1. Learn the Lingo
If you are interested in a financial career, there's no excuse for not knowing Wall Street lingo. If you don't know the difference between dilution and dividend, or between NPV and DCF, consider learning financial terms and concepts by browsing the extensive dictionary of terms at sites like Investopedia or reading The Wall Street Journal.
Not knowing financial language may make it almost impossible to get past the preliminary interview stage for a non-financial graduate. That's because an interviewer will generally assume that an applicant for a finance position is knowledgeable about finance, regardless of his or her educational background.
2. Round off Your Education
Difficulty: Low to Moderate
So what if you graduated with a degree in a subject other than finance? You can always redress the situation by taking relevant courses with an emphasis on finance or business at the undergraduate or post-graduate level.
At the undergraduate level, courses in economics, accounting or financial analysis are great options. Many post-graduates go for an MBA, since its substantial finance component serves to level the playing field between finance and non-finance graduates. If the MBA's stiff cost is a deterrent, other options such as enrolling in the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) Program are certainly worth exploring.
3. Enroll in Financial Boot Camp
Intensive courses by firms like Wall Street Prep and Training the Street can teach you valuable skills that are essential for a career in finance, such as advanced spreadsheet techniques and financial modeling. These crash courses are quite expensive, typically running to a few thousand dollars, but have the advantage of not requiring a long-term time commitment because they are typically conducted over a few days. One drawback is that, due to these programs' intensity, you may need to be already familiar with basic financial concepts to derive the maximum benefit from them.
4. Expand Your Knowledge Base
Relevant knowledge is not obtained only through a college degree. There are plenty of resources available, either through your local library or online, to deepen your financial knowledge. These resources may be free or available on a paid basis from course providers. Being self-taught in a difficult field like finance demonstrates a number of desirable attributes to an employer such as initiative, passion and drive.
5. Use a Trading Simulator
A number of websites – including Investopedia – have trading simulators that can be used to construct mock portfolios. Using a trading simulator will force you to track the markets and keep abreast of market developments. This is a great way to impress a potential employer with your trading prowess, or at least your market knowledge, with very little investment on your part, aside from some time commitment.
6. Complete Industry Courses
Completing a relevant industry licensing course, such as that offered by the Canadian Securities Institute (in Canada), not only demonstrates your commitment to a career in finance, but also gives you an edge on the competition in terms of job readiness. This option may not be available in all jurisdictions, of course; for instance, in the United States, one has to be sponsored by a member firm or a self-regulatory organization to take most licensing exams. However, as of October, 2018, FINRA is creating into a new test called the Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE), which can be taken without sponsorship.
7. Maintain a Financial Blog
Starting and maintaining a financial blog is a great way to communicate your investment ideas to the world. It is an opportunity to convey to a potential employer a favorable impression of your diverse skill set, including financial acumen, communication skills and technological dexterity. This mode of self-marketing is most suitable for those who already possess a measure of these skills.
8. Link Up with a Mentor
Linking up with a mentor is another way of jump-starting a financial career. A mentor can be anyone in a position of influence who thinks highly of your capabilities and is willing to help you achieve your goals. Possible mentors include your favorite professor at college, a family friend or relation with a successful career in finance or someone you know in a professional capacity, such as a supervisor during a previous internship. Don't hesitate to approach a contact whom you think could help you in your job search.
9. Score a Meaningful Internship
Difficulty: Very High
Impact: Very High
Scoring a summer internship still remains one of the best ways to lock in a prestigious full-time job in finance, as many Wall Street firms pick their new hires from the ranks of their summer interns. At the best business schools, an estimated one-third to half of MBA students go to work for their summer employer after graduation.
But since obtaining a paid internship in finance is likely to be very difficult for a non-financial graduate, one must consider other options such as an unpaid internship or volunteer work with a broker. The opportunity cost that arises from doing such unpaid internships or volunteer work may be offset in due course by the higher earning potential of a finance career.
10. Do Your Best to Get Your Foot in the Door
Difficulty: Very High
Impact: Very High
Target HR departments for résumés, expand your job search to other locations, use your network to check for openings – in short, do everything you can to get your foot in the door of a financial institution. Scoring an entry-level position with a financial company, even in a non-finance role, may open doors to other career paths in finance down the line. (See "A Look at Entry-Level Careers in Finance" for details.)
The Bottom Line
Some non-finance degrees are certainly in demand on Wall Street for specific tasks, including:
- Physics and mathematics for structured products, derivatives and quantitative trading
- Information technology for algorithmic trading and platform development
- Engineering, mining and sciences for sector-specific research analysis and investment banking
But for the vast majority of non-finance degree holders, getting a job in finance is likely to pose a significant challenge. This is more so because thousands of positions were eliminated by banks and financial institutions in the aftermath of the 2008 global recession. However, using a combination of the tips discussed above should enable a non-financial graduate to substantially improve his or her chances of launching a career in finance.