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 2020 show that women made up 41.6% of financial and investment analysts; 10.5% were Black or African American, 20.2% were Asian, and 10.2% were Latino or Hispanic. Among personal finance advisors, the numbers were 34% women, 7.9% Black or African American, 10.7% Asian, and 8.2% Latino or Hispanic.
- Finance-sector jobs pay higher than the median salary, even at entry-level positions.
- 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.
- The most popular entry-level jobs include analysts, tax associates, auditors, and financial advisors.
A Look At Entry-Level Careers In Finance
Entry-level finance compensation averages a whopping $112,139 a year, according to the job-search website Glassdoor, as of November 2021. Figures compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) are lower but still top the median salary. According to Andrea Koncz, research manager for NACE, the organization’s Winter 2021 Salary Survey projects starting paychecks for accounting majors in the finance, insurance, and real estate fields to have a median of $57,250 annually, potentially rising as high as $64,500. NACE’s Summer 2021 Salary Survey didn’t report data by industry, only by major, and accounting majors had a starting salary median of $54,809 and an upper range of $59,000.
To get a sense of how high an income is, in the third quarter of 2021, the median individual income was $1,001 per week ($52,052 annually), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 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).
What’s more, 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. 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. 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, while those in sales and communication ranked lower. If your primary major is in a different field, try to minor in something finance-related.
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. In the past, you had to be sponsored by a financial institution even to take one of these tests. 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 2020 (the most recent figure, as of Dec. 18, 2021) for a financial analyst with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Looking for Finance Jobs: Best Entry-Level Positions
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. When you have narrowed down which interests you the most, you can begin your search.
Aside from your personal 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 strong 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.
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 the sale of 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—if you want to advance—a CPA license. 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; 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 as of May 2020 for personal financial advisors at $89,330 and 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 useful too.
Personal financial advisors who directly buy or sell stocks, bonds, or insurance policies or who 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.
What Is the Entry-Level Salary for a Finance Job?
The answer varies, with the job-search website Glassdoor putting the figure at an average of $112,139 per year, while the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) lists a median of $57,250 annually ($64,500 at the higher end). By contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts the median individual income at $52,052 annually.
What Credentials Do You Need to Get a Finance Job?
An undergraduate degree is a virtual necessity, and a major that shows you understand and can work with numbers is a plus. A master’s degree couldn’t hurt, but it’s often better to spend several years gaining real-life financial- or business-sector work experience before getting one. Landing an internship can also put you in a good position for employment after it is finished.
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.