How to Work in Financial Communications

The financial services industry presents a variety of opportunities for talented communications professionals. Corporate marketing departments hire marketers, public relations practitioners, writers, editors, traffic managers, designers, art directors, videographers, video editors, website developers, social media staff, researchers and more. The financial side of the business hires marketing managers, writers, editors and traffic managers. Individual business lines that specialize in specific areas of the business (separately managed accounts, brokerage, mutual funds, etc.,) often hire dedicated marketing teams that include many of the same types of jobs offered in other areas of the business. Niche roles exist too, with some departments hiring people to write meeting notes, work on specific projects, prepare speeches, etc.

Job Requirements for a Career in Financial Communications

It sometimes seems like everybody has a website, a blog and a Twitter account that they are using to share their insights into "hot" stocks or the latest investing strategies. There are now so many people writing about investments and posting homemade videos that they are literally giving the content away for free. While it is certainly true that there is no shortage of online material about investing and investments, there is a significant difference between self-publication and working for a reputable financial services firm. While anyone with access to the internet can write about investing or shoot a video on their iPhone and upload it, the ability to produce content is only one small part of the skill set necessary to advance your career in the financial services industry.

To prepare yourself for a career in this industry, there are few things you need to get; the first is a college degree. From writing to design, videography to social media, at firms that take their communications seriously, all of these functions are generally led by educated professionals. In addition to the degree, you need experience, some of which you will get at school. You should supplement that experience with any other opportunities that come across your path, including private material prepared in your free time. Like any other skill, practice makes perfect, so don't miss any opportunity to practice your craft.

As you prepare to enter the workforce, one of the most important steps you can take is to land an internship. Working as an intern will expose you to the professional work environment where you can get hands-on experience in your chosen field. If, like most of us, you are going to spend the next 40 years of your life in the workforce, it is critically important that you find a role that you actually enjoy. After all, you will spend more time in that role during the average day than you will doing any other activity, with the possible exception of sleeping.

An internship will also give you an opportunity to network. Meeting people who can hire you is your best shot at moving right from school into an entry-level position. It's also the best way to learn about the various departments in, and opportunities at, a potential employer. Ideally, your internship will be in financial services or a related industry. If this is not possible, any internship is still worthwhile. The experience is invaluable, and you never know who you will meet. The person you work for as an intern may have a friend or family member who works at firm that is looking to hire somebody exactly like you.

Financial Communications Career Path

After graduation, your real training (and challenges) begin. Obtaining an entry-level job in your desired field will likely be the most difficult task you face in your career. Getting the proverbial "foot in the door" is a significant challenge, because the career path you have chosen requires a unique blend of ability and financial services knowledge. If you graduated from a good school, you should have the former. To get the later, you may want to set your sights on a big bank, brokerage firm, insurance company, mutual fund provider or online content provider.

Bigger firms generally have excellent training programs and large staffs. The luxury of having more people on the team means that these organizations have the resources to complete the necessary daily work while also developing educational programs, training manuals and career path programs. In smaller shops, staffing is often so lean that there is simply not enough time available in a given day to do anything more than complete that day's work. Accordingly, these firms often hire only experienced talent.

Career progression begins with a mastery of the basics. With writers, for example, this may include letters, email, fact sheets and short educational topics. Material of this nature provides plenty of practice in basic writing and in learning to use and adhere to a style guide. The Associated Press Stylebook and the Gregg Reference Manual are excellent examples of such guides. Most large firms also have their own in-house guides. Style guides are critically important at firms that employ more than one writer, as these companies strive to deliver a consistency of voice, punctuation and capitalization, etc. across all of their materials.

For other professions, you may spend your early years following in the wake of an experienced professional and working on small tasks that help your mentor in various ways throughout the day. For videographers, this can be carrying and setting up equipment. For designers, it can mean working on relatively simple layouts.

After mastering the basics, you will slowly be given ever increasing levels of responsibility. Over a period of years, you will move up through the ranks and become a recognized professional. Over time, you may become the mentor and spend a portion of your time training or supervising others. Becoming a staff supervisor is also a way to increase your salary. The next step up the ladder will move you into management, where you will write less, teach more and spend much of your time overseeing the operation of your department.

Good Advice

  1. After you get your first degree, get another one. An advanced degree (Masters or MBA) makes you more competitive as your career progresses. Better still, many large employers have programs that will assist you with the cost of education.
  2. Soak in knowledge. This includes your firm's content, competitor's content, and leisure-time evaluation of topics not related to your job. Exposure to how your profession operates both within and outside of the financial services arena will make you a more well-rounded employee. The more know, the better you will perform. The better you perform, the more likely you are to advance your career.
  3. Pay attention. Watch the news, follow trends, learn about new products that come to market and follow both the stock and bond markets. If you intend to prepare materials about these topics, you need to understand them thoroughly.
  4. Work as if you are the audience. As your career advances, you will become an ever-more critical and nuanced judge of the outputs you create. Work as if you were going to use the materials. If what you produce doesn't impress you, fix it. If it's too technical, tone it down. If it's too basic, add to it. Becoming your own worst critic will remind you to do your best work each and every time. After a few decades of adhering to this practice, producing top-quality work will be second nature. It will prepare you for a leadership role.
  5. Manage your career. Learn something every day. When you stop learning, change jobs. Get a salary increase every time you change jobs. Practice what you preach and manage your money well. 
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