Finance can be a fiercely competitive field. After all, it’s a famously high-paying industry known to deal out six or seven figures in salaries and bonuses for those at the top. Even those on the bottom rung can expect to start at a good wage compared with other fields.
You may not walk into your dream job right away, but the good news is that finance is a vast industry, so when you’re in, there’s plenty of room to evolve, move around, and find your niche. First, however, you have to get your foot in the door.
Women and members of many minority groups are underrepresented in financial occupations. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for 2021 show that women made up 40.2% of financial and investment analysts; 13.1% were Black or African American, 20.7% were Asian, and 10.7% were Latino or Hispanic. Among personal finance advisors, the numbers were 33.8% women, 7.3% Black or African American, 7.5% Asian, and 7.7% Latino or Hispanic.
- Finance-sector jobs pay higher than the median salary, even at entry-level positions.
- There is a lack of racial and gender diversity in the finance industry.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that finance sector jobs are projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030.
- You don’t need an Ivy League background to get in on the finance action, but an undergraduate degree is required at the very least, and economics- or math-oriented majors are preferable.
- Popular entry-level jobs in finance include analysts, tax associates, auditors, and financial advisors.
A Look At Entry-Level Careers In Finance
According to the job-search website Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a entry level finance is $52,850 per year, with an average salary of $49,664 per year. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2022 Salary Survey, Computer Science majors saw the biggest starting salaries, $75,900 per year (up 5% from 2021). Engineering graduates are likely to see the second-highest paychecks, with an average salary projection of around $74,000 (up 4% from 2021).
Starting paychecks for majors in the business, finance, accounting, insurance, and real estate fields can expect to have a median of $60,695 annually, up more than 3% from 2021.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to get a sense of how high the overall average income is, in Q2 2022, the median individual income was $1,037 per week ($53,924 annually). And the median U.S. household income was $79,900 for the fiscal year 2021, per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The BLS estimates that employment in business and financial operations occupations is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030—which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
So how do you start? Well, the good news is that you don’t need a Harvard Business School degree. Having several years of financial or business work experience is often preferable before acquiring an MBA.
However, an undergraduate degree is required for a position at almost any reputable financial institution. Though companies claim they hire majors of all types, ideally, your academic background should demonstrate your ability to understand and work with numbers. That requires knowledge of economics, applied mathematics, accounting, business, and computer sciences.
Interestingly, the NACE study found that in breaking down financial sector salaries by major, those who concentrated on engineering and computer sciences were higher. At the same time, those in sales and communication ranked lower. If your primary major is in a different field, try to minor in a finance-related area.
Internships Are a Steppingstone
Internships are even more critical. Many firms visit campuses to recruit for summer internships or hold symposia, workshops, or networking opportunities. Examples include the Goldman Sachs Undergraduate Camp and Morgan Stanley's Career Discovery Day.
Internships can be as tough to secure as an actual job, but they're invaluable. Not only do they provide contacts and experience, but they also often lead directly to a spot in the company's training program after graduation—or, at least, in the innermost circle of consideration.
Continuing Financial Education
If you’ve already graduated, continuing education is another way to boost your financial IQ and demonstrate your commitment to a financial sector career. Finance-specific credentials such as the chartered financial analyst (CFA), the certified public accountant (CPA), or the certified financial planner (CFP) designations can all help your job prospects, depending on the particular facet of finance you are targeting.
In the United States, professionals who plan to deal with investments and finances must pass a series of licensing exams. You had to be sponsored by a financial institution even to take one of these tests in the past. However, as of 2018, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) finalized the new Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam, which can be taken without sponsorship.
The exam is open to anyone 18 years old and over; the 75-question, 105-minute SIE is ideal for “demonstrating basic industry knowledge to potential employers,” to quote the FINRA website.
