Can You Use Your Finance Skills to Save the World? How to Break Into the Ministry of Finance

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Ministry of Finance JobsSo, what about those other options in finance? Not everybody is looking for the 80-100 hour workweeks that investment banking offers.

And besides, you might just fit in better with normal people who aren’t constantly plotting how to advance and back-stab you on their way to the top.

If you’re interested in finance but you don’t want to turn into Patrick Bateman, then you should pay careful attention to this interview with a reader who broke into the Ministry of Finance in a European Union country.

While “government work” may not sound exciting, governments hold more and more sway over banks and financial institutions as regulations increase each year.

And hey, even if pay doesn’t increase at the same rate as their power you can’t go wrong with all the networking opportunities that working in the Ministry of Finance would give you – plus the ability to work normal hours without losing your sanity in the process.

Where It All Began

Q: Why don’t we kick things off by learning more about your background? What’s your story?

A: Sure. I have a different background from most other people in my country – I went to university in the UK, and completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance there.

I also interned at the National Bank of my country (Eastern Europe, to be a bit more specific), which was a great opportunity to apply my finance knowledge and gain practical skills.

I considered investment banking and other financial services roles, but I preferred the Ministry of Finance as the work itself is more diverse and interesting and also offers a great work-life balance – something that you wouldn’t normally get at a bulge bracket bank.

Q: So what exactly is your position at the Ministry of Finance?

What do you do there?

A: I’m working in the “Programming, Tendering and Contracting Division,” which is part of the Operational Program Administrative Capacity Directorate funded by the European Social Fund and the national budget.

This program aims to improve management quality, the management of human resources, and the quality of the administration and the development of electronic management.

The beneficiaries of the Program are the central and regional administrations, the judicial system, and last, but not least, the other Ministries such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transport, the Council of Ministers, and so on.

Q: It sounds like you just read that from a brochure or an advertisement.

What does all of that mean? What do you really do? And how is it related to finance?

A: We are basically the financial police – we verify the financial performance of different groups.

We’re attached to the Ministry of Finance since all public entities who want to use European Union’s approved funds need to have their projects and performance evaluated.

And if they’re not doing well, we stop funding them.

Once a group submits a project, I assess it and then monitor its development.

As part of my job I organize commissions where we say, “OK, should these people really be participating? And is this project financially viable?”

So let’s say that the Ministry of Justice wants to improve the qualifications of its magistrates and judicial officers through additional training, with the goal of making the judicial system more efficient.

They might submit their project and their estimated budget, along with financial projections showing how they plan to use the allocated funds from the program; they would also present detailed expense forms and contracts with the various training bodies.

Then we would assess that initial proposal, figure out whether their estimates look reasonable, and then approve or deny the project.

If the project gets approved, we would then monitor it over time and see how closely it sticks to its initial plan and whether or not the efficiency of the system is really improving.

My day-to-day work also includes the management of intermediary valuations and performance monitoring of the programs – making sure that the expenses make sense and that the objectives are being met.

On a project level, I also help prepare contracts related to all the different projects, so I’m heavily involved in the drafting of most project requirements, detailing allowed expenses, and so on.

The People

Q: So you get to interact with real people… sounds a lot more stimulating than cranking out pitch books all day!

Any other reasons why you chose to work at the Ministry of Finance and in this program in particular?

A: I was impressed by the people I met during my interviews.

They were really interested in my profile and the fact that I had studied abroad – that type of experience is common in developed countries in Western Europe, but not as common in the “emerging markets” countries here.

As I mentioned before, I was considering investment banking and a few other roles at that time and even went through the interview process for many of them – but they didn’t leave as strong an impression and I wasn’t interested in working 80-100 hours per week.

And because the program is co-financed by the European Union, I get to produce work that directly impacts the image of my country in the EU.

I also learn a lot on the job since my work is not only finance-related but also involves a lot of administrative and legal aspects.

You would get paid more as an investment banking analyst, but you wouldn’t get this type of exposure to high-ranking officials and the variety of work you see here.

Q: OK, so what about the other people on your team? What are their backgrounds, and where do they come from?

A: Most people who work with me are young and very enthusiastic – the average age on my team is around 32, which is probably much younger than what you would usually associate with “government work.” On the other hand, it’s probably a bit older than the average age in investment banking.

Most of the people who work in the Ministry of Finance here have studied in the country, but they don’t necessarily have the same background as me.

Some of them studied law; others specialized in finance or even public administration.

