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Your Career in Finance: Three Ways to Avoid Being a Gofer

Learn how to avoid being everyone's lackey and rise to the top of your career in finance with these three tips.


By Porter B. Hall

While most of us love the things that money can buy, it's not easy to manage the stuff, much less make a career out of it. Those up for the challenge, however, will find that a career in finance can be incredibly lucrative and exciting.

Unfortunately, it's also very competitive, and, especially at the beginning, it can be easy to find yourself simply fetching coffee and crunching numbers. In order to avoid spending years as a thankless gofer and get into that corner office and power suit, you will need to make a few strategic moves.

1. Choose a Direction

When embarking on your career path, it's crucial to choose a direction. Finance careers can lead any number of places, so before diving in, research a variety of types of jobs and think about what aspect of the industry most appeals to you. Some of the major subfields of finance include the following:

Having a sense of where you want to go will allow you to choose what kind of work and knowledge to pursue. This foresight and direction will help you develop targeted skills and thus create a niche for yourself in the fast-paced and widespread finance industry.

2. Get a Finance Education…and Keep it Up

Given the complexity of financial processes and instruments, the government's frequently changing regulation of the finance industry, and emerging worldwide markets, education is absolutely essential for a finance career. While many people work their way up from the entry level job they attained with only a bachelor's, many top finance professionals got a head start in the field by earning an MBA.

To get a real rocket boost up the corporate ladder and out of the copy room, you'll need to continue educating yourself. Specialists who keep up on the latest laws and methods through journals, conferences and professional organizations have a clear leg up when it comes to getting promoted.

3. Meet People, Make Connections

Networking will not only allow you to meet people in the field and learn more about finance in general, but it will also help you create the invaluable personal connections that often drive vertical career movement.

It is a good idea to join one or more professional organizations, such as one of these:

Attending sponsored events will help you meet people at all levels of finance careers and stay abreast of current trends and news in the industry. Alumni networks are also excellent vehicles for making connections within the field. Jon Howell of the Harvard Business School Association of Orange County, CA says, "All you need to do is just show up [to an alumni event] to have access to senior management in your community."

To really get ahead, however, you may want to think beyond the routine. Volunteering to serve on a committee that will show off your professional working style, strategic vision and, most of all, your energy and enthusiasm. By making yourself visible in the larger finance community, you demonstrate your commitment to the field, give yourself the opportunity to learn from a range of potential mentors and make connections beyond your workplace.