A career in finance can be high stress, competitive, and hugely rewarding both money-wise and in your own sense of personal satisfaction at succeeding in a genuinely tough industry. However, it can be hard to figure out how best to break in and how to position yourself for success.
Get Your Degree
It’s not impossible to launch a career in finance without a degree. However, it will be significantly harder, and you may end up needing to get one anyway to move beyond an entry-level position. At many companies, your resume will not even get a look if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. In addition, it’s a good idea to major in finance. You don’t have to, but again, you’ll be making things harder on yourself with a degree in sociology or English or philosophy when you’re competing with a bunch of other people who specifically studied it in college.
It’s also easier to get internships and make connections if you study it. If money is a concern, then you are no different from most college students. You may be apprehensive about costs and going into debt, but you can research student loans, interest rates and repayment plans and choose one that works for you. You can see your options here to learn more about this route to pay for college and get started on making your dreams come true.
Internships, Mentors, and Networking
These are all things you can start working on while still in college. Internships can be an amazing opportunity to get solid work experience and start connecting with people in the finance world. Some even go on to work at the places where they originally interned. If you can take an internship, you absolutely should. Internships aren’t possible for everyone. Some don’t pay enough while others may require moving to another city for the summer, which might not be financially feasible.
In the absence of an internship, however, you could look at working in the industry while you’re in school, either part-time during the year or full-time during the summer. Working at a bank can teach you a great deal, and you may actually end up with more responsibility and experience than somewhat else might at an internship. Getting some work experience in whatever way you can is also tied up with seeking a mentor and networking. A mentor can be a formal relationship, but mentors can also be different people that you meet along the way who teach you and help you along your career path without ever establishing a formal mentoring relationship.
If you are seeking something more structured, your school or an organization at your school may have a program that can connect you with a mentor. At your internship or part-time job, practice networking. This is a term that is often misunderstood; you don’t have to go in like you’re trying to sell someone a used car that’s also a lemon. Networking involves building mutually beneficial relationships, the cornerstone of business. Cultivate a genuine interest in and curiosity toward people and it will come to you much more naturally. As a student, you can also network with your professors and classmates.
School is important, but teaching yourself is important as well. Reading publications like The Wall Street Journal along with books and websites on investing can help you start to pick up the jargon that will make others’ conversations much more understandable to you and will also help you sound like you know what you’re talking about, which you will. You can use a trading simulator to help you create mock portfolios, which helps you follow the market.
You can even set up an online brokerage account with just a little bit of money and start dabbling in investing yourself in order to learn more. There are also certifications that you can start working on as an undergraduate even if you need work experience in order to complete some of them. As long as you are at least 18, you can take the Securities Industry Essential exam, and you can take the first exam for the Chartered Financial Analyst credential during your final year of college.
Don’t Rush Into an MBA
At some point, you may have to get an MBA in order to advance in your career. However, it can be a mistake to go straight into this after getting your bachelor’s. First of all, if the program is accepting you straight out of college without any work experience, it may not be very well-regarded. For the most part, reputable programs want individuals who have been in the workplace for a few years.
Another reason to wait is to make sure that having an MBA is standard for executives in the industry you’re working in. You may want to go a different route, such as becoming a CPA, or it may simply be that most people are promoted in the sector where you work based more on experience than education. Whatever the case, get to know the lay of the land before jumping into this program, and make sure that getting it is compatible with your career goals.
Seeking Your First Job
Your campus probably has some career resources, and that should be your first stop in seeking your first job after graduation. If you have a rapport with one or more of your professors, you may want to talk to them about your ambitions as well. However, adjust your expectations for your first job. In other words, scale them down. In an industry this competitive, you’re unlikely to walk into your dream job straight out of college, but that’s not in any way a reflection on what kind of long-term success you can expect.
What’s most important is getting your foot in the door. Create a map for your career that includes a timeline with medium and long-term goals on it that you can go back to periodically. If your first job isn’t great, understanding where it fits in as part of your overall plan can help you keep your motivation up, and you can create an exit strategy that will help you move into something that gets you closer to your ultimate goal.