So you see all types – overall, it’s probably more diverse than investment banking analyst pools at banks because they aren’t looking for such a specific skill set and educational background.

Q: You just mentioned the point about educational backgrounds – what degrees do most people in your group have?

A: The majority of the people at the Ministry of Finance and in my division, in particular, have at least a Master’s Degree.

A few people just have Bachelor’s Degrees but remember that in Europe, 5-year combined Bachelor’s/Master’s programs are more common and so even junior-level people have Master’s degrees.

If you’re passionate enough about Public Sector work you can still get in regardless of which degree you have, but more education generally helps here.

Breaking Into the Ministry

Q: I see – that actually leads me to my next question. Is it harder to find a job in the Ministry of Finance or at a bank?

You said that people have more diverse backgrounds there, so I’m guessing your group is not quite as selective as a bank would be?

A: It’s tough to land a job in Europe at the moment due to all the debt problems – the fact that my country is fairly close geographically to Greece is also causing issues, even at the corporate level here.

In terms of whether or not it’s harder to get a job here compared to a bank, it comes down to your background and interests.

In a sense, it’s easier because they’re not only looking for undergrads or recent graduates – but then it’s also harder because the pool of possible applicants is much broader, so you have more competition.

If they get the sense that you’re just using this as a “Plan B” and you’re not genuinely interested in the role, they can see through that right away and you won’t get the job.

I mentioned before that I was interested in this role partially because of the normal working hours and the fact that you get to have an impact on the entire country – but you never want to say something like “the hours” as a reason for being interested in the role, even though that’s what draws a lot of people in.

Instead, you want to point to examples of public administration work or anything that can be spun into sounding relevant from your past – even something like debates or case studies / competitions that you did in school.

They want people who are concerned with the direction of the country, the EU, and the world at large – not just people who are interested in making money (traders would not fit in well here).

So if you’re interested in this type of role, you should start thinking about it and demonstrating your interest early on.

Q: OK, that makes a lot of sense and everything you just said applies to other roles as well.

What about the recruiting process at the Ministry of Finance? Any secret ninja tricks you can tell us about?

A:  There are no real secrets – just good preparation.

If you want to work here, you need to work on your interview technique and focus on the question of “Why the government? / Why the Ministry of Finance?”

Telling your story and discussing your previous internships and work experience are all important, of course, but with interviews here you need to focus on explaining why you’re interested in the government rather than the private sector.

So maybe you’d start out by explaining how you got interested in finance because of your family’s business or because of some financial problem that affected you growing up, and then say you studied it at university and became more interested in working in the industry.

You then did a few internships at banks, and you enjoyed the analytical part there, but found that you wanted to make more of an impact and work on a greater variety of projects.

You then took a class on public finance, which made the work the Ministry of Finance does seem very interesting to you.

You’re interested in this role and you’re interviewing here today because you want to combine your finance knowledge and experience with the opportunities here and make an impact on your entire country and the world – and in the future, you’re interested in advancing and becoming more involved with all the Finance / Treasury work in the country.

Whereas if you were applying to investment banking roles, they wouldn’t care as much about that “impact the world” logic, so you would just use the usual reasons to explain why you’re interested in investment banking.

One final point: it’s really important to keep track of the news since you may be asked about your opinion on recent events and the decisions that central banks make.

You can get news-related questions in other types of finance interviews as well, but they’re much more common here.

In that sense, it’s almost like a trading interview where they’ll ask you questions about macroeconomic indicators, major policy decisions, and so on.

Q: What about Brian’s favorite topic in the world, AKA the CFA and other professional certifications such as the CPA, ACCA, ACA, etc.?

Are any of them helpful on the job, or for breaking in?

A: No, not really. Nothing here requires any of those certifications.

In investment banking, they’re not terribly useful because the work you do is not closely related to the curriculums of those exams – but here, they’re not useful because the exams don’t cover all the aspects of the job.

As I mentioned before, we do a lot of work not only on the finance side, but also with legal and administrative teams – since the projects are so diverse, no exam in the world could cover everything we do.

Q: Awesome! Thanks for your time.

Now, I wanted to jump into what you do on the job and a day in your life in more detail…

A: You’ll have to wait for part 2 – coming up soon!

About the Author

grew up in Bulgaria, and then went to London to study and work in venture capital. She then relocated to Paris to pursue a postgraduate degree, and has also worked at one of the largest European asset management firms while there.

