Headshot of Vanessa Wieliczko

In the spring of 2020, I was scheduled to speak with students at several local universities. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was not able to meet with these aspiring professionals in person so instead, I’m sharing my comments in written form and invite students to reach out to me directly. I encourage my fellow professionals to do the same!

3 Simple Career Tips for Intentional Progress:

  1. Make long-term goals, define short-term actions, reassess, and update regularly.
  2. Proactively network and maintain your relationships.
  3. Aspire to be a lifelong learner and continually seek to improve yourself.

My story

As I approached the end of my studies at Boston University in 2008, I was fortunate enough to have a handful of wonderful teachers who encouraged me to consider the pursuit of the CFA designation. Heeding their advice and having completed enough credits to graduate early, I opted to forego the second semester of my senior year and instead, sit for the CFA Level I exam as I began my job research. While I might have completed a minor in this final semester, I believe launching my CFA studies was ultimately a better cost/benefit opportunity.

In the process of looking for work, I did most of my research online. In hindsight, I should have asked for more meetings and phone calls, and generally stepped up my networking. But like most recent college grads, I was intimidated. Don’t be! People generally want to be helpful and if they don’t reply, try again—they might just be busy!

After a couple months, I found a private wealth management firm that I knew I wanted to work for long-term. I took whatever position they offered me just to get my foot in the door. To put this in context, I started September 8, 2008— just a few days before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the worst of the Financial Crisis had yet to roar its ugly head. While I had been hired to provide administrative support to Financial Advisors and their clients, I put in extra hours at night to show my value in investment research and made sure key decision makers were aware of my contributions.

While trying to gain traction at work, I continued a self-study pursuit of the CFA designation. For those who are unfamiliar, the designation is obtained after successful completion of 3 six hour exams, with an average pass rate of just 41%, 44%, and 56% respectively [as of 2019], and each requiring at least 300 hours of study. There are a select few that pass each level in quick succession. It is a tough program and I’ll be honest; I wasn’t successful on every attempt. Making failures worse is the fact that Levels 2 & 3 are only offered once a year! Yet, despite failures along the way, I am proud to say I got back up and tried again. The truth is that only 15-20% of those who begin the program go on to earn the designation. However, five years after beginning my CFA journey, I succeeded. While obtaining the designation took a substantial amount of my personal time, it expanded my network and established my credibility in a way little else could at such a young age.

I took a year and a half break from my evening studies and then began studying for the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst designation since non-traditional investment analysis (like structured products and real estate) had become an important part of my day-to-day. This program consists of 2 six-hour exams offered twice a year, with an average pass rate of 52% and 64% respectively [as of 2019], and each requiring approximately 200 hours of study. (A new exemption introduced in 2018 now allows CFA charterholders to skip CAIA Level 1.) I highly encourage you to consider this program - it’s fun and interesting!

A few months after gaining the CAIA, I jumped into studies for the CFP, or Certified Financial Planner, designation. CFA charterholders can utilize the “challenge status” to avoid the extensive (and costly!) coursework of the CFP. You start by completing a comprehensive financial plan and submitting a short video of your partial presentation to a hypothetical client. Next, you’ll sit for a single six-hour exam. The exam itself has an average pass rate of 62% [as of 2019] and requires approximately 250 hours of study. This designation was also fun and the content highly useful, even if only used for the purposes of your own personal finance. My goal was to complete the set of designations before turning 30. I’m proud to say that I managed to do it, but with just a few months to spare!

Whatever higher education you pursue, make sure you conduct your own cost/benefit analysis. A masters may sound appealing, but it’s also a lot more expensive, and should you decide to enroll in a full-time program you’ll also be foregoing income and career progression during that time.

Don’t forget to explore scholarship opportunities! Your employer may sponsor all, or part, of your education. If you’re a minority or female in investments, there are many scholarship opportunities, so make sure you do your research.

So, what am I focused on now? Well, see tips 1, 2 & 3 above and repeat! I continually remind myself of these tips and reassess my progress often. I’ve been with my firm for over a decade now. At $2.4B in assets under management, we are close to six times larger than when I started. We have nearly 50 employees with offices in San Diego, Santa Monica, Sacramento, and Phoenix. As Director of Investments, I oversee our Investment Research and Portfolio Management team, as well as the firm’s Investment Operations, like trade execution and private fund processing.

I also spend quite a bit of my time volunteering with the CFA Society San Diego. I began as Public Awareness Chair, moved into Programs recruiting speakers for educational events, and am currently serving a second term as President. Our society provides a forum of exchange for information and ideas among more than 500 local professionals. In 2019 we were recognized by the CFA Institute as “Most Outstanding Society” in the 350 - 1,000 member category, based on our accomplishments in strategic direction, governance and leadership, developing future professionals, member value, market integrity, professionalism and recognition, and professionalized operations. We offer several different types of membership, including regular, student, and affiliate (no CFA charter required). Please take a look and consider coming out to an event: https://www.cfasociety.org/sandiego/Pages/default.aspx

As I look to the future, I continue to seek advice from others and am lucky to have a large group of professionals that graciously offer their mentorship. If you believe I can help you in some small way, please don’t hesitate to contact me.