Financial Career Options For Professionals

By David Kochanek AAA

A career in finance isn't all about money, but it's close. For the business graduate, obtaining a degree is just the beginning. What's left is to take a closer look at available career options, measuring which industry sectors have the greatest need for new professionals. The finance industry is multifaceted, offering a variety of positions catering to a number of different skills and interests. Financial services have multiple sub-industries encompassing niche opportunities. The key to individual success is to research, locate and land the financial job that has the greatest compatibility with your skills and interests. The same is true for professionals seeking a change in scenery and who want to give a new sector a shot.

Considering Career Paths
Here are some common career paths in the financial-services industry:

Corporate Finance
Corporate finance jobs involve working for a company in the capacity of finding and managing the capital necessary to run the enterprise. This is done while maximizing corporate value and reducing financial risk.

The functions you may implement while in such a position include the following:

  • Setting up the company's overall financial strategy
  • Forecasting profits and losses
  • Negotiating lines of credit
  • Preparing financial statements
  • Coordinating with outside auditors

More sophisticated corporate finance jobs might involve mergers and acquisitions activity, such as calculating the value of an acquisition target or determining the value of a division for a spinoff. Corporate finance positions can be found in companies of all sizes, from large, international entities to small startups. Additional corporate finance positions include financial analysts, treasurers and internal auditors

Commercial Banking 
Commercial banks, from large entities to local institutions, offer a range of financial services, from checking and savings accounts to IRAs and loans. Career options available in this sector include bank tellers, loan officers, operations, marketing and branch managers. Talented professionals can advance from a local branch job to a position in corporate headquarters. Such a promotion would expose you to a number of other areas, such as international finance. 

Investment Banking 
Some of the most glamorous - and intense - financial careers are jobs in investment banking. Investment-banking jobs deal with facilitating the issuance of corporate securities and making these securities available for investors to purchase, all while trading securities and providing financial advice to both corporations and wealthy individual investors.

Typically, investment-banking firms have a number of different divisions and groups with many different objectives and responsibilities. Working in a traditional investment-banking firm would allow you to interact with issuers of securities, mergers and acquisitions professionals or the trading desk, which trades stocks, bonds and other securities in the secondary market. 

Hedge Funds
Hedge funds are largely unregulated private investment funds whose managers can buy or sell a wide array of assets and financial products. Because of the mystery that surrounds this type of entity, hedge-fund jobs are also considered by many to be somewhat glamorous. 

Typical hedge-fund jobs include the following:

Private Equity and Venture Capital
Private-equity professionals help businesses find capital for both expansion and current operations. They also provide financing for a number of corporate business transactions, such as managed buyouts and restructurings. At times, a private-equity job may involve working as an interim executive at a struggling company where your success helps determine the fate of the company. 

Venture-capital professionals (VCs) spend most of their time with startups or small, fast-growth companies. Venture-capital firms evaluate pitches by founders and small-company leaders to determine if the firm will make an investment. Sometimes referred to as "vulture capitalists," VCs are known to structure deals that favor the investor, not the company receiving funding. The hope of the VC is that the funded company will some day go public – that is, make its stock available on the public stock market. Venture capital is a tough business where the failure rate is high and the rewards, when they are realized, are huge. 

Financial Planning
Financial planners help individuals develop plans that will ensure their present and future financial stability. Typically, they review a client's financial goals and generate an appropriate plan for saving and investing that fits the client's individual needs. The plan may focus on wealth preservation or investment growth and may even include estate and tax planning. Most financial planners work in either large, nationwide groups or smaller, locally based firms. Some planners charge flat fees, others a percentage of assets under management, receiving commissions on the products they sell (such as mutual funds).

Generally, financial planners with the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) designation are the most in-demand, as they must obtain three years of financial-planning experience, pass several exams (including a two-day, 10-hour case-study exam) and meet continuing-education requirements. 

Insurance
Finance jobs in the insurance industry involve helping businesses and individuals anticipate potential risks and protect themselves from losses. Most insurance jobs are with large insurance companies. You could begin a career in this sector working as a sales rep selling insurance policies, as a customer service rep working with existing clients or as an actuary computing risks and premium rates according to probabilities based on historical, quantitative data sets. 

Public Accounting
The field of public accounting is broad, with many opportunities. Public accountants help businesses and individuals keep track of their finances according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Public accountants record business transactions, help prepare financial statements, audit financial records, prepare income tax returns and provide related consulting services.

Accountants generally work in partnerships. The largest partnerships are known as the Big Four (previously the Big Eight and the Big Six) and include Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG. But many jobs also exist at many smaller firms. Typically, new hires start as a staff accountant, then advance to audit manager, then tax manager and eventually, if they can maintain the tough working schedule for many years, a partner in the firm. 

Finding Financial Job Opportunities
Financial jobs exist at almost every company in almost every industry. There are two ways to find openings - online and offline - and it's a good idea to use both methods. Keep in mind that financial jobs are highly specialized, so generic job boards are not the best places to seek such positions. Instead, consider niche sites, such as Job Search Digest. When looking offline, specialized executive recruiters (a.k.a. headhunters) can be excellent resources for both financial job opportunities and career advice. Your university's alumni association can also be very helpful by putting you in touch with industry insiders who are willing to provide some insight and sometimes job leads. 

Industry conferences and other networking events are also great places to look for financial jobs. Concerning networking, never forget the value of personal interaction - everyone you meet could know someone who knows of a job opening. Keep your avenues of communication open by following up in a professional, yet personal way, such as a hand-written note or forwarding an article of common interest. 

Choosing the Right Direction for You
It is always wise to consider the direction of the market before seeking a financial job. To effectively pursue jobs with the highest probability of success, you must measure the demand for the position. Different financial jobs require different skills and present vastly different work environments, so it's wise to select one that aligns with your long-term interests and abilities. Someone with solid interpersonal skills, for example, might do well as a financial advisor, while someone who enjoys crunching numbers might do better in public accounting. Do the research first to discover your options. The time spent uncovering the most interesting possibilities to you can be time saved working in a job that just doesn't fit.

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