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Doing the Research: Financial Analyst Job Description


If you've got a head for numbers, an aptitude for technology, and nerves of steel, the financial analyst role could be a great fit for you. From required skills to career paths, we've got the financial analyst job description covered.

Financial analysts evaluate, interpret and report on huge volumes of complex financial data—from company reports to global economic trends—in order to forecast business and investment performance.

Armed with their analysis and revenue projections, they advise executive leaders on strategic decisions and investments. Analysts spend their days crunching numbers and historical financial data; preparing reports gleaned from this analysis; exploring investment opportunities; identifying national and global trends in the financial markets; making recommendations for improved performance; and creating and sharing financial models and business forecasts.

Analysts tend to specialize in a particular industry, region or product. For example, one analyst might cultivate expertise in the IT field, while another focuses on the aerospace industry. Another analyst in a firm might become expert in the Middle East, while her colleague specializes in India's emerging markets.

It's a complex field. Beyond the ability to synthesize data and communicate it clearly, analysts must have a thorough grounding in the broader legal, economic and political landscape that shapes business fortunes.

When they're not in the office crunching numbers, creating financial models and writing reports, financial analysts are often on the road, traveling to investigate potential investments and meet with clients face to face.

What It's Not

A financial analyst doesn't actually invest in stocks, bonds or other financial tools. The analyst's is strictly an advisory role.

The Skill Set

You'll be best suited for work as a financial analyst if your quiver includes the following:

  • Analytical and math skills—The work requires painstaking research into financial data that runs the gamut from profit and loss statements to global economic trends to government regulations. An analyst creates financial models, forecasts business performance and earnings, and assimilates all this information into cogent reports for peers, managers and clients.
  • A voracious appetite for data—A financial analyst digests and evaluates huge volumes of information to get an accurate read on business performance, including historic and current economic trends; national business news; company financial statements; and much more.
  • Communication skills—Analysts often meet face to face with investors and company leaders to evaluate business opportunities. They're responsible for synthesizing research findings into clear, easily understandable reports, and counseling senior leaders. Persuasive abilities are key to success in this field; it's not enough just to crunch the numbers and hope they'll speak for themselves.
  • Technical abilities—From spreadsheets, charts and graphs to complex financial modeling, a financial analyst must be adept with a host of software packages and relational databases. These are the tools of the trade.
  • Decisiveness—A financial analyst recommends whether to buy, sell or hold a security. In some roles, these decisions are made under tremendous pressure, with only a split second to make the call. This field is no place for the faint of heart.

Because their days are usually filled with consultations, meetings and calls, financial analysts often perform research after hours. Many analysts work more far than a standard 40-hour week.

Where Do Financial Analysts Work?

Most financial analysts work in large financial centers such as New York City, where many are employed in:

  • securities firms and brokerages
  • investment banks
  • pension funds
  • mutual funds

Other businesses that employ financial analysts include:

  • banks
  • insurance companies
  • government
  • private industry
  • ratings agencies

Two Types of Financial Analysts: A Field Guide

Meet the two most common varieties of financial analysts: buy-side and sell-side.


  • Works for a mutual fund or pension fund company that manages its own funds
  • Reads research reports, builds models, deepens knowledge of particular industry or area of expertise
  • Advises in-house fund managers as to which investments to make (or avoid)
  • May also work in an insurance company or university that invests in securities
  • Mindset: what can potentially go wrong with this investment?
  • Measure of success: How well do the stocks I recommend perform for my employer?

Sell-side analyst

  • Works in a brokerage house or firm that manages individual accounts and advises clients
  • Writes research reports, builds models and predicts a stock's performance
  • Meets extensively with institutional investors and company leaders to perform research
  • Cultivates expert networks in order to deepen knowledge of a particular field
  • Mindset: How can I provide fresh, accurate information on this investment?
  • Measure of success: Do my firm's clients trade stocks based on my research? (The sell-side analyst's brokerage receives a commission each time this happens.)

Career Path

Most financial analysts begin in junior positions, working for three to four years and building expertise in a particular field or industry. At this point, they may return to school for an advanced degree. Or, they may step into senior analyst or portfolio manager roles.

Potential careers for a financial analyst include:

  • Portfolio manager—This senior position guides a team of analysts and works to select a mix of investments for a company portfolio. In addition to top-notch data analysis skills, the manager must be an expert communicator, explaining decision and strategies to company leaders.
  • Ratings analyst—This profession got some unaccustomed attention in 2011, when the U.S. government temporarily lost its AAA credit rating. A ratings analyst's job is to assess and predict the ability of a company—or a government—to pay off its debts.
  • Risk analyst—With a mission to limit losses and manage unpredictability, a risk analyst looks at potential investments from the angle of "what can go wrong?" To mitigate the ups and downs, she or he recommends a mix of stocks and bonds designed to stabilize a portfolio.
  • Fund manager—These analysts work with hedge funds or mutual funds to select which securities to purchase, sell or keep. They must be adept at navigating quickly-changing markets, and often find themselves in the position of making lightning-fast decisions to buy or sell.

Which Type of Financial Analyst Career is Best for You?

Use our handy chart to match your skills to the role.

Portfolio Manager

  • Microscopic attention to detail
  • Team management
  • Synthesize data, create reports
  • Worst-case scenario thinker
  • Technical savvy

Ratings Analyst

  • Microscopic attention to detail
  • Synthesize data, create reports
  • Prefer stability, predictability
  • Technical savvy

Fund Manager

  • Split-second decision maker
  • Microscopic attention to detail
  • Synthesize data, create reports
  • Thrive on rapid change
  • Technical savvy

Risk Analyst

  • Microscopic attention to detail
  • Synthesize data, create reports
  • Worst-case scenario thinker
  • Prefer stability, predictability
  • Technical savvy

Degrees and Certifications

Financial analyst positions, including entry-level roles, require at least a bachelor's degree. The most common majors in the field are accounting, finance, statistics, economics, business administration and math. But it's not uncommon to find a financial analyst who studied engineering or one of the physical sciences. Most important to employers? A proven facility with numbers and data.

To advance in the profession, employers generally require an MBA or a master's degree in business administration, data analytics, business analytics, or finance. Some also require the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, a rigorous process that entails a series of three notoriously difficult tests.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of financial analysts is projected to grow 6% through 2030, as fast as average for all occupations. As the range of financial products expands and investment portfolios gain complexity, the BLS anticipates that more analysts will be required in the field.

The BLS pegged the median wage for financial analysts at $83,660, with that figure higher for the securities, commodity and financial investment fields.

The salary and job growth information listed is based on a national average. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.