Markets In Your Community

Advice for students: Planning for a financial industry career

With the launch of the 2018-2019 academic year, college students around the nation are returning to campus and getting started with coursework to set themselves on a path toward a degree followed by a rewarding career.

If you’re a college student or career advisor, here’s a tip: consider the financial industry for a plentiful menu of career options. A 2014 assessment of “financial specialist employment” projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that most financial specialties are likely to see growing opportunities in the years to come. Students who lay the groundwork early can position themselves to take advantage of this trend.

So, what’s the best way to start preparing for a career in the financial industry? Here are some tips to help you consider the available opportunities and start building a pathway that will take you where you need to go.

A college degree is a must. For most jobs, a bachelor’s degree is a minimum education requirement, and advanced degrees are common. You might think you need a background in finance, economics, accounting or advanced mathematics to prosper in the world of financial services. To be sure, those are valuable degrees that will give many candidates a leg up in the recruiting and hiring process. And of course, other business degrees, like management, business administration and marketing, can be an asset in financial services.

But keep in mind that other backgrounds can be equally valuable. In particular, workers with strong technology skills— like coding, software development, cybersecurity and IT infrastructure management— are in high demand in the financial industry and capital markets, and command good starting salaries and paths for advancement.

And as more traditional banks and financial institutions enter the financial technology, or “fintech,” space, opportunities will be plentiful for the tech-savvy worker who brings a strong grounding in fields like data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Similarly, it’s not unusual for workers with a background in humanities or social sciences to carve out rewarding careers in the financial world, if they bring strong communication, creative thinking and problem-solving skills to the table.

Look for internship and apprenticeship opportunities.  Internships have long been an excellent way for students to test the waters of the workplace in a variety of industries. The financial services industry is no exception. Not only do internships give you a chance to experience the industry on a hands-on basis—they also help you to build your professional network, nurture relationships with mentors and set yourself up for a future job.

Check out the websites of financial institutions, or talk to an advisor or career counselor at your college or university, for information on how to apply for internships. Keep a close eye on application deadlines and requirements, as internships at financial firms can be highly competitive.

Similarly, some financial industry leaders are experimenting with apprenticeships, “earn while you learn” programs that allow young workers to gain valuable paid experience in the workplace while pursuing a degree and other professional credentials. When you’ve completed your schooling and the terms of your apprenticeship, a job is waiting for you. While these innovative training programs are still not widespread, more companies have expressed interest, so look around to find out if apprenticeships are available in your area. Project Invested took a closer look at financial apprenticeships in April.

Diversity needs open up new opportunities. Workforce diversity is a vital goal in 21st century American companies. As the nation’s demographics have evolved to reflect a greater range of diversity, the financial industry is striving to build a workforce that looks like America. Recruiting and hiring candidates with a wider array of backgrounds and personal experiences can boost team performance, as well as customer service. Industry leaders have made a strong commitment to improving workforce diversity.

To that end, financial institutions and the industry as a whole host programs to draw from a larger pool of potential talent. For example, Girls Who Invest is an innovative 10-week summer program for college-age women that aims to increase the representation of women in asset management. The goal is to have 30% of assets under management being managed by women by 2030.

Similarly, Veterans on Wall Street is a non-profit initiative that seeks to recruit military veterans to the financial industry. Veterans are known for strong leadership skills and strong attention to detail, but they often lack the professional network to open doors in the financial industry when they separate from service. Veterans on Wall Street works to bridge that gap by identifying and recruiting military personnel who would be a good fit for the industry.

In addition, many financial firms manage in-house programs to recruit talented individuals, seeking minority candidates, women and military veterans. Check out the website of virtually any leading financial institution for more information on internship and recruitment programs aimed at enhancing diversity. You may be surprised at the wealth of possibilities. 

Think local. Interested in financial services but would like to stay closer to home and family? One of the advantages of the financial industry is that it’s nationwide, with opportunities available in communities of all sizes from coast to coast. Sure, cities like New York, London and Hong Kong are leading financial centers, but there are countless branch offices, regional players and locally owned firms in places around the world—and many of them are looking for young talent to manage customer accounts, advise clients and provide critical management and administrative support. Positions in a local or regional office can be an excellent entry point, either to get training to move up the ranks or to build a durable professional career in the community you know and love.

Research job titles and the credentialing process. The umbrella term “financial services” encompasses a wide range of jobs, roles, responsibilities and expertise. To get a sense of just how expansive the possibilities and opportunities can be, check out this comprehensive list of professional designations used in financial services and related industries, courtesy of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). If you’re unsure of what path you’d like to pursue in the financial industry, that list might even help you generate ideas for possible career paths.

Note also that the financial industry has a strong commitment to professionalism, continuing education and high ethical standards, so as you begin to narrow down your career interests to a specific niche, be aware of the need for the appropriate credentials and licensing that you may need to move up the career ladder. If you can earn those certifications in advance of your job hunt, you may find it helps you stand out from other recruits.

Ask about student loan repayment. To be more competitive in recruiting and hiring, many top financial firms are offering student loan repayment options for new hires. This benefit—relatively uncommon in most industries—can go a long way toward helping young workers to get free of their student debt, while building the skills for a rewarding career in a demanding and well-paying industry. If you anticipate ending your college years with a significant amount of student debt, check around to see if potential employers offer incentives that might alleviate that burden.

Financial sector jobs open doors. Even if you’re not sure you want to dedicate your entire career to the financial sector, it can be an excellent launching pad toward opportunities in the corporate world, tech industry, government, academia, entrepreneurship, non-profit sector and virtually any other field. The financial industry is challenging and competitive, which makes it a proving ground for creative thinkers and strong performers. Should you decide to change your career path later, you’ll appreciate the training you received and lessons you learned in the financial world.

If you’re interested in a career in financial services, the opportunities are there – but it’s wise to start planning early so you can position yourself for success when it comes to internships, apprenticeships and hiring. Save this article, and keep an eye out for other career tips on Project Invested, to help you chart the right course.