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29 Comments to “Can You Use Your Finance Skills to Save the World? How to Break Into the Ministry of Finance”

Comments

  1. Erick V. says

    In one article Brian spoke of the underlying insignificance of learning a different language for investment banking. Would that be different for ‘public finance’? And as a senior in high school (in Denver, COLORADO) what king of internship do you feel would help me the most to prepare for this?

    • says

      In the article you’re referring to, what I meant was that languages are not terribly useful in business unless your proficiency is extremely high (i.e. enough to understand sophisticated jokes, stand-up comedy, cultural nuances, write 30-page essays on literature). With government work, especially in Europe where you work more with other countries, languages are indeed useful and highly valued but the same rule applies: you need to be really, really good.

      For this type of role specifically, anything in public finance (several articles on that topic are coming up), maybe project finance, or even corporate finance at a company would be helpful. Anything where you analyze budgets and look at the ROI of long-term projects.

  2. John Smith says

    Hi Guys,

    1. What would be the equivalent job in the US?

    2. I have a liberal arts degree. What additional education would I need? (I’m guessing a Master’s in Finance).

    3. Will it matter where I get that Master’s in Finance? (Will it need to be top-tier; or, can a second-tier state school work just as well).

    4. It sounds like the pay is substantially less than Investment banking; but, the pay per hour is still just as good, and it leaves more time for lifestyle plus’ (including variety and working with people). Am I correct?

    Thanks

    • says

      1. Something like the Treasury (federal or state) or maybe the Comptroller at a local level.

      2. Not necessarily, remember that in Europe 5-year combined BS/MS programs are more common. In the US I don’t think you would need a Master’s degree for this, likely just some knowledge of accounting/finance.

      3. If you’re going to do get the degree, you should do it at a top school. But again, I don’t think it’s necessary here.

      4. Yes, that is correct. The main downside is that you don’t see nearly the same type of pay increases as you move up since it is government work. Even the President only makes $400K, less than mid-level VPs in banking.

      • John Smith says

        1. Thanks Brian.

        2. Can you reiterate to me that the pay per hour is just as good?

        3. Will there be plenty of exit opportunities? (I.e. go to an executive MBA program and get into I-banking later, if I absolutely need more money).

        4. For a guy like me, who likes to get his 8 hours of sleep, 1 hour of exercise, and is about to get married, are these type of jobs preferrable?

        Thanks

        • M&I - Nicole says

          2. At the junior levels, yes. As you become more senior, no, pay per hour lags far behind.
          3. Not as many as in IB, but you do still have options such as business school, public finance, maybe infrastructure funds.
          4. Preferrable over IB? Yes – you won’t be having much of a life in IB

  3. Justin says

    I know it’s not a front-office role, so perhaps out of the spectrum of this site (although M&I has definitely been expanding), I think interviewing someone in Risk Management could be an interesting addition. Especially because risk goes beyond crazy quant models that require a math PhD. I’ve been hearing that Operational Risk has started to become increasingly important in financial institutions because of Basel III and Dodd Frank requirements.
    Just thought it could be cool.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to make this site awesome!

  4. Rohan says

    Well one thing is missed out over here.
    Jobs in Govt are closed for foreigners.I know the likes of federal reserve,CIA etc will hire only american nationals.Same with her Majestys Govt , only open for british nationals i guess.

  5. Adam says

    Brian, sorry to ask an unrelated question, but do you know how wide getting carried interest in a PE fund is? I’ll possibly interview for an IR/marketing gig at a big PE firm in Asia. If I take the gig and eventually become sufficiently senior of course, could I get decent carried interest?

    Thanks

    • says

      It is not common at the junior levels, especially not in Asia where things are very hierarchical. If you reach the Partner level you’ll get some level of carry, but it’s still heavily geared toward the founder(s). And remember that it may take years to see the rewards even after you get it since it’s dependent on portfolio exits.

  6. Dobrovolski says

    I love your website, however this interview is irrelevant.

    “Tactics and techniques”, ninja, trick questions etc are all irrelevant in eastern europe, especially in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. These are places where people do internships and placements at the national bank or ministry of finance ONLY, and only if they’re daddy, mommy etc knows someone from inside.

    Also, it is well known that a career in public sector in any of these countries is a disaster.

    Frankly, the interviewee is not telling the whole story. She didn’t make it in investment banking and went for the bulgarian public sector. You can’t compare one to another. The interview is dishonest and is far from reality, i can guarantee.

