When it's time for college students to decide their majors, many go with finance or economics in hopes that it will lead to high-paying and relatively stable employment.
It's certainly true that there are career opportunities in banking, insurance companies, and accounting. There also are high-paying jobs in investment banks, hedge funds, management consulting, and private equity. You also could be considered for a job in the financial department of a corporation, a commercial bank, insurance company, accounting firm, or consulting firm.
However, there may come a time that you find that none of the above appeals to you anymore. While you may be worried about exit opportunities, you'll find that there are plenty of other places you can go with that degree in finance or economics.
- Consider your real interests and what drives you.
- There's virtually no endeavor that doesn't need people with financial savvy, and it can be advantageous to think outside the box.
- The military, non-profits, schools, and government agencies are just a few of the organizations that need someone with sharp financial skills.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects average growth of financial careers from 2020 to 2030.
- Depending on where you land, you may even receive a pay increase.
When a Traditional Finance Career Doesn't Suit You
If you're no longer happy with your choice of a traditional financial career, first consider your other interests, even those you may have let go over time. Perhaps it was an art class, a volunteer opportunity, a study abroad program, or community activism that brought you experiences and interests well beyond the world of finance.
This kind of personal reevaluation is not rare among those working in finance. A high-stress job combined with a competitive job market spurs many to think again about their job choices.
The video below illustrates why you don't always need to follow the classic route in order to find success.
Mohamed El-Erian: Inside Track
Non-Traditional Finance Jobs
Your set of skills is valuable in many endeavors well outside the financial world. Consider matching your personal interests with your finance and business skill sets. If you think about it, virtually any endeavor needs someone on hand who has financial skills.
You might also consider taking your financial skillset to another department of the company you already work for. In the following examples, you will clearly be able to see how your financial acumen can be broadly applied to other roles.
You might also consider switching to a new, non-financial role to get broader experience within your company.
Sales and Business Development
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, recommends that every business professional undertake at least one sales job at some point. In fact, the novice who shuns a sales job may never be promoted beyond middle management.
On a broader level, a role in sales, business development, or marketing can help you understand your company's products and get attuned to customers' preferences and sensibilities.
Look at the partners at investment banks and consulting firms. Most of their time is spent on client development. Hedge fund managers and private equity partners go on roadshows to raise capital and sell their investments. Executives of private equity shops develop relationships with intermediaries and investment banks that bring them deals.
In your search for career opportunities, you might come across startups with interesting products. You'll be taking a risk here, as most startups fail within their first five years. However, if you are offered equity, it's vested, and the company sells or goes public, you could see a significant windfall.
In an entrepreneurial environment, you'll probably find yourself multi-tasking across administration, accounting, marketing, and strategy. Based on your personality, you might find you greatly prefer this to a more structured and narrowly defined role in a big company.
Analyst or Associate for a Nonprofit
The nonprofit sector is always in need of financially savvy individuals. There are, of course, high-profile nonprofits like the Ford Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There are countless others that are in need of the skills you have. This can be incredibly fulfilling work and from a pragmatic standpoint, it looks great on a resume.
Teach or Volunteer
If you want to dip a toe in, you may find that your company offers sabbatical leaves to employees who want to teach or volunteer other skills to a charitable endeavor. Or you may be ready to commit to a new career in education. There are other careers as well that don't require a full-time commitment, such as consulting on financial education materials or helping small businesses, even schools, better understand their financial structures.
Military Finance Officer
The U.S. military has quite as much need for financial skills as the private sector, and if the pay isn't great the benefits are. Roles in the military include contract management, budgeting, and forecasting.
If you consider this option early enough, the military may help pay your education costs and guarantee employment upon graduation. Later on, your military service will be a great addition to your resume no matter where you want to go.
The average salary for a financial officer in the U.S. Army, according to Indeed.
Government Financial Analyst
All of the major government agencies, both federal and state, have a need for people with financial skills. At the federal level, financial experts dominate the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury.
Working for the government has its perks as well, coming in the form of enhanced benefits packages and retirement schemes.
What Is the Highest Paid Job in Finance?
The highest paying jobs in finance are usually those at the CEO or portfolio manager levels. Jobs like these start at an incredibly high base salary, are usually loaded with stock options, bonuses are so frequent they are all but expected, and performance incentives can mean top performers in these positions can make eight digits a year (or more).
Is Finance a Good Career?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Business and Financial Occupations" are expected to grow at a rate of 8% from 2020 to 2030. This is in line with the average for all occupations and means that a career in finance is not projected to fall behind in terms of growth.
Is There a Future in Finance?
As long as money is exchanged, there will be a future in finance. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can pose a risk to certain positions that may rely on computing power, such as risk managers, but those programs will need people well-versed in the underlying sector to manage them. Finance is a broad term and can be applied in many ways, but for the foreseeable future, a career in finance appears healthy and poised for growth.
The Bottom Line
It isn't only New York investment bankers that work in finance. You may find that the career you envisioned isn't what you want, and that's completely fine. There are many positions throughout various sectors, from philanthropy to the military, where you can put your knowledge to good use.