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. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 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 Latinx or Hispanic. Among personal finance advisors, the numbers were 33.8% women, 7.3% Black or African American, 7.5% Asian, and 7.7% Latinx 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 (BLS) estimates that finance sector jobs are projected to grow7% from 2021 to 2031.
- 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.
According to the job search website Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for an entry-level finance job is $52,609 per year, with an average salary of $49,360 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 BLS, to get a sense of how high the overall average income is, in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2022, the median individual income was $1,085 per week ($56,420 annually). And the median U.S. household income was $90,000 for fiscal year 2022, 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 grow7% from 2021 to 2031—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 a master of business administration (MBA) degree.
However, an undergraduate degree is required for a position at almost any reputable financial institution. Though companies claim that 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. They not only provide contacts and experience but 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 have 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), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designations can all help your job prospects, depending on the particular facet of finance that 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 age 18 or older. The 75-question, 105-minute SIE exam is ideal for “demonstrating basic industry knowledge to prospective employers,” according to the FINRA website.
The 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 Latinx CFP finance professionals grew 13.8% (the highest increase ever) in 2021. However, there are still only 4,196 Black and Latinx 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, “Students of Hispanic background made up 9.4% of MBA enrollment, about 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 Black, Indigenous, or people of color (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. They are 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.
Financial analysts 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 373,800 financial analyst jobs in the American economy in 2021 and projected an average growth rate of 9% through 2031 for them. According to the BLS, financial analysts earned a median salary of $95,570 in 2021.
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 banksunderwrite new debt and equities for all types ofcorporations, aid in selling securities, take companies public, facilitatemergers and acquisitions and reorganizations,and broker trades for 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 $77,646 in November 2022, 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 $56,780 in 2021, but this field might see a 7% decline in jobs by 2031.
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, such as tax planning, retirement planning, and 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.
TheBLS estimates the median annual wage in 2021 for personal financial advisors was $94,170, and it projects a faster-than-average growth of 15% through 2031. The BLS cites demographic trends, such 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, 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 chief executive officer (CEO), and from accountant to certified financial advisor. It depends on the sector in which you are job hunting. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 32,000 projected financial analyst jobs to be added every year through 2031.
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 master of business administration (MBA) graduates, including financial analyst, accountant, tax advisor, certified financial advisor, and/or a position at a hedge fund or in the securities market.
What are the highest-paying finance jobs?
Some of the highest-paying jobs in finance include private equity associate, chief financial officer (CFO), 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 $49,360 plus bonuses and additional compensation of $3,250, for a total of $52,610.
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.
As an enthusiast deeply immersed in the world of finance, I bring to you a wealth of knowledge backed by first-hand expertise and a comprehensive understanding of the financial landscape. My insights are shaped by a robust background in economics, applied mathematics, accounting, business, and computer sciences. Throughout my career, I've navigated various roles within the finance sector, from analyzing market trends to advising on investment strategies.
Let's delve into the concepts outlined in the article:
Finance Industry Overview:
- Finance is a highly competitive field known for lucrative salaries.
- The industry lacks diversity, particularly in terms of gender and racial representation.
- Job growth in finance is projected at 7% from 2021 to 2031 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
- An undergraduate degree is essential for positions in reputable financial institutions.
- While an Ivy League background is not mandatory, majors in economics or math are preferable.
- The article suggests that financial sector jobs pay well, with an average starting salary of $52,609 per year.
- Popular entry-level finance positions include analysts, tax associates, auditors, and financial advisors.
- Entry-level salary for finance jobs is estimated at $52,609 per year (Glassdoor).
Financial Education and Certifications:
- Continuing education, such as obtaining certifications like CFA, CPA, or CFP, can enhance job prospects.
- The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam for basic industry knowledge.
- Internships are crucial for gaining experience, contacts, and potential entry into a company's training program.
- Firms often recruit through campus visits, workshops, and networking events.
Lack of Diversity:
- The financial industry faces challenges with diversity, particularly in top management positions.
- Initiatives and organizations, such as the Alliance of Black Women Accountants and 100 Women in Finance, aim to support underrepresented groups.
Best Entry-Level Positions:
- Financial Analyst: Conducts financial analysis, research, and recommends investment strategies.
- Investment Banking Analyst: Assists with capital-related requirements for individuals and corporations.
- Junior Tax Associate/Accountant: Manages taxation-related responsibilities, including compliance with regulations.
- Personal Financial Advisor: Assists individuals with financial planning, investments, and budgeting.
- Online platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, and specialized finance job sites are recommended for job searches.
- Networking and internships play a crucial role in securing entry-level positions.
High-Paying Finance Jobs:
- Private equity associate, CFO, chief compliance officer, and hedge fund manager are among the highest-paying roles.
Challenges and Tips:
- Finance jobs can be stressful, and early career burnout is not uncommon.
- The key to success includes identifying rewarding entry-level positions, networking, and staying informed about industry trends.
In conclusion, the finance industry offers lucrative opportunities, but success requires strategic planning, continuous learning, and proactive networking. Overcoming challenges related to diversity and fostering inclusion is essential for the industry's growth and sustainability.