The projected median pay in 2021 (the most recent figure, as of April 18, 2022) for a financial analyst with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Lack of Diversity in the Financial Industry
Unfortunately, there is a lack of diversity in the financial industry, especially within top management positions. Companies are working to address and remedy this inequity. For example, according to the CFP Board, the number of Black and Latino CFP fiance professionals grew 12% (the highest increase ever) in 2019. However, there are still only 3,259 Black and Latino CFP professionals overall.
There are nonprofits and advocacy groups, like the Alliance of Black Women Accountants and the National Association of Black Accountants, available to support people of color working or who want to work in finance. In addition, 100 Women in Finance, the Greenwood Project, and Blackstone: Future Women Leaders Program are sources providing support to people of color and women in the workplace.
According to a study by Bloomberg, minority students, especially women, are underrepresented in business schools. According to data, "half the Hispanic share of the U.S. population. Black students had 8% of MBA seats, less than the 14% Black share of the population. Asian students, the best-represented group, exceeded the Asian share of the U.S. population at 62 of 84 schools."
More students who identify as BIPOC, particularly women, should investigate grants and scholarships designed to help finance majors earn their degrees to boost these figures. Among them are:
- National Association of Black Accountants National Scholarship
- Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship
- The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Scholarship Award for Minority Accounting Students
- The Tang Scholarship
Looking for Finance Jobs: Best Entry-Level Positions
The key is to identify the most rewarding entry-level jobs in terms of salary and future career prospects and think hard about which might be the best fit for your abilities and interests. When you have narrowed down which interests you the most, you can begin your search.
Aside from your network of friends and family, online job sites are a logical place to search for entry-level finance roles. LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster are good sites. Still, it might be more efficient to scour sites that specialize in finance-industry jobs or resources, such as eFinancialCareers, BrokerHunter, or 10X EBITDA (for investment banking).
Financial analysts work for investment companies, insurance companies, consulting firms, and other corporate entities. Responsible for consolidating and analyzing budgets and income statement projections. They prepare reports, conduct business studies, and develop forecast models. Financial analysts research economic conditions, industry trends, and company fundamentals.
They also often recommend a course of action for investments, reducing costs, and improving financial performance. Along with a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or economics, you should have robust information technology (IT) skills for an analyst role.
The BLS estimated that there were about 492,100 financial analyst jobs in the American economy in 2020 and projected an average growth rate of 6% through 2030 for them. According to the BLS, financial analysts earned a median salary of $83,660 in 2020.
Financial careers tend to be found and flourish in major financial hubs and cities like New York, Chicago, London, and Tokyo. Seeking out college internships at major financial firms' headquarters can help you get ahead when you begin to apply for entry-level positions.
Investment Banking Analyst
Investment banking is one of the most prestigious areas of the financial sector; investment banking professionals assist individuals, corporations, venture capital firms, and even governments with their requirements related to capital. Investment banks underwrite new debt and equities for all types of corporations, aid in selling securities, take companies public, and facilitate mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, and broker trades for both institutions and private investors.
An analyst usually fills an entry-level role at an investment bank, hedge fund, or venture capital firm. Their most common duties include producing deal-related materials, performing industry research and financial analyses of corporate performance, and collecting materials for due diligence. Recommendations based on the interpretation of financial data often play a role in determining whether certain activities or deals are feasible.
The average investment banking analyst's starting salary was $70,168 in December 2021, according to Payscale, a compensation-analysis site. Candidates have a bachelor's degree in economics, finance, or management, though this is one job for which a master's degree in these areas helps too.
Junior Tax Associate/Accountant
Some financial services remain in constant demand, especially those associated with taxation—the need to comply with changing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations and local and state laws. These professionals implement measures and develop policies relating to taxes, including calculating and estimating payments, conducting research, reviewing internal fiscal systems, preparing returns and other tax-related documents, and working with auditors.
These duties may sound arcane, but tax-related jobs can often lead to corporate positions such as controller (or comptroller), accounting manager, budget director, and even treasurer or chief financial officer (CFO). For this sort of work, candidates need a bachelor’s degree in accounting (or at least accounting skills) and a CPA license if you want to advance. However, companies often offer the opportunity to obtain one while on the job.
