Essential Guide to Careers in Finance
Sep 06, 2017 | By Joseph Flanagan
The finance sector is healthy. Very healthy.
With an unemployment rate of only 2.1% in July 2017, it's no wonder that the finance and insurance sector in the United States of America is one of the most desired industries to work in for graduates from all corners of the globe.
It had almost 300,000 job openings in June 2017 and it is a trend that is not showing any signs of slowing down. It's also a financially lucrative industry to be in with a median salary for an entry level Accountant and Insurance Agent in the USA at around $50,000 ; and for entry level Financial Analyst / Financial Planning Analyst at approximately $55,000 (as of August 2017).
If you reach the senior / managerial levels of these positions you can expect to receive at least double that of a salary of an entry level candidate.
But how do you enter careers in finance?
Continue reading this guide as it is designed to answer this exact question.
Decide which segment of the finance jobs market you wish to target
Different areas of this industry require a different skill set. Some of the most common career paths in the financial services industry are positions in: corporate finance, financial planning, accounting, commercial banking, investment banking, private equity and venture capital, real estate, as well as insurance.
To gain inspiration take a look at our free to use Career Paths ™ Guide . With plenty of insights into financial institutions, you can work out where you may want to work in future and the path to get there.
Once you've decided where your passion and interest lies, then you can start focusing your attention, time and education in that area.
Take a financial course at a reputable institution
In the USA alone there are over 990 institutions offering financial related courses ranging from certificates and diplomas, pathways programs, associate degrees, bachelors degrees, postgraduate, pre-masters programs, MBA's and doctoral degrees.
The financial world is your oyster!
Watch: Myth vs. Reality for Careers in Finance
Set career goals for yourself as a finance professional
Is it a managerial position you wish to end up at next? If so, have in mind that most graduate training programs provide fast-track career development where at the end of it, graduates receive an offer of a management position.
Make a long-term finance career plan
Start with the end goal in mind. Such questions to consider include, asking yourself is the corporate finance world and working for an employer your final destination or do you wish to one day open your own consultancy and move into private practice?
Engage on message boards and social media
This can include forums such as Wall Street Oasis , The Advisor Forum and Financial Wisdom Forum . Apart from gaining a wealth of knowledge and commercial awareness there is also the chance of liaising with recruiters.
Apply for summer internships
Before each summer starts, know which summer internship will you be attending.
A few places to check out:
Apply early for graduate internships
Don’t leave your application submission to the last minute. The applications that arrive earlier have a greater chance to be reviewed more carefully in comparison with applications that arrive just before the deadline expires.
Many jobs never get advertised publicly as they get filled by word-of-mouth and candidates referrals, so start building your network while you're still studying.
VelvetJobs Expert Tip
Use your school’s volunteers directory - it contains a list of students that volunteer.
Discuss with them about the different career paths they've chosen. Note their answers, exchange contact details and stay in touch from time to time.
After graduating, you can use your school’s alumni office to be able to contact alumni who agreed for their contact details to be shared with other alumni.
This way, whenever you wish to apply for a finance job you'll have a network of people to ask to be your eyes and ears for new opportunities. Only then you will realize how much your path was smoothed out by doing this.
Find a mentor
For your first mentor you can ask one of your professors who used to work in the finance sector before teaching, so you start learning how it real feels to be a part of the finance world.
Ask your friend, family and colleagues
If they know anybody who is looking for a finance intern or an entry level finance worker. Or if you have set your eyes on a particular person / company and would wish to connect with then you need to literally call, email, and/or visit every person you have ever met in your life and ask them if they know who you are trying to reach.
Your resume is the opportunity to show that you have both the technical and the soft skills that finance industry employers are looking for. You will do this by including the following in your finance resume:
Highlight any appropriate courses
Such as courses you have taken throughout your education - even in high school - such as economics, mathematics, and calculus and also mention the grades if you aced these papers.
If you've graduated as top of your class, you must include that on your resume as it's your greatest accomplishment until now and employers such as big banks are for the most part seeking the highest achieving graduates.
You need to convince your future employer that you have commercial skills . Demonstrate how you've applied your business know-how in previous situations regardless whether they've happened while you were paid or in volunteering positions.
VelvetJobs Expert Tip
What are commercial skills?
Also known as "commercial awareness" shows understanding of the nature of their business environment.
This includes the organization's:
Leadership experienceFinance recruiters are always on the lookout for the leaders of tomorrow’s finance world. So if you have leadership experience either during your studies, at a university society or in your personal life, make sure you include them on your resume.
Watch: Tell Me About a Time You Demonstrated Leadership
Proven systems expertise of automated finance operations is in high demand in recent years so if you worked in any ERP or any banking IT system this is your competitive advantage over other candidates.
