Many people starting out on their career path harbour the ambition of working in finance, knowing the sector offers a multitude of opportunities for skilled and ambitious individuals. Not only do finance professionals tend to command above-average salaries, but they also benefit from relative job security and have the chance to progress their career.
But securing a finance job within a respected, reputable organisation is usually the fruit of many years' labour. It is not something that be achieved on a whim, with little preparation or personal investment. Finance workers need to have defined career goals, and understand how to realise their ambitions. They need to understand the industry and have a clear idea of where, and how, they might best fit in.
Why do you want a job in finance?
The first question would-be finance professionals need to ask themselves is why they want to work in the sector. In some cases, the answer will revolve around money, and the desire to enjoy command a good salary and benefits.
But having a passion for finance - or at least a well-developed interest - is all-important if you are hoping to forge a career in the industry. While there is always likely to be demand for finance skills, employers want to hire people that care about their employment and look forward to coming in to work each day.
If money is your only goal then the chances of enjoying a satisfying and rewarding career are all the narrower. To reach the top of your industry it will be necessary to give your all and make sacrifices - the question is, do you care enough about work to do so?
What area of finance do you want to work in?
If you do have a genuine interest in finance jobs, then there are a great number to choose from - each suited to a different skill set. Professionals can set out on a variety of career routes, in fields such as corporate finance, accounting, audit, compliance, financial risk, commercial banking, investment banking, hedge funds and insurance, just to name a few.
You could find yourself working for a multinational business organisation, in one of the world's top financial centres. Alternatively, your calling may be work with a small enterprise, taking on a more strategic planning role in addition to your financial responsibilities. You might even find yourself working for a government organisation, or perhaps as an interim professional in your chosen field.
Some finance sub-sectors cross over one another, meaning there may be scope to change course at some point in the future. But having a clear idea of what you want to do within the industry, and where you hope this will take you, helps to provide the necessary vision and focus needed to maximise your potential.
Is there sufficient industry demand?
A key question to ask at this point is whether there is sufficient demand for skills in the area you are targeting. The greater the niche, the narrower the range of opportunities there will be available to you. This does not mean you should negotiate too much on your dreams, but perhaps when starting out it is better to seek a more general posting. There may always be the chance to become more specialised at a later stage when you have developed a reputation for excellence in your field.
How flexible are you?
You don't necessarily need to be geographically flexible to work for one of the Big Four - PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young - since the major employers have offices across the UK and love tenure among their staff. However, being willing - and available - to take up secondment opportunities can definitely help with career progression.
Research conducted by Robert Half has indicated that finance professionals with international experience tend to move up the jobs ladder quicker than those who have only worked in one jurisdiction. Spending a year or two working in New York, Singapore, Hong Kong or Frankfurt on an intra-company transfer can put you in the fast lane to management.
Are you sufficiently skilled?
Finance jobs tend to pay attractive salaries, but this is because they are high-pressured, and require no little skill and expertise. You don’t necessarily need a university degree as a pre-requisite, but it can take years of training to gain the required qualifications in areas such as accounting. Put simply, there are no short cuts.
Employers will always judge each individual application on its own merits, but on the whole, they are looking for well-educated, qualified or part-qualified professional people with a strong ambition to develop a career in finance. So if you have not conducted the necessary training, or been educated to a high level, it may be more difficult to succeed at interview.
Are you suited to the role?
When selecting an area of finance to target, consider whether you are playing to your strengths. Are you a confident communicator, who wants to be on the pulse conducting high-level business deals? Or are you a conscientious human calculator who is better suited to a back-office role?
Selecting a career path which aligns with your own particular interests and abilities - thinking about the short and long term - should help ensure you succeed. The better suited you are to a particular role, the more likely it is you will stand out above the crowd and attract the attention of would-be employers.
Where will you find finance job opportunities?
The next thing to consider is where you will identify suitable finance roles. These could be posted as an online or offline advert, or could be identified through your personal connections. The more you network with other industry players, and demonstrate your capabilities and personal qualities to others, the greater the likelihood you will discover 'hidden' jobs which have not been widely advertised.
Building up a network of contacts can potentially help you both now and in the future - there may always be somebody you know who has a need for the skills you are offering. Or the potential employer could even be a contact of a contact, who has heard about you through a mutual associate.
Does your CV promote you effectively?
If you have identified a role you wish to apply for, and believe your skills and experience are a good match for the position, then you need to pour your energies into your application. This is your first chance to shine, and ensure the hiring manager sees enough potential in you to invite you to interview.
In order to make your application stand out from the rest it is crucial to spend time tailoring your CV to the role in question. The employer is interested in seeing how the knowledge and qualifications you have gained will enable you to perform in the advertised job, so ensure your CV points them in the right direction.
If you are struggling to achieve this, it might be worth considering whether it is the best job for you to be going for. It can take years to build up a CV with the necessary depth to apply for senior roles - you can't fill in any skills or experience gaps with irrelevant waffle.
Are you prepared for interview?
If you are actively seeking a finance job, an opportunity to attend interview could arise at any time - and potentially at short notice. As such, practice your technique and answers to typical questions - this should ease your nerves if similar questions come up during the actual interview.
Think about how you can add value to the organisation, through your technical and soft skills. Employers are particularly eager to hire professionals with strong commercial instincts, who can drive revenue, cut costs or offer strategic insight into the running of the business. Demonstrating measurable successes on your CV and in the interview process is the best way to get ahead of the competition.