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Finance Career Guide (Steps, Roles, Programs & Skills)

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Finance is a broad term that includes a variety of careers. Financial roles can be found in just about any industry and include job titles such as accountant, financial manager, personal financial advisor, investment banker, and budget analyst.

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Professionals who hold these titles are responsible for ensuring that their employers or clients are financially sound and successful by taking on tasks such as balancing budgets, tracking profits and losses, monitoring broad economic development, and keeping an eye on the stock market. They also need to use critical thinking skills to create, develop, and implement ways to further increase profits. 

"As long as there is money, financial professionals will always be in demand," says Chartered Financial Analyst Greg Wilson. "There are so many career paths in financial services that part of the challenge is often realizing that all of the available positions even exist."

Steps to Launching a Career in Finance

Your path to a career in finance involves earning a degree—a bachelor's is what employers most often look for—then exploring the myriad jobs available in the field. Many people start working after they've earned their bachelor's degree, while those interested in pursuing managerial roles consider post-graduate studies.

Explore the field.

Finance is a big field, so look around a bit before you narrow down your choices. If you're good with numbers and the idea of analyzing and preparing financial records appeals to you, you might consider exploring accounting. If you like working with people and want to help them create a savings and investment plan, you may want to become a financial analyst. Actuary, securities trader, investment banker, and portfolio manager are other finance-related jobs.

Earn a degree.

Aspiring financial professionals can choose from several different educational paths. If you're interested in jumping into the field quickly and gaining an entry-level role, an associate degree might be a great choice. A bachelor's degree is the right first step if you're interested in entering the field with a stronger educational background and starting out with higher-level roles. Bachelor's degrees in finance will prepare you to take on roles such as financial analyst or accountant.

Consider certification.

Certifications abound in the field of finance. While few certifications are mandated, many are seen by employers as desirable, and they may help you climb the corporate ladder and secure more specialized positions. The type of certification you pursue will depend on the type of job you have. For example, financial planners might consider pursuing a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) certification, which demonstrates your proficiency in more than 100 planning-related topics. Financial analysts can pursue the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, which shows that you have extensive knowledge in money management and various forms of investments. Most certifying agencies will require professionals to have earned some work experience and/or passed one or more exams before certification is bestowed.

Start working.

Most new finance graduates won't secure a high-level position right out of school. Most start out in entry-level jobs, then move up after gaining experience. Some common entry-level finance jobs include:

• Junior tax associate
• Financial analyst
• Customer relations advocate
• Entry-level financial planner

Level up.

If you want to move into a supervisory or leadership role, you might consider furthering your education. Financial professionals who are interested in a master's degree have two options:

Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance
Master in Finance

Doctoral degrees in finance are also an option. At this level, you could take on teaching and high-level leadership roles in the financial realm.

Should I Consider an Internship?

Many finance students consider an internship while they're still in college--for good reason. The on-the-job experience a student gains through an internship can be very attractive to future employers. Here are a few other reasons getting a head start might pay off after graduation:

  • You will have gained real work experience to reference during a job interview
  • You will likely make connections with people already in the field who can help you with your job search later
  • The company where you've interned may hire graduates exclusively from their intern pool
  • You may realize your interests lie in a different finance-related field

Jobs in Finance

Some financial jobs, such as accountants and personal financial planners, focus on individual accounts and managing money for clients.

Other financial roles, such as budget analysts or financial managers, look at how money impacts a company or community.

Another branch of financial jobs includes professionals such as financial analysts and investment bankers, who look at the impact of the stock market to provide advice and money management tools to companies.

How Long Does a Finance Program Take?

The years it will take to earn your financial degree will depend on the educational option you choose. Factors such as your school and whether you attend classes full or part-time can also make a difference.

DegreeLength of Time
Associate degree2 years
Bachelor's degree4 years
MBA in Finance2 years in addition to your bachelor's degree
Master in Finance2 years in addition to your bachelor's degree
Doctoral degree3 years in addition to your master's degree

What's the Difference Between Finance and Accounting

While "finance" and "accounting" are both fields a person interested in a business degree might explore, considering them side-by-side is like comparing apples with oranges. Finance is a more general subject that encompasses a number of fields. In fact, finance can be thought of as an "umbrella" category that includes the field of accounting, along with other focuses such as financial planning, financial management, and investment management.

How Much Can I Earn?

In general, financial careers are well-paying and offer significant opportunities for growth. Most financial professionals have access to benefits packages on top of their salary, and it's common in many industries for bonuses to be added to yearly salaries. Your pay as a financial professional will depend on your exact job title, industry, experience, education, employer, and location.

Required Skills and Traits

Skilled financial professionals are in demand. If you've always been interested in broad topics like budgeting and economics, a financial career is a great way to use those large concepts in the workplace.  You'll be able to use your understanding of the financial world to help companies or customers achieve financial success. To be successful, you'll need to be a critical and creative thinker with great problem-solving and communications skills.

"In my field, our employees get promoted on one criteria: how many times did they bring an idea, and how many of those ideas were good?" says Stanford Nix, MBA, a venture capitalist and managing partner of The Nix Organization. "If it's a tie between two associates, we make a decision based on who we like more.

"This world of finance, be it investment banking or venture capital, is all about people."

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

stanford nix

With professional insights from:

Stanford Nix, MBA

The Nix Organization

greg wilson

Greg Wilson

Chartered Financial Analyst

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