Landing a finance job with just a bachelor's degree isn't impossible, but it's highly competitive. The in-boxes, both digital and physical, of industry professionals and HR folks at banks and brokerages are stuffed with the resumes of students who have dreams of big money, lavish lifestyles, and getting on the path to being Masters of the Universe by the time they are 30.
If that weren't enough, the financial and investment services job market is cyclical. When the stock market is booming, finance jobs boom, as well. But when returns dwindle so do the listings and openings.
Of course, even when the market is flush with jobs, they're not all jobs you'd want. Follow these five tips to dramatically increase your chance of landing a finance gig with a bachelor's degree—possibly even before graduation.
- You don't need an MBA to work in finance, but the field is highly competitive, especially at the entry level.
- Internships offer experience, exposure, and a try-out for a full-time gig.
- If you qualify, take advantage of the diversity-oriented programs many firms use to recruit women, minorities, veterans, the disabled, and LGBTQI-community members.
- If you don't want to major in a finance-related field, minor in one—or at least take a course or two.
- Read financial publications and literature regularly; learn the basics.
- Consider sitting for financial industry credentialing exams, like the CFA or the SIE.
1. Seek Internships, Early and Often
An internship can be ideal between the college years, during the college year, and even right after college year (if a program is open to graduates): It helps to fill in for the lack of full-time experience and is not as difficult to get as a real job.
Many finance internships are paid—so no excuses if you need to earn some green—or offer academic credit. If you are going to get a summer job anyway, it is better to do something that will further your career instead of just flipping burgers. The same holds true for working during the academic year. Instead of a part-time gig at the local clothing store, offer to file papers or prepare PowerPoint presentations for a local investment advisor.
Most internships will likely feature plenty of routine tasks. Expect days spent printing out documents, assembling materials for presentations, and similar chores. But they also provide learning experiences, references, networking opportunities, and something tangible to talk about in an interview. You'll also get a sense of the atmosphere of different types of workplaces and how well this type of work might fit your interests and work style.
Don't just stop after one: Doing several internships not only builds your experience and connections; it also demonstrates a strong work ethic—a sought-after quality in the finance industry. Try to pick the jobs strategically. Don't do five internships for equity traders unless you're 100% sure you want to trade stocks for a living. Try to switch it up a little and land internships around the industry. Not only will this will help you gain a better perspective, but exposure to the different sectors of finance also can give you an edge in the job market.
Above all, work very hard at any internship you land. Try to arrive before your supervisors get there and leave after them. Always go the extra mile and volunteer for more if the opportunity arises. The finance industry is famously hard charging, especially at the junior levels, and you need to show you can handle it and more. Good references are valuable no matter what but, more importantly, impressing your bosses during an internship can be a great way to open doors for a future full-time job with that company. Many summer analyst/internship programs at big banks are created to look for entry-level hires for the next year.
2. Use Your Background
"Diversity" is a hot topic in the finance field these days. Highly conscious of its dominated-by-white-men ranks, the industry is trying hard to change and become more in step with a multi-culti society. Part of its initiative is to offer internships, entry-level training programs, and symposia specifically for women, ethnic minorities, and other protected classes (as the EEOC calls them), at the undergraduate or even high school level. Goldman Sachs, for example, offers a Women’s Leadership Camp. Morgan Stanley has a Black, Hispanic, and Native American Early Insights Program. Students with disabilities are eligible for JP Morgan's We See Ability—Undergraduate event, which includes an internship program interview. The dbAchieve Internship offered by Deutsche Bank wants applicants who identify as veterans or as LGBTQI. (And these are just a few programs—for other ideas, check out financial job boards or employment-resource sites like 10X EBITDA.)
If you qualify for a diversity program, course, or scholarship, don't be shy—apply. Many of your classmates will be tapping every family connection they can muster as they hunt for openings. In a competitive job market, play every card you've got.
How To Land A Finance Job With A Bachelor’s Degree
3. Target Your Studies
Many companies say your major does not matter, claiming, "We hire all types; we even have art history majors working here!" No doubt, but it is certainly better to apply for finance jobs with a finance-related degree. You should ideally concentrate in a numbers-oriented discipline: business, economics, applied mathematics.
Other areas of study can be apropos, though. Concepts learned in physics and pure math offer good preparation for understanding currency swaps, derivatives trading, and structured investment products. A knowledge of science or engineering can be useful—even crucial—for becoming a research analyst, investment banker, or fund manager specializing in industries like natural resources, energy, biotech, communications, and pharmaceuticals. And in this era of robo-advisors, digital stock exchanges, and algorithmic trading, those with degrees in information technology or computer sciences find their skills welcome, especially on the support-system or services side.
Still, all is not lost for art history majors or other humanities types. The ability to research, to synthesize and analyze information, and to write well is valuable in any industry, finance included. Even so, if you are going to major in the liberal arts, try to minor in a more numbers-crunching discipline. At the very least, take a course or two.
4. Learn to Talk the Talk
Another great way to prep for a finance career is to make reading financial news part of your regular routine. Pick up a subscription (physical or digital) to The Wall Street Journal and/or the Financial Times and read it every day. Then there are periodicals like The Economist (good for an international point of view) or Barron's or Bloomberg BusinessWeek that will help expand your knowledge as well. As a student, you can normally get discounted subscriptions.
Immersing yourself in financial literature will help you get used to the terms and jargon of Wall Street, which is one of the biggest hurdles to cross. Do you know what MBS, CDS, BPS, EBITDA and federal discount rate mean? Regularly reading the financial news throughout college will help you pick up the basics in due time. Even if you are studying this vocabulary in your courses, reading about real-world finance will help you to solidify that knowledge and feel more comfortable discussing it—and the topics and issues of concern to it (always good to do in an interview).
Other ways of picking up financial knowledge include reading investing books, from basic to advanced topics, and tutorials and guides from financial websites (the fact you're reading Investopedia proves you're already on the right track). Treat learning financial language the same as learning a foreign language.
5. Start Garnering Credentials
Many applicants will have high GPAs and degrees from good schools and will have done the things listed above. How else can you go above and beyond to differentiate yourself?
One way is to take the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1 exam. The CFA is well-respected in the financial industry. You'll need to pass three exams and have four years of eligible work experience to actually obtain the designation, but the first exam can be taken in the final year of a B.A. program, either in December or June.
Financial professionals know the amount of time and dedication that the program entails (a minimum of 250 hours of study is recommended per exam). Coming out of an undergraduate program having passed the first exam will definitely make you stand out among other job candidates.
In the U.S., brokers, registered investment advisors—and others who plan to deal with investments and financial products—must take certain licensing exams. Traditionally, one had to be sponsored by a member firm or a self-regulatory organization to sit for these qualifying Series exams. However, in 2018 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) finalized a new test, called the Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE), which can be taken without sponsorship or association with a company.
Open to anyone 18 years old and up, the 75-question, 105-minute SIE is ideal for "demonstrating basic industry knowledge to potential employers," to quote the FINRA website. It alone won't qualify you to work in the securities industry, but it certainly demonstrates your familiarity with the field and the seriousness of your interest in it.
The Bottom Line
For entry-level positions, interviewers do not expect candidates to know the nitty-gritty of the industry; many companies have orientation and training programs that teach new recruits the specifics, anyway. Still, the more background knowledge you have, the better. The competitive nature of the finance job market means that focusing your studies early, gaining experience with internships, and gleaning knowledge from following the financial press will help you stay at the front of the pack.
Finally, doing something to break off from the pack, such as earning a financial credential like the CFA or taking advantage of a diversity program, can increase your chances of landing that first job.