Markets In Action

Thinking About a Career in Finance? Here Are Seven Things to Know

As today’s students move toward graduation, many are thinking ahead to their future courses of study (for college-bound high school grads) and potential career paths (for rising college students).

For those with the right skill set and interest in financial services careers, now is a good time to look closer as opportunities are growing. In 2012, there were 2.7 million people in the United States employed in the financial sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many of those positions pay well above the median wage of all occupations.

Here are seven things to keep in mind if you’re considering a career in the financial industry.

Think local. While a lot of financial media coverage may focus on Wall Street and the world of big banks, remember that the industry is actually much larger and broader, with opportunities abounding nationwide and around the world. If you prefer living and working in a smaller city or town, there are ample opportunities in financial advising, banking, insurance, mortgage lending, accounting and other finance-related fields.

Hiring is bouncing back. Like most industries, the financial sector took a significant hit in the recession of 2007-2009, with a significant slowdown in hiring. But with the gradual recovery of the last several years, and a brighter outlook forecast for the future, hiring has been picking up—and that means more opportunities for younger, entry-level workers at the start of their careers.

And demand is growing. Another positive trend is that demand for financial professionals is expected to grow in the years to come—and job growth in some areas is expected to be faster than in others, as the BLS notes. For example, with more members of the Baby Boom generation at or nearing retirement, demand for capable, qualified financial advisors to help in managing retirement portfolios can be expected to grow. And that higher demand translates into higher wages and salaries for those who are prepared to fill the need.

What do you need to know? Most financial sector jobs require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum education requirement. And, yes, some majors will give you a leg up in the recruiting and hiring process compared to others. Graduates with a strong background in math, finance, economics, engineering, statistics or accounting, as well as related business fields like management or marketing, may find themselves in a stronger position. Also, many financial specialties require specialized certifications and licenses, so if possible, try to earn those certifications in advance of your job hunt to stand out from other potential recruits.

But unconventional backgrounds can also pay dividends. Let’s face it, math skills are obviously a plus for a lot of jobs in financial services. But that doesn’t mean that those with a non-finance background should despair of their potential for a career in financial services, especially if you boast high-level leadership abilities or people skills, which can be invaluable in upper management and sales positions. The famous investor George Soros, for example, holds a doctorate in philosophy.

The fact is that unconventional backgrounds can pay dividends for the right candidates. Many financial institutions are making strong plays to recruit military veterans, for example, because former service personnel often have deep experience in leadership, situation analysis and problem-solving.

Play a critical supporting role. Maybe you don’t have an interest in financial analysis, making sales calls or more conventional financial career tracks. But there are alternative paths into the financial industry that pay well and can be highly rewarding.

Getting a law degree? Attorneys with a solid background in navigating regulatory issues play a valuable role in helping banks, investment firms, insurance companies and other financial institutions comply with ever-changing government regulations and laws. Are you a tech whiz? Expect ample opportunities if you can show expertise in cybersecurity, as firms have stepped up their efforts to protect client data and valuable proprietary information.

Financial sector jobs open doors. Not sure you want a long-term career in finance? Financial sector jobs can be excellent preparation for virtually any other career you can imagine; it can be a springboard into corporate work, government positions, journalism, teaching, entrepreneurship and more. It’s a challenging, competitive field that requires real skills that are in demand throughout the job market—and that can be just the ticket for someone getting started in their career.

Want to learn more? For a good primer on career opportunities in the financial specialties, check out this BLS report.