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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Want to Break Into the Finance Industry? Here's How

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Money makes the world go ’round. Your life—either directly or indirectly—is touched by what happens within the financial world. So when mulling over which career path to take, the finance industry is one to seriously consider.

And before you think, “No way, I’m not a numbers person,” think again. The finance industry is enormous, with a variety of different divisions and departments in need of almost every skill set. That English lit major? It can come in handy.

We spoke with an industry veteran—one who has been recruiting for the financial sector for 20 years—to find out what it takes to successfully break in. And we got advice for college students, recent college graduates, and those looking to make an early-to-mid-career shift.

Want in? Keep reading.

It’s Not All About the Degree

Yes, you need a college degree. But what that degree is in is less important.

What is? The ability to build relationships and communicate well, says Brian Drake, Senior Vice President and Talent Acquisition Manager at Wells Fargo. Unless, of course, you’re looking into an area like accounting that can require certain certifications.

“There are parts of our business that require specific degrees, but what surprises people is the variety of degrees you can have and be successful in the finance industry. I was a criminal justice major,” Drake says.

So before you say to yourself “I’m not qualified,” think again. The real key is having interpersonal skills, analytical ability, and problem-solving skills. While these may sound generic, they are essential in the finance industry, and the nitty gritty details are often taught on the job. And for those not right out of college, make sure you’re able to explain what you’re doing now, what skills you’ve acquired, and your career trajectory.

Breaking Into the Industry

For recent grads, a great point of entry is a financial analyst program. These programs usually last around two years (depending on the company) and are typically rotational, so you can try your hand in a few different departments before deciding which is the best fit. At the end of the rotation, you’ll have built a network within the company and will be eligible for a variety of full-time roles.

But these programs aren’t the only way in. If you’re looking for something more permanent, Drake says it’s similar to the college admissions process.

“If you don’t join one of these programs, just think of the same criteria it took for you to get into college: well-roundedness, internships, extracurricular activities, etc.,” he explains.

And make sure your resume is up to snuff. Drake suggests being realistic and selective about what jobs you’re applying for.

“Each resume is probably only going to get a 30 second look, depending on the number of applicants. Make your story clear and visible. Be selective and do not be a serial applicant. It’s a major turn-off, and we would rather see someone who is self-aware,” he says.

Switching Into the Industry

For those who are looking to make the switch into the finance industry, your network will be your best friend. Whether it’s personal or professional, comb your connections for someone who may be able to help you get your foot in the door. Then email them with your intent and ask them to discuss over coffee.

Drake agrees. “I cannot stress the importance of managing your personal and professional network. Tap into that. I recommend reading LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career. Invest in yourself and network the right way.”

And with any mid-career shift, you may have to make a lateral move, in title and salary, rather than expecting a promotion. Be honest with yourself and consider if you’re really willing to make this kind of move.

It’s also important to look at the skills you have and the ones needed for a career in finance (think: communication, analytical thinking). How many of these do you have? Are you willing to take the time to learn the ones you don’t? Think about times in your career that you’ve needed and used these skills effectively and be ready to talk about it in a future interview.

If you decide to go for it, stay positive. “Eventually, you may even take a bigger step forward,” Drake says.

Quick Tips for Success

1. Got the Interview? Do Your Homework

Scour the internet and research the company. Check out its careers page, LinkedIn and other social media channels, and even YouTube pages.

A lot of companies, Wells Fargo included, “give interview tips and post videos about their hiring process,” Drake says. Another of his tips? Be prepared to get asked behavioral questions (for example, how you’ve handled past work crises). Work out your examples on paper and practice!

2. Use a Referral

This one isn’t always possible, we know. But if you know someone in your network at the company, and they are willing to vouch for you, use it! It helps being a known commodity, especially if the reference is coming internally, says Drake.

“We treat all applicants the same, but based on our data, referrals from team members perform better,” he says. “They thrive culturally, and they tend to stay at the company longer.”

3. Be Honest, With Yourself and Them

If you leave the interview and you’re unsure if it’s the right fit, be honest with yourself. It’s OK to move on to a company that is (hopefully) better suited to your personality and skill set. But before you do, ask for advice on how you can improve your interview skills and make the connection on LinkedIn, recommends Drake. “This advice can be invaluable,” he notes.

So whether you’re fresh out of school hoping to break in, or a recent grad looking to make the switch, give these ideas a shot. And remember, it’s not about your degree but about you. They’ll teach you the specifics, you just have to have the willingness to learn.