A finance degree is a versatile education that can take you down multiple roads. Currently, there are 228,022 companies listed as employers of finance majors in the U.S. The question is, how do you finish your education strong and sort through the plethora of options you have?
We’re going to give you the path best traveled as far as what to do in college after you’ve declared a finance major, how to narrow down the route you want to take, and how to get to where you want to be when you enter the full-time workforce.
Honing your skills
In finance classes, you expect to work with numbers, and this is absolutely true. However, there are many other skills you will learn that are equally important. Finance is a heavily regulated field and you will need to learn how to work productively and ethically within the parameters of the law.
Dr. Conrad Ciccotello, Director of the Reiman School of Finance at the University of Denver, also stresses the underrated importance of communication skills.
“The true comparative advantage in finance is yes, you’re quantitatively skilled, but you’re able to communicate these technical concepts to people who aren’t as quantitatively oriented,” said Ciccotello.
He explained that your perceived character and your emotional intelligence communicate to someone that they can trust you despite the reality that they may not understand the numeric side of things.
“The reputation is extremely important in finance,” said Ciccotello.
Internships, internships, and internships
Once you determine what you want to study, getting work experience is key. Not only do you want to build your resume, working in the field will help you determine which financial avenue is right for you.
“The old model was, you do [an internship] right before you graduate, the new model is you do two or three, and you should do one [your] first-year,” said Ciccotello.
In the context of a popular major like finance, your school may offer specific career services. Find out what these are to help you land your first internship and show off your newfound skills.
“Once you declare, you’ve got to engage. Engage with all these resources,” said Ciccotello.
See also: Making the College Transition
Sorting your options
Now comes the fun part–choosing your career path. As aforementioned, you have many options as a finance major. This is positive in the job market, but students tend to get a bit overwhelmed.
“A lot of options is great, but a lot of options creates a decision anxiety as well,” said Ciccotello.
Breaking the options up helps to visualize the paths you can take as they fall under categories. The University of Kansas outlines six main avenues for employment with a finance degree. Each offering a slew of potential job opportunities.
Let’s go through each of them:
1. Corporate finance
Every company has someone who is in charge of company finances, and every large company has a finance department. This includes roles in accounting, bookkeeping, and treasury.
2. Investment banking
This is the stocks and bonds, mergers and acquisitions side of things. If the thrill of working in the stock market appeals to you, this is your area.
3. Commercial banking and financial institutions
You can take your degree to the bank–literally. You can work at a local bank or you can work your way up the corporate ladder at a national bank like Wells Fargo or Chase.
4. Asset management
Work with clients to manage their money and grow their assets through an advised and chosen method of investment.
5. Real estate
Get in on the housing market and oversee the financial undertaking of buying and selling property.
6. Personal financial planning
This is similar to asset management, but you work more on an individual level with clients who want to make long-term investments and financial plans.
These are the classic categories, but Ciccotello tacks on two subcategories that he believes have the most potential for future growth: compliance and nonprofits.
Compliance falls under several of the categories outlined by KU–corporate finance, commercial banking, and asset management. Ciccotello describes the credentials and personality of someone he believes would do well in the compliance arena as “someone who’s very detail-oriented, who understands finance well, who has the type of background that lends itself to being a good overseer, someone who I call a ‘cozy-adversarial type’ personality.”
In addition to compliance, Ciccotello sees nonprofits as “the leading edge for finance.” Over the last 10 years, nonprofits have grown by 20 percent. As nonprofits grow, so do the funds they must manage. This is where people with financial training come in. A nonprofit will decide they need to hire people to oversee and run their finances. They may hire a recent grad to do things that traditional financial positions wouldn’t usually allow entry-level position employees to do. Ciccotello used an example of a student intern at a nonprofit who was given the opportunity to build a financial model for the whole enterprise.
“It’s not instinctive, but the reality of that is, it fits the millennial idea of ‘I want to do something that I feel like is really important and matters,’” said Ciccotello in terms of the alt-route of finance students pursuing nonprofits.
Moving into the workforce
As for continuing after college, and even after you’ve landed your first job? Ciccotello’s last piece of advice is to continue your education and stay current.
“You have to continue to grow and be aware of what’s happening. You have to network constantly because you don’t know which way a lot of these occupations are going to go and change. A good finance person recognizes [that they are] in a marketplace,” said Ciccotello.
Staying in student-mode, he says, is the best way to stay excited and open to new opportunities. Taking a vested and active interest in your field is good advice for all professionals, and this is no different in finance, where it’s essential to stay on top of your game.
“At the very end that sense of who you are in finance,” in terms of ethics and character, said Ciccotello, “is very important. It’s a trust business.”