques of finance — is essential. However, it is equally important that students balance technical skills with the ability to apply judgment and principled decision-making as the industry continues to adapt to an ever-changing global finance environment. In addition, it is important that students understand the ever-changing regulatory environment that finance now operates in.

It is also essential to remain connected to business throughout your studies. We ensure that students have regular opportunities to debate current issues affecting the industry with finance professionals while applying their knowledge through a series of real world business projects supervised by faculty. We also connect them with thousands of experienced finance professionals via our alumni network. We ensure they have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and team building so they remain agile to the changing finance landscape and sustain a successful career in finance.

Mr Smith: Once you decide to pursue the CFA programme, you need to make sure that your exam preparations are sound. Here are some important tips to help you pass:

Start preparing early and create a schedule. Each level of the CFA programme comprises 2,500 to 3,500 pages of curriculum material and each of the three examinations consists of two three-hour segments. As a guide, successful candidates spend more than 300 hours preparing for each examination.

Use CFA Institute materials — including the exam topic area weights, the learning outcome statements and the curriculum readings — as your primary resource. Third-party materials can be helpful supplements but CFA exam questions will never refer to any outside resources.

Practice, practice, practice. Use the CFA Institute end-of-reading questions, online sample and mock exams. Although exam questions are not repeated and the curriculum evolves, gaining familiarity with the types of questions you are likely to encounter will hone your exam technique and help you to identify any weak areas. Mimicking the test-taking experience will help you to perform efficiently on exam day.

Mr Howells and Prof Olivier will also participate in a live Q&A for readers, joined by Stephen Horan, managing director and co-lead of education at the CFA. The live Q&A will take place on Wednesday, 24th June 2015, from 14.00-15.00 BST on the FT MBA blog. Send your questions to and follow us on Twitter @ftbized #askFT

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