Whether you're just out of college or are looking to switch professional paths and explore careers in finance, landing your first job in this field can be tough. There are many candidates exactly like you...whoa!
Hold on. Others are not exactly like you. In fact, the more you can distinguish yourself, the likelier you are to land a job. Don't assume that hiring managers care only whether you know your way around an Excel sheet. Sure, you may need technical skills, but you also need to show companies that you're not just a human calculator.
If you want to crunch numbers for a living, here are tips to ensure that employers see you as more than just a number as you evaluate careers in finance:
Are you worried that you won't get hired without enough experience? Here's an open secret: Everyone, at every career stage, agonizes over this. Although hands-on, practical experience carries a lot of weight, what companies want to see most is your ability to demonstrate attributes key to successful careers in finance, such as:
- Leadership. You don't have to have been a manager to have been a leader. Consider times when you've inspired teamwork and spearheaded efforts to complete projects.
- Problem-solving. Perhaps you've volunteered at an outreach center as a financial counselor, or think of other instances that underscore how you've tackled dilemmas.
- Communication. Remember, finance and accounting professionals do not work in a bubble. Talk the lingo, but also know how to explain it in laymen's terms.
Companies appreciate subject-matter experts. Immersing yourself in a field such as economics or investments by keeping up on current news is valuable. But you are more apt to discover all sorts of hidden stories and new viewpoints — and, therefore, impress hiring managers — by visiting financial blog. Time magazine offers some recommendations.
Another excellent way to demonstrate dedication to your specialty is by earning a relevant certification. (It also doesn't hurt that candidates with certifications have an advantage when starting their careers in finance and can command above-market salary offers, according to Robert Half's Salary Guide.) Here are the three most popular certifications:
- Certified public accountant (CPA). The most common credential, it covers a broad range of finance skills. It also involves 150 semester hours of education, two years of public accounting experience and a four-part exam.
- Certified internal auditor (CIA). This designation will demonstrate your ability to ensure internal audit standards are met at companies, including regulatory compliance and risk assessment.
- Certified management accountant (CMA). Ideal for professionals who want to specialize in financial analysis, decision support and financial planning.
You may also consider earning CFA, CGMA or CISA certifications. (To decipher this flurry of acronyms and for more information about these accounting and finance certifications, visit the Robert Half Finance & Accounting blog.)
Meanwhile, the associations that administer these certifications, along with many others you'll find online, are also worth joining. These groups can be extremely valuable to professionals who are just beginning their careers in finance and for anyone wanting to network at conferences, workshops and other events.
Similarly, a variety of organizations, including Robert Half Finance & Accounting, grant Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits, which you earn by taking courses to prove your commitment to staying current in your field.
Finally, brand yourself. That means more than just updating your LinkedIn page. Think about writing for local newspapers and their websites as well as the sites of industry organizations. Or start a blog about financial topics that interest you. By establishing yourself as a knowledgeable thought leader, you'll not only appear more credible. You will be more credible.
And when getting your name out there, be sure to let your personality come through. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because financial organizations and company accounting and finance departments are often conservative, they're looking for bland drones. A bit of wit in an interview or on a resume can go a long way. Just remember to keep it professional.
Finally, don't despair if you don't score a job at a well-known firm. Your main aim when first looking into careers in finance is to learn as much as possible. Quite often, small companies offer fantastic opportunities to take on a wide range of responsibilities, wield greater influence and gain vital experience. Good luck!