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Insights from a Career in Risk Management

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I’ve been in risk management for almost 20 years, first as a financial risk manager for a multinational company, then as a fixed income manager for a global pension fund.  Next, I worked as portfolio manager for a commodity risk and trading company.  Currently, I serve as a risk officer at a life insurance provider. 

Risk management in finance is a highly specialized role—even for a highly specialized industry.  But I do think that my experience has taught me some career management principles that are worth keeping in mind:   

Don’t specialize at the beginning of your career. You need to try different things to discover what you truly enjoy or dislike, whether in sales, risk management, trading, information technology or any other area. The fundamental principle is this: To have a successful career, you must be passionate about what you do. It might sound easy, but not many of us are lucky enough to know what they are passionate about until they actually do it. By trying different things, you learn more about yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses, which will put you on the path to discovering your dream job. Maybe you would like a career in nature, which involve traveling and discovering new things, new horizons or new countries. Or maybe you don’t like traveling and love mathematics.  The point is, finance and risk management are not the only paths to fulfillment.

Obtain higher education and/or professional certifications. You are competing against a global workforce filled with people hungry for success and willing to do everything in their power to gain an edge. Seek out graduate studies and a professional designation (e.g. MBA, CFA charter, CPA, FRM). Credentials like these are practically essential today. Three little letters like "MBA" can mean the difference in going to work for your dream company or landing that dream job.

Differentiate yourself from other candidates. I have been told that in Asia-Pacific countries, there are legions of professionals with prestigious degrees and/or professional certifications. How do you gain a competitive advantage against people that qualified? You need to differentiate yourself by engaging in extracurricular or leadership activities—even if they’re not related to finance. For example, you could be involved in a wildlife society dedicated to protecting rare animals. This demonstrates to the recruiter that you are sensible, open-minded, and that you care about the environment you live in. In recently hiring an analyst for my team, the person we selected wasn’t the most academically distinguished of the dozen of candidates in the pool, but the one with ”soft skills” that fit well within our group. 

Soft skills that demonstrate you are flexible and creative are needed to deal with complex situations and people. This isn’t taught in school, but forms over time through personal interactions and extracurricular activities.

Last but not least, learn how to network and communicate effectively. Perhaps the most basic piece of career advice is to network with a diverse group of people.  And in order to do that, you must become an effective communicator. 

Remember, communication isn’t a one-way street: you don’t want to become known as a “taker.”  Instead, being a giver can lead you to building strong relationships.  For example, NYSSA is just one organization where you can build strong relationships through committees. Committee membership allows you to fine-tune your leadership skills. If you’re not yet comfortable with your public speaking, then try Toastmasters.

In summary, nothing is written in stone. Building and maintaining a career requires that you grow emotionally and intellectually. Know yourself. Be passionate about what you do. Try different things and become an effective communicator. A dream job is all about perception based on your own professional aspirations and personal definition of success and achievement.

– Kampoleak Pal, CFA, Head of Derivatives Risk Management, Co-Chair, NYSSA Membership Committee

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Wise advice, well-stated!

More than 30 years ago when seeking a first job in investment research, I was told my resume was selected out of hundreds--not because I was more accomplished, but because I attended university in Poland!! And I was offered the position, which I accepted and launched my career.

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