The CFA charter is a great career enhancer in the right industries and when utilized to it's full potential. Although it is challenging to attain, if you are well prepared it is perfectly possible and will significantly boost your career.
However, don't take it to the extreme. For example, questions by people considering the CFA charter can often start like this: "Hi, I'm so and so, and I'm currently in Industry X, with Y years job experience. Would the CFA get me a job in finance industry Z?"
No. CFA qualification does not equal to a job. Much as I'd like it to.
Some qualifications are requirements - that is, you need it before you can apply for a job, just like you probably need a medical degree before you cut someone up on the surgical table. But it certainly does not mean that a job offer comes with the certificate. As far as I know the CFA charter is not a technical requirement for any job - however in many roles in finance it is increasingly common (and preferred) to the point of ubiquity.
That's not to say that the CFA is not worth your time. The CFA charter is essentially a testament from the CFA Institute that you have a high level of investment, asset management and ethics knowledge. It is especially relevant in asset & investment management, private wealth, equity research, and sometimes investment banking. I essentially boosted my financial knowledge from newbie to pretty advanced in the space of 3 years, and the CFA exams provided a perfect template to make sure I knew my stuff. So it gives your CV an edge over the others in some cases, and will help your credentials and your work performance. If you're looking to address these, I would absolutely recommend the CFA charter.
But the CFA charter alone is not going to radically change your job hunting results. Trying to get a job by beefing up qualifications is like trying to score at singles' night by having the best damn suit there is. It gets you some initial attention and helps you stand out, but ultimately your personality and charm will have to follow through. No amount of wardrobe tweaking will compensate for that.
The most desired jobs will always be hotly contested for. CFA designations are part of the CV arms race (together with Harvard degrees, MBAs and all the rest) and will make you stand out if no one else has it, but in the end, quite often the most difference you can make is to master the art of networking and acing interviews. These often have massive effect because it is an essential part of the job hunting process that that most people don't concentrate on. Networking and interviewing are soft skills that some of the more introverted tend to avoid unless absolutely necessary - hence the focus often shifts to getting more qualifications.
I know it's not fun, getting rejections or feedback on why you sucked at your last interview, or prepping your CV and background knowledge on another firm for the nth time. Facing rejection after rejection is one of the most soul-crushing experiences you will know. But these are essential skills that you have to learn if you want to succeed at job hunting. What's more, these are very valuable skills that will help you continuously throughout your career, so the sooner you pick these up the better!
It's true that obtaining a CFA charter or an MBA opens up new professional networks & more opportunities, but again your networking skills will be key - without them you're still going to draw empty. No one is going to go 'oh, this candidate has a CFA/MBA/whatever, let's just give him the job'.
Although not a magic bullet, the CFA charter is an important career enhancement. How has studying or acquiring the CFA charter helped your career?
Preparing for the CFA? Access my full Resources section for my reviews on where to find the best free CFA material online & critical exam tips for every CFA Level.