HOME How to Break Into Finance as a Career Changer

How to Break Into Finance as a Career Changer

Career Changer Into FinanceMaybe you’ve been an engineer or a liberal arts major in a former life.

Or a lawyer, a consultant, a pre-med, or even an elephant trainer or a male stripper.

I can’t do much to help you if you’ve trained elephants or “entertained” professionally before, but there’s plenty to say about the others.

Breaking into finance as a career changer consists of 5 simple steps:

  1. Understand what you’re up against and also what works in your favor.
  2. Figure out your story.
  3. Network like a ninja.
  4. Spin your resume/CV like a pro.
  5. Dominate your interviews.

If you want a shortcut, check out these career changer articles on how to break in as a lawyer, engineer, accountant, consultant, and military guy/girl.

But I can’t cover every possible background in those articles – so keep reading to learn how to break in no matter what your experience is.

What You’re Up Against

These are the usual objections if you’re coming from a non-finance background:

  1. Can you work 80-100 hours per week consistently?
  2. Do you know finance / can you do math?
  3. Can you work in a structured and hierarchical environment?
  4. Can you talk to people?

So if you’re a liberal arts major, you’ll get a mix of #1 and #2 when you meet bankers; lawyers will suffer mostly from #2; engineers will suffer from #4.

Address these objections by combing through your resume and finding specific examples that prove you can accomplish each of these points.

Think about independent study, classes, clubs, activities, sports, volunteer work, previous jobs, or even resolving problems with friends/family.

Let’s say you’re an engineer and a banker is skeptical of whether you can communicate with clients. To counter this objection, you might talk about how you led fund-raising efforts for a student group you were in – you were constantly speaking with alumni and donors and convinced dozens of people to help your cause.

If you’re a lawyer and the banker doubts whether or not you can use Excel, you could talk about a self-study financial modeling course you’ve completed and how you created a valuation for a real company, just like a banker would.

What Works In Your Favor

Next, think about which of your skills will appeal to bankers.

Have you:

  1. Led a team, or at least worked in a team?
  2. Done something quantitative?
  3. Burned the midnight oil?
  4. Paid attention to small details?
  5. Communicated with clients and your superiors?

So if you’re a liberal arts major, you can point out how banking requires excellent communication skills – you write thousands of words per day sometimes – and how you presented your thesis in front of a committee of professors and how you’ve given speeches to crowds of hundreds before.

If you’ve been in the military, you can talk about leading your fellow soldiers through battle and making split-second decisions that determined whether or not everyone stayed alive. Dodging bullets makes dealing with crazy VPs seem like child’s play.

How to Tell Your Story

First, click here to get the “story” template and tutorial. Study it closely.

You wanted to pursue [Insert Name of Your Previous Profession] but found that it only got you part of the way there – you wanted to [Do More Finance / Get More Directly Involved with Transactions / Work on the Business Side Instead] and banking is the best way to get there.

Do not be overly negative. Talk about the good parts of your old life and then what needed improvement – you liked the communication and discussion, but you wanted to gain more of a hard skill set and analyze practical issues rather than academic theory.

Banking gets you there because it combines both of those.

If you’re an accountant moving into finance, maybe you liked the technical aspects of what you did but you wanted to drive deals rather than just dot the i’s and cross the t’s afterward.

How to Network Like a Ninja

There isn’t much of a difference here – the 2 main networking strategies are still informational interviews and cold-calling.

The only difference is where you get your leads from and whether or not you should consider business school if networking doesn’t work out.

Click here to read the Networking section of the Recruiting page for all the juicy details – I don’t want to repeat everything.

Here’s where you might find names and contact information – outside of the usual sources:

  1. Liberal Arts – Professors, journalists, politicians, PR staff at companies.
  2. Engineers – Professors, business/finance staff at your company, customers.
  3. Military – Military “alumni” in finance and military-specific databases.
  4. Lawyers / Accountants / Consultants – Clients, former clients, co-workers, former co-workers, accountants, lawyers, consultants, executives.

Do not go to business school if you’re still an undergraduate or you recently graduated – wait to get at least 3-5 years of full-time experience first.

And always spend at least 6 months networking first before you take the plunge and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an MBA.

As a lawyer, it may not make sense to get an MBA at all because you already have a JD – corporate or securities law to finance is your best bet there.

One final difference with networking is that cold-calling works much better as an undergrad than it does when you’re already working – so go for it if you’re a liberal arts undergrad at a lesser-known school and have no way into banking otherwise.

But if you’re already at a Big 4 accounting firm, focus more on referrals and go through other professionals.

How to Spin Your Resume

This one depends on your experience – the key problems on resumes:

  1. Engineers – Too much technical jargon, not enough business results.
  2. Liberal Arts – Too much literature, not enough numbers.
  3. Lawyers – Too much legal jargon, not enough numbers or results.
  4. Consultants – Too much qualitative analysis, no discernible skills.
  5. Accountants – Too many technical details, not enough focus on clients or results.
  6. Military – No evidence of an interest in finance or related skills.

Fix these problems by focusing more on the big picture and the skills that are transferable to banking (see above).

Let’s say a consultant is describing his experience analyzing a client’s compensation policy. The wrong approach would be to write about how the new policy he recommended was “fairer” or “more similar to the industry norm.”

He should instead write about saving $10 million, reducing operating expenses by $5 million, or even potentially reducing expenses or boosting the company’s revenue.

An engineer shouldn’t write about the latest version of Linux or Ruby on Rails – he should write about how his new code or new design saved the company $100,000 or boosted its customer acquisition rate by 20%.

How to Dominate Your Interviews

You’ll get the standard investment banking interview questions no matter what your background is – the only differences are how you tell your story and how you answer the “Why investment banking?” question, so focus on those.

Collect 2-3 mini-stories from your past experience you can use to answer the standard “fit” questions – as a career-changer, these mini-stories also need to address bankers’ key objections.

So if you’re a liberal arts major, rather than just picking a random activity where you did a lot of work and burned the midnight oil, pick one that was also quantitative or client-facing – maybe you worked with a budget or you won clients by working the phones.

Technical questions depend on your background: if you’re a liberal arts major, you may not get as many technical questions, but don’t let your guard down – you will still get tested because they want people who are motivated enough to learn on their own.

If you can’t answer basic questions about accounting or valuation, you won’t get an offer no matter how great your “communication skills” are.

So get cracking: there are plenty of books, financial modeling training courses, and interview guides out there to help you.

Even More

You know how to break in as a career changer now, but this is just the beginning – check out the full series to get the details on all most backgrounds:

Good luck, and let me know how your career change goes.


Mergers & Inquisitions
Breaking Into Wall Street

P.S. Get here from an email forward, a friend’s link, or a random Google search?

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