How to Get Started in a Financial Services Career

financial services
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Opportunities for savvy and well-qualified graduates interested in a financial services career are readily available, especially for those who make the right moves with their job search.

Here's how you can prepare to successfully get hired for a career in financial services while you're an undergraduate student.

Participate in Internship Programs

A powerful and growing trend in the past several years has been for financial services employers to draw heavily on their own internship programs to fill entry level positions. These employers can carefully evaluate the performance of candidates on the job within their organization and take the mystery out of what can be a very tricky process of screening college talent.

College students can begin amassing internship experience as early as their freshman year, even if this means working for free in an initial position.

Candidates early in their college career should apply for internship programs at leading financial services firms as a Plan A, but should also target smaller organizations as a contingency plan. A local brokerage, financial planning or banking firm may not have a structured internship program but may be open to organizing an internship experience for a college student or alumnus from the area. Drop by local firms during school breaks to make inquiries and tap family contacts to facilitate the process.

Build a Strong Academic Record

The college years are also a crucial time to build a candidate profile that will be valued in various niches within the financial services industry through academic and co-curricular experiences. For example, candidates for investment banking positions must have very strong academic records with a high GPA, a pattern of taking on challenging coursework, and evidence of a superior work ethic.

Cultivate a solid academic grounding in quantitative, technical, and scientific disciplines to complement economics and business coursework. A candidate with a dual major in economics and mathematics will often be more attractive than one with only a business major.

Grow Leadership and Finance Skills

Consider financially oriented positions with clubs, organizations, and the student government association on your campus to demonstrate an interest in financially oriented tasks.

Students targeting sales must develop and showcase strong interpersonal skills, perseverance, and a competitive nature. Pursue leadership positions on campus where a student takes responsibility to influence peers to action, or start and promote a student business, or volunteer to help campus development officers with your college’s fundraising efforts.

Trading requires quick judgments and outstanding number-crunching skills. Participate in investment challenges online and on campus to demonstrate an interest in financial markets.

Research Options Well in Advance

There are a broad range of options to consider in the financial serves sector and students should begin researching these discrete areas early on in their college career. After reading about these fields, students should conduct informational interviews with professionals performing roles of interest to learn more.

Many colleges offer job shadowing programs which provide an excellent opportunity for students to observe first-hand finance professionals in a variety of different functional areas.

Job Search Strategies for College Seniors

Students should begin investigating the recruiting opportunities offered through their career office during junior year to prepare for their senior job search. Most financial services employers recruit early in the year and seniors can be caught off guard if they wait until their final year to target employers, create resumes and cover letters, and prepare for interviews. In addition to campus interviewing, explore options for participating in recruiting events off-campus sponsored by your college, or job fairs which allow all college students to participate.

Since analyst training programs at major investment firms are extremely competitive, candidates should also target some "Plan B" options. Smaller local firms and boutique investment houses that are not household names will have some opportunities for analysts as well. These jobs can be best accessed through networking with alumni and personal/family contacts. Also, consider back office positions in technology and compliance as well as front office jobs in trading and money management as additional targets within the investment field.

Most employers are open to applications from candidates outside the roster of campuses where they actively recruit.

Develop a list of employers in sectors of interests and apply online for positions early in your senior year. Make it clear that you are quite willing to travel to corporate facilities for interviews. Complete an online profile with OneWire so that the employers working with this finance-specific service can identify you as a viable candidate. Also, scan their listings and those of other major job sites, and apply to as many positions as possible.

Networking Tips for Finance Majors 

Career experts are in universal agreement that the most effective job search strategy is networking! College juniors interested in financial services careers should amass a list of contacts to approach for information and advice about post-graduate jobs. Here's how to get started:

  • Contact college career and alumni office for suggestions.
  • Attend campus and regional college panels and networking events to source leads.
  • Sign up for LinkedIn. Join college and industry groups in the system and approach fellow members for informational interviews.
  • Ask faculty to refer you to former students or colleagues for meetings.
  • Ask parents to devise a list of family contacts. Send them a note including a photo and newsy personal update. Request introductions to any of their contacts in financial services for the purpose of informational interviews.
  • Reach out to Facebook friends employed in finance who graduated in the past two years and ask to schedule visits for informational consultations with them at their office location. Once you are on site, these contacts can introduce you to managers and other staff involved with hiring college students/graduates.
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