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Considering a career in finance? It’s more than just “buy low, sell high.” In this article, we’ll take a look at the ins and outs of a career in finance to help you decide if it’s right for you.
You might picture a career in finance much like the ‘80s film “Wall Street,” with greedy, cutthroat mega-capitalists performing insider trading and doing anything, no matter how unscrupulous, to make money and lots of it. While Hollywood is good at emphasizing the dark side of various fields, in this case, money management, the field of finance isn’t nearly as dramatic. And there are other positions besides stockbroker that you can pursue (and with the advent of e-trading these days, there aren’t nearly as many people yelling “sell high!” on the floor of the stock exchange).
But careers in the field of finance can indeed be quite financially lucrative, and there are a variety of jobs in many industries that might appeal to people looking to land a finance job. So how do you start a career in finance?
In this article, we’ll discuss finance as a career path, including:
How do I know if finance is for me?
Do finance jobs make a lot of money?
What does a career in finance look like?
Is finance a stressful career?
Jobs available in the field of finance
It might be. While online banking and digital trading are widespread, there is still a need for skilled, experienced finance professionals who can benefit from excellent salaries and compensation. And it’s not just a “male career” anymore — more and more women are making their careers in finance as well. If you are a money wiz who is interested in helping companies stay profitable by increasing their revenue, a finance career may be a good match. But it’s more than just “crunching numbers.” You’ll need to be a creative problem-solver and be able to think on your feet.
Some other benefits of a career in finance include:
You can make good money, with the median average salary of workers in the business and financial sectors hovering around $76,850.
The work can be varied and exciting, and there are opportunities for advancement.
Finance professionals often have the opportunity to work remotely or in a hybrid environment.
Before you can get started on a finance career, you’ll have to take stock of your skills and education. Typically, an entry-level finance position requires, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business, and a master’s degree will be required for executive-level positions.
Other hard and soft skills needed for a finance career include:
Mathematics and statistics
Interpersonal communication and listening skills
Critical thinking, attention to detail, multitasking, and problem-solving
Budgeting and risk analysis
A finance career isn’t for everyone. Even if you have solid math skills or a “head for business,” there are a few drawbacks to working in finance. Consider these options carefully when deciding if a finance career is right for you:
It’s super-competitive. Attracting mostly “Type A” personalities, there are hundreds of applicants for each open position. And once you’re on the job, you'll often feel like you’re in competition with your co-workers — or even yourself.
The hours can be brutal. Finance isn’t a typical “9-5” job. The days are long, and many finance professionals work evenings and weekends, too.
It can be extremely stressful. Job performance is often tied to income, and if you make a few bad decisions, you can be out of a job.
It requires continuing education and certifications. You need to stay on top of the latest industry trends and keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date.
Not all jobs provide security. While some positions are stable, others are affected by the cyclical nature of the economy, both domestic and global, and are often subject to layoffs when things take a downturn.
Don’t confuse accounting with finance While both fields require a head for figures, they’re actually quite different. Accounting is much more narrow in its focus, dealing mainly with financial statements and managing cash flow, either for individuals or for businesses. A career in finance is much broader and takes those financial statements to forecast company growth and utilizes investing, lending, and borrowing to help a company or individual generate capital.
While having a degree in finance is beneficial, if you majored in another area you can still break into the finance field. Unless you’re trying to get a job in an area that requires a specific certification, key skills in finance are communication and relationship building. If you’re a recent graduate, consider a financial analyst program, which is generally a two-year program offered by companies that allow you to “try out” different departments so you can see what fits you best. If you don’t get into one of those programs, you might want to consider strengthening your professional network, which could help you get your “foot in the door.”
Other things you’ll need to do to get a job in finance include:
Prepare a great resume, highlighting your skills, background, and education and how they relate to the finance industry.
Consider an internship, which is a great way to gain finance-related skills and grow your network.
Find a mentor in the finance industry who can offer advice, critique your resume and interviewing skills, and share their knowledge of the field. A mentor can also recommend you for positions and help you stand out from the competition.
Stay up to date on financial trends. Knowing the industry jargon as well as the latest news will help you in interviews and networking events, allowing you to “talk the talk.” It will also help you narrow down what area of finance most appeals to you.
Look into any needed certifications, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exams.
When narrowing down the type of finance job you’re interested in, think back to your college courses, especially the ones you enjoyed. Finance jobs can be competitive, so it’s important to find an area that aligns with your skills and talents to increase your chances of finding a position.
2023 average US salary: $63,954 (not including commissions, bonuses, or profit-sharing)
A stockbroker works on behalf of his or her clients and carries out orders for purchases and sales in the stock market, either on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the NASDAQ. Stockbrokers usually work for a brokerage firm and deal with both businesses and individuals and typically earn a commission per transfer. Stockbrokers are often required to grow their client base, so strong entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills are needed to be successful.
2023 average US salary: $65,795
Financial analysts work for investment firms, banks, and other financial institutions in New York or other financial centers, but may also work for companies in other industries. Generally considered a "starter job" in finance for many professionals, financial analysts give direction to entities, either corporate or individuals, who are making investment choices, evaluate the performance of investments such as stocks and bonds, assess corporate financial data, and perform research to determine viable investment opportunities. Financial analysts need good math skills, have excellent attention to detail, and must be able to handle high levels of stress as well as work long hours.
2023 average US salary: $66,079
A personal financial planner works long-term with individual clients to manage their current finances and set and reach long-term financial goals. Areas of specialization range from investments, retirement planning, taxes, college funds, and estate planning, although some planners handle all of these areas for a client. Financial planners act as fiduciaries, which means they are legally bound to work in their client's best interests because they don't take outside money to promote a particular investment or fund. Financial planners need to obtain a Certified Financial Planner certification and need to have strong analytical and communication skills to build a robust client list.
2023 average US salary: $126,655
A quantitative analyst (or “quant”) creates and applies multifaceted mathematical models that help financial organizations make choices regarding investments, pricing, and risk management, with the overall goal of producing profits while minimizing overall risk. Quants need to have strong math skills, an analytical mind, and the ability to work independently. You'll also need a Ph.D. in economics, statistics, math, or computational finance and have keen computer skills.
2023 average US salary: $265,256
Investment bankers work with corporations and facilitate funding in capital markets, assist with mergers/acquisitions, and function as financial advisors. Investment bankers need a variety of skills including relationship management, financial modeling, and forecasting. While the hours are long and stressful, especially at the beginning of a career, investment bankers are highly valued and well-compensated and have ample room for career growth.
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A career in finance is more than just “crunching numbers.” You need to be a creative problem-solver and be able to think on your feet.
An entry-level finance position typically requires, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business, and a master’s degree will be required for executive-level positions.
While a career in finance can be lucrative, it’s also stressful and requires long hours.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator. A former public school teacher, she has expertise with English literature, writing, and public speaking, as well as an extensive professional background in advertising and media analysis. Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in Theater and a master’s degree in Education, and is the author of two published novels.