Thinking of a career in finance? Here’s what you should know

career in finance
A career in finance can be both extremely challenging and rewarding. Here's what you should know. Source: Michael M. Santiago/AFP

Are you thinking about a career in finance? If so, you’re not alone. 

In the US alone, there are over 116,034 finance professionals employed in the sector. The field itself is projected to grow by 7% from 2021 to 2031. This points to a steady career path — and one many students have their eye on. 

Of course, everyone knows that a career in finance will lead to rewarding salaries. It’s perhaps one of the reasons why the industry is so highly coveted.

For example, an investment banker can earn up to US$186,246 per year. This is significantly higher than the national average full-time worker, who earns around US$53,490 per year.

But being paid well isn’t always the best reason to choose a certain career. Instead, it’s important to think about what’s best suited for you.

How long are you expected to dedicate to your work every day? Can you grow? Will you have to compromise on other aspects of your life to keep your job? 

It’s best to conduct some research on what you should expect out of a career in finance to better understand what you’re getting yourself into. We’ve put together this list to give you a head start. 

The Goldman Sachs headquarters building in Manhattan, New York City. Source: Spencer Platt/AFP

4 things to expect out of a career in finance

It’s challenging and fast-paced

If you’re looking to be challenged in your career, a job in finance will likely be a great fit for you. The field offers many opportunities for growth, leadership and putting your technical skills to test.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a career in finance is its fast-paced environment — one that demands you to keep up or risk falling behind. 

To avoid this, many finance professionals encourage newcomers to take part in leading areas of transformation. 

“Finance is transforming fast and will even be transforming faster in the coming years,” says recent finance grad Ian van Aerschot

“Young finance professionals should recognise that the things that made the current senior finance professionals successful are not the things that will make them successful in their career.

Can you add value to the business today and in future? If yes, you’re on the right track.

“Innovations will emerge that will help you do so in an unprecedented way,” says van Aerschot.

“Core finance skills will be less important and taking the lead in the finance transformation to increase the impact of the function will be more necessary.”

The hours are long

The downside to a job in a field as fast-paced as finance is that you’ll likely have to sacrifice much of the day for your job.

This depends heavily on the market you’re in, the company you’re working for, and how senior your position is. 

That being said, most with a career in finance tend to work long hours. A Goldman Sachs survey found that first-year investment banking analysts tend to spend more than 95 hours at work per week.

Still, not all of this time is spent doing actual work. 

“Technically, your day, in terms of the active market that you’re working on, is a very short day,” says investment banking specialist Oliver Rolfe.

After that, you’re likely “preparing client pitches for the next day, meetings with new or potential clients, travelling, taking people out for dinner, reconnecting, and growing your network,” among others.

It’s a male-dominated field

Another thing to expect out of a career in finance is there are more males than females.

This may not seem so on the surface; after all, 46% of employees in financial services are women. But few progress to higher levels. 

In fact, women hold only 9% and 6% of senior roles in venture capital and private equity. Just 11% of senior management roles in hedge funds are taken up by women.

To add to this, only 8% of CFOs from 1,000 of the largest corporations across eight industries in the US are women. 

Much of this has to do with the culture of finance in itself. Companies tend to favour stereotypically masculine traits, leading them to hire and favour men’s work over women’s.

Because of this, women take up more work without the added flexibility or rewards typically offered to men in the field. This leads to high levels of burnout among women

The field is changing to become more inclusive as the years pass by. Such attitudes can also heavily depend on the company you choose to work with — so choose carefully.

career in finance

A career to finance can lead you to the C-suite, like Li Tong, CEO at BOC International Holdings, and Susan Rice, British banker and Chair of the GEFI Global Steering Group, did. But few women do. Source: Fayez Nureldine/AFP

It’s hard to get in

There’s no getting around it: landing a career in finance isn’t easy. Competition is tough, and many are vying for the top spots at the world’s largest banks. 

For example, Goldman Sachs is known for putting its applicants through a gruelling application process, with several rounds of interviews and tests.

One Glassdoor user reported taking two months to complete the entire application process. 

If you’re looking to enter the finance industry, you should start applying early. The best way to do this? Keep track of the application windows of companies you’re interested in.

Find out what each company’s requirements are and do your best to fulfil this. 

By the time the application window opens, you’ll be ready to press the submit button — and hopefully land an interview in the process.