How to Land a Finance Job

On 10/01/2012, in Career, by Jordan Wilson

Want a career in finance?

Many do, and the competition level can be high for entry level finance positions.

So how can you increase the odds of finding a finance job? Especially if you only possess a bachelor’s degree in business.

Well, glad you asked. 

Investopedia has a decent article, “How to Land a Finance Job With a Bachelor’s Degree”. They offer some good ideas.

Seek an Internship

Getting your foot in the door is often a good thing (assuming that you do not put that same foot in your mouth while trying to make a good impression).

Internships (or part-time or summer employment) give you some experience to put on the resume. Not much, but a little. Yes, it is usually simple tasks. But you will pick up some terminology and a feel for what goes on.

Internships give you a better idea of the available career paths and what skill sets are required to attain them. They also provide an opportunity to network, which is important.

If you get a chance to work the summer or after school in a finance related company, I suggest you take it. The pay may be less than painting houses or landscaping, but the long run benefits will greatly exceed the lost remuneration.

I realize that internships and part-time employment in finance companies are in high demand and short supply. Not everyone reading this will have the opportunity to work for Goldman Sachs or UBS for the summer. But do not despair. There are other options to improve your marketability.

Diversify Your Experience

Most students do not really know what they want to do with their lives. They have a general idea, but not the specifics. If you can explore different finance related fields through part-time employment, you will get exposure to more career paths. This will assist in choosing the best path for your personality and interests.

You can also gain experience for a career in finance through non-finance activities.

Many finance positions require an understanding of international issues. Foreign language skills and cultural knowledge may be assets in your future finance job. In fact, a common trait among Chief Executive Officers is that they possess international work experience.

Learning finance is important. But you also need to apply your technical skills to different industries. If you live in Western Canada, the natural resource sector is critical to the economy. Working the summer in a resource company and/or taking courses relating to natural resources will improve your knowledge of the actual industries you will be working in or dealing with.

As well, companies seek employees strong in soft skills such as leadership and communications. If your part-time employment, extracurricular activities, or classes in school help develop your soft skills, you will have an edge on your competition.

Talk the Talk

A good suggestion to start reading financial and business news to learn some of the lingo. The world of finance is not like a book or movie where someone always explains the acronyms and slang up front. You usually need to figure things out on your own.

My big caveat though. If you try to talk the talk, please make sure you can walk the walk. Nothing drives me as crazy as listening to someone recite talking points without having any real idea as to what he or she is saying.

Start Your CFA

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is the benchmark in the finance industry (disclosure, I am a CFA).

It is a relatively difficult program to complete. Plus you need to accrue substantial practical experience before earning the CFA designation. But because of the difficulty in attaining those letters it has excellent value in the industry.

If I see someone who has successfully completed the program, it tells me that they have a base technical competence in finance. Perhaps more importantly, it shows me that they have the dedication and work ethic to get through three plus years of challenging exams.

I do not expect you to wait until you finish the CFA program before beginning to search for a finance position. In fact, many entry level positions only request that candidates be enrolled in the program or have completed a specific level (for an entry level job, probably CFA Level I). So if you are in the program, that should open the door to many open positions.

Another big caveat. You would not believe the number of young adults I have interviewed who “intend to” or “plan to” or “will” enter the CFA program in the next few months. When I hear that, these job candidates lose more points than if they never said a word about beginning the program. Companies want go-getters. Proactive people that take the initiative to improve their skills and job prospects. If you cannot be motivated to start the main designation for a career in finance in order to get your first job, what will motivate you to enhance your skills?

When faced with two equal candidates for a job, one who is self-motivated and proactive, the other less so, who do you think lands the job?

If you are serious about a long-term career in finance, take the chance and enter the CFA program as soon as possible. It will definitely aid in landing a finance job.

Now I am talking a true finance function here. When applying for the job you will readily see if they require or desire a CFA designation.

However, if you want to work in another aspect of the financial services industry, there other designations you can consider. For example, I outline the Certified Financial Planner designation in Canada and compare the CFA designation with the Certified Financial Planner certification. As you can see, they are quite different. Or, if you consider the financial advisor side of the business, there is an alphabet soup of certifications available. And that does not factor in professional accounting, MBAs, or law degrees.

So depending on the area of finance in which you wish to specialize, there may be other preferential designations to consider. But, in general, the CFA is good route to pursue.


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