    • says

      While the interviewee might have been in Eastern Europe, this interview was intended to apply to more regions than that because he went over the general types of candidates / things they’re looking for in public sector roles elsewhere as well.

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience wherever you were working, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the public sector in *all* countries is a “disaster”… sure, maybe in some places it’s worse or not as viable but that happens anywhere.

      And I really have no idea what the interviewee’s goals were or even if they were interested in IB in the first place because one of our editors did the interview.

      If you can explain how this interview was “dishonest” I’m happy to listen, but I don’t think you can say that someone is “dishonest” just because they had a different experience from you.

      • Dobrovolski says

        It’s dishonest because of the following reasons:

        1. working in the public sector in places like Bulgaria – and i am saying this with first hand experience – essentially means you don’t do anything all day, you don’t learn any technical skills, you don’t learn any soft skills/communication skills etc. It nowhere near “a dream job” to work in the ministry of finance of an eastern european country. The whole experience is a waste of time.

        2. the majority of people you work with are ex communists bureucrats that have no idea how things should be done, the public sector being sustained by the private sector.

        3. The EU Funds absorbtion rating for Bulgaria since EU accession – i.e 2007 – has been somewhere around 2-3%. Just shows the lack of professionalism and proves beyond doubt reasons 1 and 2.

        4. The person whom you’ve interiviewd is clearly trying to make a good image of himself, boosting his ego by saying “look at me i’m on the biggest investment banking blog” when in fact he probably couldn’t make it in investment banking/London. Again he should have at least gone for a local consulting/financial services multinational where he would at least get some sort of experience with “working for profit”.

        Obiously it’s great that you get people educated in western countries working in the public sector but this is no reason to make it sound as if it’s a privilege and certainly no m&inquistions material.

        • says

          Ok. Unfortunately, we do not have time to fact-check every single person’s story and confirm / deny what they’ve said about the region they’re working in. It’s simply impossible given that there is often no real information online about many regions/firms. I will pass along your comments to the interviewer and make sure she knows about these points.

          I think your assessment in #4 is not quite right because the interviewee doesn’t even read this site regularly / know much about the online finance world. And, I think it’s somewhat mean-spirited to say someone “couldn’t make it” – we try to discourage that here so that the discussion is higher-quality.

          People don’t contribute here because they have “big egos” – most interviewees are anonymous, so how could that even be true?

          And on your other points above, yes, sure, but again that is why we made it applicable to more than just Eastern European countries and added in more general points about recruiting for government finance jobs (partially based on what previous/upcoming interviewees have said).

          • Eastern European says

            As a person who has experience in one of bulge brackets in London and coming from Eastern European country similar to Bulgaria and Romania, I can say that I totally agree with Dobrovolski. Public sector in Eastern Europe is not a place for talented and ambitious individuals and job there in no way can be compared to IB in London.

            Sitting all day 9 to 5 doing nothing, bureacracy and incompetent coworkers are all true points. Getting a job in private sector like local consulting agency or local investment bank is generally considered to be much more valuable in terms of experience and pay and therefore this job is harder to get (and hours in local IB are not even close to those in London, 10 hours a day is already considered to be a lot here).

            It’s hard for me to see how you can provide readers with general guidelines for getting a job in public sector in the Western world based on this interview, as recruitment process in Eastern European public sector is absolutely random and in my opinion not rigorous at all. Advice given here, ie be prepared for the question “Why government” and keep track of the latest news is self-evident and does not add much value un my opinion.

            While being happy to see on this website any topic related to Eastern Europe or people coming from there, I think you need to be more selective when choosing interviewees

          • says

            Ok. Feel free to contribute an interview if you have the time and want to improve the site and experience for other readers. We have covered Eastern Europe in quite a few previous interviewees and the trade-offs of working there vs. major financial centers.

          • Dobrovolski says

            Fair play. What i’d like to see from the next interview with this person is more incesive questions about the way things work in the Bulgarian public sector. I’d like to see my above mentioned questions raised.

            Also a very interesting question would be “Why would you chose to work in an eastern european public body as opposed to a top investment bank in London?”.

            Surely it can’t only be the hours.. Personally i don’t think it was a choice. I think it was more of a “not made it in investment banking sort of thins”. I’d love to see that sort of honesty!

          • says

            Thanks, I’ll see if we can cover those points. I don’t think the interviewee is going to say something like, “I suck too much to get into investment banking, so the best I could do was government work” but there is more discussion of the work itself, promotion, advantages/disadvantages and so on.

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