Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tips to Help College Students Land Their First Finance Job

Believe it or not --- recruiting season is fast approaching for seniors.

The future this fall is brightest for college students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); however, those with strong finance skills will also find a strong job market. But just because you have a four-year degree in business administration with a finance degree (or go through the AIM program) does not mean you will get your dream job.

So what can upcoming college graduates do to boost their chances of getting their dream entry-level job in finance (asset management, private equity, investment banking, etc.)? Here are some tips for how to increase the odds of landing your dream entry-level finance job.
1. Know what you are good at -- and if you want to be a research analyst, consultant or banker. You should choose early on if you want to specialize in a certain segment or if you want to be more of a generalist. For example, if you are interested in research, then focus on accounting and Excel skills – whereas if you are considering becoming a banker you need to focus on corporate finance and transactional skills. So before you start applying for jobs, you need to know about the different options and career paths available and apply for positions best suited to your interests and talents.

2. Learn everything you can about the company and position you are applying/interviewing for, before you apply or interview there. You need to do research and familiarize yourself with the company. Have they been in the news lately? What stories have been written about them in Bloomberg? Then in your cover letter or during the interview you can note your interest in the company and why you would want to work for the firm. You want to be confidence walking into the interview with a deep understanding of what the company does; go deep.  Show that you're well-versed on the company and its offerings, come up a good question about the company or the industry. Also, always send a follow-up email, but try to add value and personalize it rather than just to check in on the interviewing process.

3. Know or learn the right financial skills. Make sure you are concentrating on highlighting your current and marketable skills. Commonly sought skills include Excel modeling, data collection and analysis, and understanding database and financial software (Bloomberg, Thomson, FactSet, Morningstar, etc.). You need to match your skills specifically with what employers are looking for so that you will have an easier time gaining employment.

4. Fine tune your "soft" skills. These are the nontechnical, interpersonal skills, like effective communication, strong teamwork, leadership, problem solving and negotiation skills. It's these soft skills that will make you more employable and well- rounded to a potential employer. Identify the skills where you may not be strongest and focus on improving them. The best way to do this is with practice – and network as much as possible and take as many interviewing opportunities as you can.

5.  Gain practical experience. One of the best ways for college seniors to improve their job prospects is by building relevant experience with an internship or mentorship. These help you develop and demonstrate the specific skills employers are demanding, and serve as key stepping stones to full-time employment. This is especially true in investment banking and asset management."

6. Talk about your projects and knowledge. During interviews you want to set yourself apart from others with a sample of your work, whether it is from an internship or a class project. Recruiters want examples of your knowledge so provide them with a sample of your writing and research abilities. Be sure to have a professional LinkedIn profile, so prospective employers can easily find you -- and you can find and network with prospective employers.

7. Network, network, network. Students need to create a strong network of affiliations, including classmates, faculty, alumni and professionals in your discipline. Belong to student clubs and attend meetings held by professional organizations, such as CFA Society. These meetings are a terrific way to network with people in your field and learn about potential positions. Find a mentor who is knowledgeable in the field of study you wish to pursue – they can help you in countless ways.

8. Participate in local industry events, like CFA luncheons, forums and competitions. Don’t miss opportunities to attend professional events in order to learn more and network with people working in the finance industry.

9. Tailor your resume to each position -- and avoid jargon and simply listing keywords. You need to develop a resume that reflects the finance professional you want to be by detailing every research project or investment analysis you've completed or been a part of, regardless of its size or scope. 

10. Don't just apply to the Wall Street firms. Don't be afraid to make your search wide-ranging, not only geographically but in the areas of finance you might like to work on. Look for companies in different parts of the industry – you might find excellent entry level financial research positions in IT, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail.

11. Know your interviewer. Prior to an interview, try to learn with whom you will be meeting and use LinkedIn and the internet to learn as much as you can about them. This shows initiative and provides an opportunity to identify similarities you might share with your interviewer. The most positive feedback from an interviewer comes when a candidate is able to make a personal connection.

12. Finally, be real about your salary expectation. You need to be realistic and don't expect that you are going to get $100K+ the first year! Show an eagerness to work in the industry and the rewards will come to you based on your success and long-run contributions to the firm.

And enjoy the rest of summer and best of luck in your job search this fall!