Practical analysis for investment professionals
09 June 2020

On Career Resilience in Uncertain Times

Resilience is our capacity to recover, to bounce back, from challenges and misfortune. It implies emotional strength and grit, an ability to confront and overcome the barriers that stand between us and our goals.

The coronavirus pandemic has tested that resilience, both our personal resilience as investment professionals and the operational resilience of our firms.

In uncertain times like these then, it is critical that we focus on and strengthen our professional resilience. The question is how.

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At a basic level, we develop career resilience when we acquire and sharpen our skillsets, grow our experience, and leverage our career opportunities. This should help protect us from professional setbacks and ensures our professional longevity. And hopefully as our careers advance, we build our financial resilience in parallel as a safeguard against unexpected expenses and financial reversals.

But that’s the broad view. For a more granular perspective on career resilience, its essential components, and how it could evolve as professional roles, skills, and working environments change in the years ahead, CFA Institute produced Investment Professional of the Future. The study was compiled from surveys of 3,800 CFA Institute members and exam candidates, qualitative roundtable discussions with 130 industry leaders in major global cities, and interviews with human resources and recruiting specialists.

The responses surfaced some compelling takeaways.

To stay resilient in an era of continuous and fast-accelerating change, we have to become more agile and adaptable. Of the industry leaders surveyed, 89% said “individuals’ roles will be transformed multiple times during their careers; adaptability and lifelong learning will be the most essential skills.”

The present crisis, with its abrupt shift to a new normal, has forced us to face this reality head on. We can only expect more of the same. The work roles, skills, and environments that are needed and how they are valued will rapidly shift as business practices evolve. Indeed, 77% of industry experts expect a greater degree of change in the world of work in the next 10 years, while 43% of CFA Institute members and exam candidates said they believe the role they perform today will be substantially different in five to 10 years.

Expert View on Degree of Change in World of Work in Next 10 Years

Success in this dynamic environment requires a learning and growth mindset. What does that entail? According to psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, those with growth mindsets “have a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment” because they possess “the belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere — may learn more, learn it more quickly, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve their learning and skills.”

Technology is another essential aspect of career resilience. Since technological innovation is a key driver of the increasing depth and pace of change, we need to prioritize developing our tech savvy. It isn’t enough just to learn and apply new technologies. We also have to understand how to leverage them to find new business solutions and better ways to achieve client goals.

This aptitude is becoming more important as business models increasingly combine people and technology. Investment Professional of the Future describes these emerging models as Artificial (AI) Intelligence plus Human Intelligence (HI), or AI + HI.

In AI + HI settings, human judgment interprets the output of machines, communicates that output to colleagues and clients, and incorporates it into decisions. Such models require close cooperation between investment and technology professionals as they work together to enhance firm performance.

Investment Professional of the Future report graphic

Which skill categories are the most important? Industry experts ranked them in ascending order:

  • Technical skills include the finance-oriented expertise necessary to manage investments.
  • Soft skills are those related to relationship-building, consultation, communication, and self-awareness.
  • Leadership skills include the capacity to articulate mission and vision and to convince teams to focus on and work towards a shared purpose.
  • T-shaped skills combine deep, specialized expertise with a more generalized capability to understand and connect across multiple

Rank the importance of the following skill categories for successful investment professionals in the next five to 10 years.

Technical Skills14%
Soft Skills16%
Leadership Skills21%
T-shaped Skills49%
Percentages indicate the number of expert opinion survey responses ranking each item first.
Source: Investment Professional of the Future, CFA Institute

To be sure, how much we value these skills varies depending on where we are in our career. For example, a senior executive would likely not make developing their technical skills as much of a priority as a young investment professional just starting out.

Of course, proactive career management involves more than identifying the skills and experience that employers value and developing a plan to acquire them. It also means determining the timing. For this reason, Investment Professional of the Future provides a suggested skills pathway. This framework helps pinpoint the ideal time to concentrate on certain skill categories. Technical and soft skills should be the focus early on in our careers, whereas leadership and T-shaped skills should be the priorities in the later stages.

The career flywheel offers another way to think about the active approach to career management. Jim Collins first introduced the “flywheel effect” concept for organizations in his book Good to Great. Investment Professional of the Future adapted the framework for individuals.

The career flywheel allies the engaged professional and the empowering employer, wherein each provides value to the other. As the report states:

“The inputs in this cycle are combinations of competencies in acquired knowledge, skills, and abilities; work experiences; and the motivations driving them. The outputs are behaviors and accomplishments relative to goals. These repeat in a cycle to represent a career in motion sustains its momentum through a series of well-executed and well-timed interventions and adaptions on the career journey.”

In return for the value we deliver to our organizations, we receive compensation and, hopefully, an inclusive culture that values our contributions and offers opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Which aspects of an organization are most important? Among CFA Institute members and candidates, 87% chose personal growth, in which training and development opportunities are encouraged and supported.

Although investment professionals value growth opportunities, just 12% of survey respondents said they have a formal written career plan or strategy. However, nearly two out of three (66%) have a general plan of future roles they aspire to. While firms may provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, it is up to us to seek and take advantage of external opportunities.

What are the other opportunities to increase our professional value? Some potential career catalysts include career mentors, professional networks, and a respected personal brand.

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The path to career resilience begins with a written career plan that brings all these elements together. We need to declare our professional goals and aspirations, identify what we need to achieve them, and then plot out how we will acquire those necessities. Then as our careers progress, we can refer back to this plan to confirm we are on course or determine if we need to exercise our career resilience and course correct.

Indeed, the secret to career resilience in certain and uncertain times is knowing where we want to go, having the wisdom to determine how to get there, and the wherewithal to stay the course.

For insight on career adaptability, visit Investment Professional of the Future and select Assess Your Career Adaptability. The self assessment explores how your experience and ambitions affect your career adaptability and compares your results with study participants.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images / dblight

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About the Author(s)
Robert Stammers, CFA

Robert Stammers, CFA, was director of Investor Engagement for CFA Institute and was responsible for increasing the use and distribution of Future of Finance and CFA Institute content by various audiences. Prior to joining CFA Institute, Stammers was the principal for his founded company where he consulted for real estate owners, lenders, and syndicators to develop and analyze structured real estate investments. There he devised strategy for obtaining debt and preferred equity capital and created finance-related marketing materials and research papers for various clients. Stammers has authored over 100 articles on various financial and investment topics for such investment periodicals as Forbes and Investopedia. He served as a senior equity analyst, where he was responsible for the creation of new investment tools and instructional products to provide the revenues for two new investment education companies. As a senior executive for several institutional fund managers, Stammers was the portfolio manager for a $1 billion enhanced real estate fund, a $1.2 billion private timber fund, and several pension fund separate accounts.

2 thoughts on “On Career Resilience in Uncertain Times”

  1. Matthew Cullen, CFA says:

    As someone currently going through a career transition right now, I thought this article was very timely. I am considering attending a data science program to add to my skill set!

    Thanks; I love the EI articles!

  2. Robert J. Martorana, CFA says:


    I enjoyed the article, especially regarding the “T-shaped” skill set (depth in one area combined with multi-disciplinary skills).

    I had not heard this described as “T-shaped” before, but it makes sense to me. You can’t just have depth, since they you lose perspective. And you can’t just have breadth, because you limited ability to apply your knowledge, and little to say that is insightful or interesting. You’re just a dabbler or a news junkie, changing with the weather and blown about by the winds of the 24-hour news cycle.

    Hope you are well.
    : )


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