Entry-Level Financial Jobs
Finance can be a fiercely competitive field to break into. After all, it’s a famously high-paying industry known to pay six or seven figures in salaries and bonuses for those at the top. And even those on the bottom rung can expect to start out at a strong wage compared to other fields.
You may not walk into your dream job right away, but the good news is that finance is a vast industry, so once 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 (entry level) door.
- Finance-sector jobs pay much higher than the median salary, even at the entry level.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that finance sector jobs will increase by 11% by the year 2026, higher than the average occupation.
- 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.
- The hottest entry-level jobs include analysts, tax associates, auditors, and financial advisors.
A Look At Entry-Level Careers In Finance
Entry-level finance compensation averages $67,199 a year, according to the job-search website Glassdoor. The National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) Winter 2019 Salary Survey projects starting paychecks in the finance/insurance fields for the class of 2019 to range from $50,500 to $69,500 annually.
To get a sense of how high an income that is: The median U.S. household income was $63,338 in January 2018. And in the first quarter of 2019, the median individual income was $47,060—annualized from $905 per week—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What's more, the BLS estimates that employment of financial professionals will increase by 11% from 2016 to 2026—faster than the overall average for occupations.
But how do you go about it? Well, the good news is you don’t necessarily need a Harvard Business School degree. It is often preferable to have several years of financial or business work experience before acquiring an MBA.
However, an undergraduate degree is required for a position at almost any reputable financial institution nowadays. While companies claim they hire majors of all types, ideally, your academic background should demonstrate your ability to understand and work with numbers. That means disciplines such as economics, applied mathematics, accounting, business, and computer sciences. Interestingly, the NACE study found that breaking down financial-sector salaries by major, those concentrating on engineering and computer sciences scored the highest compensation, those in sales and communication the lowest. If your primary major is in a different field, try to minor in something finance-related.
Even more important: internships. Many firms come to campuses recruiting for these summer positions, or to hold symposia, workshops, or networking opportunities—events like the Goldman Sachs Undergraduate Camp or the Morgan Stanley Career Discovery Day. Internships can be tough to score, as tough as an actual job, but they're invaluable. Not only do they provide contacts and experience, but they often lead directly to a spot in the company's training program after graduation—or, at least, to the innermost circle of consideration.
Continuing Financial Education
If you've already graduated, continuing education is another great 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), certified public accountant (CPA), or certified financial planner (CFP®) designations can all help your job prospects, depending on the particular facet of finance you are targeting.
In the U.S., professionals who plan to deal with investments and financial must pass a series of licensing exams. In the past, you had to be sponsored by a financial institution to even take one of these tests. However, in 2018 the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) finalized the new Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE), which can be taken without sponsorship.
The exam is 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.
The projected average starting salary for a finance major, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Looking for Finance Jobs
The key is to identify the most rewarding entry-level jobs—both in terms of salary and future career prospects—and think hard about which might be the best fit for your abilities and interests. Once you have narrowed down what interests you the most, you can begin your search.
Aside from your personal network of friends and family—and anyone they know—a logical place to search for entry-level roles is online job sites. Of course, there are the general ones, such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster, but it might be more efficient to scour sites that specialize in finance-industry jobs or resources, such as eFinancialCareers, Broker Hunter, or 10X EBITDA (for investment banking), or a site of sites like the Finance Jobs Network.
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 about investments, reducing costs, and improving financial performance.
Along with a B.A. in finance, accounting, or economics, you should have strong IT skills for this role.
The BLS estimated that there were about 296,100 financial analyst jobs in the American economy and projected a faster-than-average growth rate of 11% through 2026 for them. Financial analysts earned a median salary of $85,660 in 2018.
Investment Banking Analyst
Investment banking is one of the most prestigious areas of the financial sector; professionals within it 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 the sale of securities, take companies public, and help to facilitate mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, and broker trades for both institutions and private investors.
An analyst is usually the entry-level role at an investment bank, hedge fund, or venture capital firm. The 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 your interpretation of financial data often play a role in determining whether or not certain activities or deals are feasible.
The average investment banking analyst starting salary is $67,663, according to PayScale, a compensation-analysis site. Candidates have B.A.s in economics, finance, or management, though this is one job where an M.A. in these areas helps too.
Junior Tax Associate/Accountant
Some financial services remain in constant demand, especially those that are associated with taxation—the need to comply with changing IRS regulations as well as local and state laws. These professionals implement measures and develop policies for dealing with various areas relating to taxes, including calculating and estimating payments, doing research, reviewing internal fiscal systems, preparing returns and other tax-related documents, and working with auditors. The duties may sound arcane, but tax-related jobs can often lead to corporate positions like the controller (also known as a comptroller), accounting manager, budget director, and even treasurer or chief financial officer.
For this sort of work, you'd need a bachelor's degree in accounting (or at least accounting skills), and eventually—if you want to advance—a CPA license, though companies often offer the opportunity to obtain one while on the job.
With this in mind, the role of a junior tax associate is ideal for college graduates who are looking to develop valuable work experience in the financial sector. Although it offers a relatively moderate annual median salary of $53,000, according to PayScale, the BLS reports that the accounting field should expand by 10%, faster than the average occupation, by 2026.
The role of the financial auditor is a particularly relevant one today. In the decade since the 2007–09 financial crisis and global recession, governments and regulatory agencies have imposed more stringent operational requirements and compliance standards on businesses, financial transactions, and investment practices. As a result, companies have had to become more diligent in their self-policing and reporting practices.
Auditors' work somewhat overlaps with that of accountants, but their mandate is broader: They conduct risk assessments and are responsible for keeping the company from breaching regulations. As an auditor, you review companies' financial statements and ensure that their public records are kept accurately and in compliance with existing legislation. You check not just the books, but overall business practices and procedures as well, suggesting ways to reduce costs, enhance revenues, and improve profits.
The profession offers an annual median salary of $70,500 according to the BLS and is projected to increase at 10% by 2026. Along with accounting or internal auditing, auditors often hold degrees in economics or corporate finance. To improve your prospects, you should also consider completing an advanced degree course in accounting.
This is another field where a CPA license will eventually be necessary. Another valuable credential is that of certified internal auditor (CIA), which is recognized internationally.
Personal Financial Advisor
Personal financial advisors evaluate the monetary needs of individuals and help them with decisions on 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 assets manager.
The BLS estimates the median annual wage for personal financial advisors at $88,890. It also projects growth of 15% through 2026, which is much faster than the national average, citing such demographic trends as the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, the growing numbers of people who are self-employed, and the dwindling of private-sector employer pension plans, all of which drive a need for advisory services.
The profession doesn't require any specific bachelor's degree. Although financial advisors can benefit from a study of economics, math, and finance, obviously, they also need to be good communicators, since they must interpret and explain complex subjects to non-experts. So the critical thinking and analytical and writing skills honed in liberal arts fields can be useful too.
Personal financial advisors who directly buy or sell stocks, bonds, or insurance policies, or who provide specific investment advice, need to pass various licensing examinations, but this is done on the job since you have to be employed or sponsored by a securities or investment firm to take them. Anyone can take the basic Securities Industry Essentials Exam, however. Many advisors also earn industry credentials, such as that of a certified financial planner, to enhance their prestige and networking opportunities.
While financial jobs often come with high pay and prestige, they are also among the most stressful; early career burnout is not uncommon.
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, 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. 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.