With this in mind, a junior tax associate’s role is ideal for college graduates seeking work experience in the financial sector. According to the BLS, the annual median salary was $55,640 in 2020, but this field might see a 4% decline in jobs by 2030.
Though financial jobs often come with high pay and prestige, they are also among the most stressful and early career burnout is not uncommon.
Personal Financial Advisor
Personal financial advisors evaluate the monetary needs of individuals and help them make decisions about investing, budgeting, and saving. Advisors help clients strategize for short- and long-term financial goals, from tax planning to retirement planning to estate planning. Many advisors provide tax services or sell insurance in addition to providing financial counsel. They might offer financial products such as mutual funds or even directly manage investments or serve as a liaison between the individual and an asset manager.
The BLS estimates the median annual wage in 2021 for personal financial advisors was $94,170 but projects a slower-than-average growth of 5% through 2030. The BLS cites such demographic trends as the retirement of the baby boomer generation, the growing numbers of self-employed people, and the dwindling of private-sector employer pension plans as driving a need for advisory services.
The profession doesn't require any specific bachelor's degree. However, financial advisors can benefit from the study of economics, math, and finance. They also need to be good communicators because they must interpret and explain complex subjects to laypeople, so the critical thinking and analytical and writing skills honed in liberal arts fields can be helpful too.
Personal financial advisors who directly buy or sell stocks, bonds, or insurance policies or provide specific investment advice must pass various licensing examinations. However, this is done on the job because you have to be employed or sponsored by a securities or investment firm to take them. Remember, though, that anyone can take the basic SIE exam. Many advisors also earn industry credentials, such as becoming a CFP, to enhance their prestige and networking opportunities.
How Many Jobs Are Available in Finance?
There are literally thousands of jobs available in the robust finance industry from finance assistant to CEO, and accountant to a certified financial advisor. It depends on the sector you are job hunting in, for example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 41,000 financial analyst jobs added every year.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Finance Degree?
There are several entry-level jobs you can get with a finance degree, depending on your area of study, type of degree, and experience. Junior tax accountant, stockbroker, personal finance advisor, banking assistant, and financial analyst are a few entry-level choices. There are also many jobs available to MBA graduates, including financial analysts, accountants, tax advisors, certified financial advisors, and/or a position at a hedge fund or in the securities market. These are all jobs that may be open to an MBA graduate.
What Are the Highest Paying Finance Jobs?
Some of the highest paying jobs in finance include private equity associate, chief financial officer, chief compliance officer, or hedge fund manager.
What Is the Entry-Level Salary for a Finance Job?
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) lists an expected average first-year salary of $60,695 for business and finance-related majors in 2022. The jobs and compensation-tracking website Glassdoor indicates that for 2022, the average entry-level finance position is paid a base salary of around $49,664 plus bonuses and additional compensation of $3,186, for a total of $52,850.
Where Do I Look to Find a Finance Job?
Online websites can be an excellent resource. LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed are all helpful job-search sites, but don't neglect using those that specialize in finance-industry jobs or resources. These include eFinancialCareers, BrokerHunter, and 10X EBITDA (for investment banking). Of course, personal connections are generally pure gold, so nothing is as effective as a useful network of friends and family, should you be fortunate enough to have one.
The Bottom Line
Getting your foot in the finance door takes serious preparation and commitment. It’s a highly competitive industry, so treat the process as a job in itself, leave no networking stone unturned, and keep up to date with all the latest finance news. Develop your knowledge, pursue further education if required, be as proactive as possible, and remember to stay positive.
Joining the world of finance is definitely possible if you play your search cards right. And don’t worry if your first job isn’t your dream job. The goal is to find your way inside that heavily guarded fortress. You can work on the rest from there.
Correction—Nov. 30, 2022: This article has been edited to correct the total pay ($52,850), base pay ($49,664), and additional pay ($3,186) for an entry level finance according to Glassdoor as of September 2022.