Here are a few examples:
Take a look at Investopedia's: The Alphabet Soup of Financial Certifications for a closer look at the types of certificates you can obtain.
Numbers, numbers, numbers
Quantify your achievements, this is is the finance sector after all, numbers are powerful.
Here's an example bullet point from an Accounting Consultant resume:
Although it's an OK statement to write on a resume it lacks some finer details that can really make the resume stand out, and win this candidate more interviews.
Lets help this Accounting Consultant embellish their resume with quantification and achievements:
Note: You don't need to explain the process per se in the resume, leave that to the interviewer to ask if they so wish.
Check out these financial resumes for inspiration:
Dress the part
It seems to be the “in thing” to dress down in the workplace. Goldman Sachs attempts to lure hipster technology specialists to apply for work there by offering them a year-round casual dress code . J.P. Morgan allows business casual in the office and many investment banks have introduced casual Fridays.
That said, for your finance job interview you will still need to dress according to the strict rules of the finance world . This means a dark suit, plain shirt and black shoes for men.
Under no circumstances are the following allowed:
Know the current finance trends and all major financial technical terms
Even if you are not a finance or business major - and the recruiter sees that on your resume - you'll still be asked basic technical questions on your finance job interview. It goes without saying that a finance graduate will be asked more than just to walk the interviewer through a cash flow statement.
They wish to ensure that the students they are hiring are committed to work in this field for at least few years since they'll be investing significant resources - such as mentors - to develop them.
Find exactly what the interviewer is looking for
The job might be advertised as a Financial Analyst but this title may cover any of the following:
Your interview preparation would be different depending on which of these the role entails.
Research common finance interview questions
There are some interview questions for any sort of finance job that almost always appear, such as a mix of these 13 questions , but also some that are specific to the position you are applying for – examples for questions for accounting-related job interviews can be found here .
Practice the questions
Practice with other people, your career adviser and by yourself as there is truly no substitute to practicing. You will see yourself becoming better and better the more hours you put into rehearsing a finance interview and this will boost your confidence.
Watch: Preparing for Interviews: Accountancy and Finance
Perform consistently but don’t panic if you make a mistake
The interviewers are looking for someone who performs at the 80-90% level on all questions and not for someone who performs great at some and fails miserably at other questions.
There is no room for panic if you make few mistakes as long as your performance is consistent throughout the entire interview.
Keep the answers limited to 2 minutes
Otherwise you might lose the interviewer’s attention or you will provide them additional ammunition to ask you more complicated questions on the same topic.
VelvetJobs – Over 38,000 finance related jobs on our very own job boards.
Finance & Accounting Jobs – if you are looking for a finance or accounting jobs, then this LinkedIn group is for you.
FinancialJobBank – it is more USA-oriented than the previous job website and offers an opportunity to build an online career portfolio.
eFinancialCareers – contains more than 10,000 jobs globally for professionals and students in Finance, Banking, Accounting and Insurance.
Robert Half – is the first and the largest accounting and finance staffing firm in the world that has over 400 locations.
Finance Networking and Social Media Groups
Financial Control, Finance, Accounting, Audit, Reporting, CPA | ACA | ACCA | Accountant – become a member of this LinkedIn group to expand your network and to discuss the latest developments in finance with like-minded people.
Finance Club – this is another LinkedIn group with close to 900,000 members that focusses on helping finance professionals to enhance their careers and close more deals.
Reddit Finance Group – Established for over 9 years, this subreddit provides a wealth of discussion on topical issues helping you with your commercial awareness.
United States National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates - from May 2016 for the Business and Financial Operations occupations in the group starting with 13-0000 codes. This is one of the major occupational groups according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the average hourly and annual wages for a variety of finance-related jobs.
Salary.com – average salary ranges for accounting, banking, insurance, and financial services jobs.
88 Finance Interview Questions and Answers – an informative presentation containing materials such as handing a finance situational interview, finance behavioral interview, and the finance interview thank you letter.
How to Prepare for an Accountancy Interview – tips on how to effectively answer the most common accountancy questions.
Financial Analyst Interview – a website of how to ace a financial analyst interview, including an overview of this role and tips on how to prepare for it.
Introduction to Financial Analysis – a free online course on financial analysis where no prior knowledge of finance is required.
Wall Street Prep – learn financial statement modeling, DCF, M&A, LBO, Excel shortcuts and other investment banking and corporate finance courses online by the method of self-study. Includes several days of boot camps or through on-campus training.
Regardless of whether you're targeting a finance internship or making your first break into the finance industry, there are many jobs up for grabs.
However, since it can be a cut-throat sector and employers know that it takes for a certain type of individual to succeed within it, use this essential guide to a careers in finance to prevent any doubts about your suitability.