When it is time for college students to decide their majors, the majority choosing to major in finance (or economics) do so in the hope of securing high-paying and relatively stable employment after graduation. Many seek career opportunities with banking institutions, insurance companies and Big 4 accounting firms.
Most finance (or economics) undergrads and MBAs have investment banks, hedge funds, management consulting and private equity at the top of their employment priority list – mostly because these career paths typically pay very well and carry a relatively high level of prestige.
Unfortunately, there are far more students than opportunities available in the most desirable financial fields. The majority of finance students and many MBA grads have to consider the prospect of working at one of the departments of a company, a commercial bank, insurance company, accounting firm or small consulting shop (i.e., marketing, supply chain, etc.).
But just because you can't land a glamorous finance job – or don't want to – doesn't necessarily mean you don't belong in this major. Read on for some uncommon jobs in finance that you might want to consider.
When Finance Doesn't Suit You
Finance isn't for everybody and, over time, people and interests change. Don't think that you need to work in the area you obtained your degree in for the rest of your career. Undergrad finance students may have been exposed to, and affected by, other classes they took. Perhaps it was an acting class, a political science class, a volunteer opportunity, study abroad or community activism that exposed you to prospective and authentic interests beyond the world of finance.
Use these experiences to guide your career choices. MBA grads who were once undergrads may have felt dishonest in working for a few years in a job that they disliked or lacked passion for. Couple that with a competitive job market, and they too may seek a vocation more in tune with what they think could be their "true calling."
Mohamed El-Erian: Inside Track
Non-Traditional Finance Jobs
If investment banking, hedge funds, management consulting or private equity are not viable options for you, consider matching your personal interests with your finance and business skill sets. Some examples include:
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, recommends every business professional undertake at least one sales job in his or her career. A business development/marketing role allows you to understand your company's product and service offerings and be attuned to customers' preferences and sensibilities. Besides, if you want to rise up to executive ranks, you will sooner or later need to successfully acquire business development skills. Why put it off?
You can also look at partners at investment banks and consulting firms. Most of their time is spent in client development. Hedge fund managers and private equity partners are often at road shows raising capital and selling their investment theses to cynical high-net-worth investors, family offices and institutions. Private equity shops also spend a lot of time developing their relationships with groups that bring them deals (such as intermediaries and investment banks).
When you are a commoditized operation, you can bet there are many "soft interactions" involved. Business development skills are critical sooner or later in your career. The novice who shuns or looks down upon a sales job eventually runs into his or her inability to be promoted beyond middle management.
Startup Company/Entrepreneurial Role
In your search for career opportunities, you might come across startups with interesting product or service offerings. One word of caution: most startups fail within their first five years. However, a small company may offer a unique product or niche service the marketplace is receptive to.
Joining an entrepreneurial environment means you will have to rapidly execute a variety of different tasks such as administration, accounting, marketing and strategy. Based on your personality, you might enjoy this kind of environment as opposed to a much more structured, narrowly defined job inside a larger corporation.
Analyst/Associate for Nonprofit Organizations
The nonprofit sector is also in need of some financially savvy individuals – and what better way to feel good about yourself than to join a group that is trying to make the world a better place? Some high-profile nonprofit company examples include the Ford Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but of course, there are plenty of smaller nonprofits as well.
Teaching or Volunteering
Some companies allow you to defer your employment start date so you can work for a year or two at a nonprofit organization. In addition, there are plenty of executives at Fortune 500 companies – such as Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil and Coca-Cola – who were once Peace Corps volunteers.
Finance Officer in the Military
These officers execute financial management duties, including contract management, budgets and forecasting. If you consider this option early enough, the military may help to pay for your education costs and guarantee employment after graduation.
Financial Analyst for a Government Agency
Some examples of government agencies that may appeal to graduates with a financial degree include Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury.
The Bottom Line
Finance and MBA students do not have to sulk or succumb to depression if they don't receive employment offers from an investment bank, hedge fund, management consulting firm or private equity shop. If you are one of many who has to choose (or perhaps forge) a new direction, it could be a blessing that you escaped the rat race of 90-hour work weeks.
You may get the chance to align your personal interests by exploring vocations that turn out to be surprisingly fun or more fulfilling than the traditional route – whatever that means for you. You could also be in a better position for leadership opportunities at that organization – effective leadership, after all, requires authenticity.
However you define personal greatness and sense of worth may lead you to discover your calling – not simply your job offer. As the great Winston Churchill said, "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because, as has been said, 'it is the quality which guarantees the others.'"