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How to stand out when applying to competitive Wall Street jobs

iStock 462756183 - Global Banking | Finance

How to stand out when applying to competitive Wall Street jobs

The competition for entry-level positions in the finance industry is intense. For the most coveted roles like investment banking, venture capital, or private equity, you are often competing against the most ambitious people in the world – many of whom went to the very best colleges. Even in the slightly more attainable wealth management and insurance professions, landing an entry level position is very challenging. There’s a way to differentiate yourself from the crowd and increase your chances of landing a coveted finance job – by adding the FINRA Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) license to your resume.

What is the FINRA SIE exam?

Introduced by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in 2018, the SIE exam is an introductory licensing test for those stepping into the securities industry. This test is the gateway to working with securities such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and others. For these roles, the SIE is often a prerequisite that you must pass to be licensed appropriately and work for a financial company.

The SIE serves is not just an introduction to FINRA licensing – it is also an introduction to the world of finance. It acquaints you with various facets of the industry, such as financial products, market dynamics, investor suitability, and securities regulations. 

Why is the FINRA SIE relevant now?

Before the inception of the SIE exam in October 2019, prospective hires had to be “sponsored” by their employing firm. This sponsorship meant the responsibility for an employee’s training and licensing fell on the employer. However, FINRA purposefully made it so that the SIE exam can be taken without sponsorship. This is because the goal of the new test was to 1) unify the similar parts of the previous Representative-level exams into a ‘common core’, and 2) make it possible for people to take and pass the exam before applying to jobs.

Why would FINRA want people to take the FINRA SIE before applying to jobs? The answer has to do with the responsibility of FINRA to its constituents – FINRA-member firms. All firms that operate in the securities industry and similar must be registered with FINRA as a member firm. These firms are also required to license all of their candidates for roles like a General Securities Representative, which requires a Series 7 license. This meant that finance firms had to hire and then fire many good candidates because they could not pass their required licensing exams. This was a painful problem for both FINRA firms and the new hires who had their career dreams dashed. 

The FINRA SIE was created to fix this problem. By making it accessible to people who have not yet entered the finance industry, FINRA has provided both a way for candidates to prove themselves to prospective employers, and a way for employers to screen applicants for their ability to understand the finance industry.

Why you should get your FINRA SIE license before applying to jobs

Since the exam was released in 2018, the FINRA SIE is now commonly used throughout the finance industry and is required for all licensed Representative-level roles. As such, it has become expected for candidates to study, prepare, and pass the SIE independently before sending out job applications. Why the dramatic shift?

Firstly, there’s a very practical, brass-tacks reason: it saves employers substantial time and money. You come to the table ready to get to work and skip at least two weeks of training time.

The second reason is that it proves your ability to understand complex concepts and pass FINRA exams. This is crucial as several thousand employees at large financial firms are terminated annually due to their inability to pass the required FINRA licensing exams for their roles. When you come with a SIE license, you provide assurance to hiring managers about your abilities and are perceived as a safer choice.

And most importantly, many jobs in finance require the SIE license anyway. Roles that require the license include: financial advisor, private wealth associate, research associate, trading representative, financial services consultant, equity research associate,  investment banking analyst, financial analyst, and more. Even if a job description doesn’t explicitly list the SIE as a prerequisite, having it on your resume can tilt the scales in your favor.


At the end of the day, passing the SIE exam not only boosts your chances of being hired but also places you in a position of preparedness and confidence when approaching the finance industry. For those who do not have a “typical” Wall Street background like a degree in business or finance, adding this credential can be a game-changer.

Global Banking & Finance Review


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