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Finance Career Guide

By the OnlineU team | Updated 11/8/2023

Finance is an appealing field because of its many potential benefits. Most finance jobs are intellectually challenging, highly visible with top managers in business and industry, and lucrative positions that often feature substantial salaries and hefty bonuses. Perhaps most important of all, many of the best careers in finance require nothing more than a bachelor's degree and some experience. 

By the OnlineU team | Updated 11/8/2023

Finance is an appealing field because of its many potential benefits. Most finance jobs are intellectually challenging, highly visible with top managers in business and industry, and lucrative positions that often feature substantial salaries and hefty bonuses. Perhaps most important of all, many of the best careers in finance require nothing more than a bachelor's degree and some experience. 

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What Jobs Can You Get With a Finance Degree?

A finance degree opens the door to numerous job opportunities for graduates. The different careers in finance tend to fall into a few broad categories — corporate finance, investment banking, securities and commodities trading, and insurance — but there are many other possibilities as well. Studying finance can also prepare you for other roles in business.

The following is a list of careers in finance described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In general, the finance careers outlook is fairly stable, although there are a few corporate finance roles that are projected to grow significantly over the next several years:

Personal Financial Advisors

Median Annual Salary: $95,390
Job Growth: 13%

Personal financial advisors work directly with individuals, helping them make informed decisions about their finances. These advisors conduct research and provide advice on investments, retirement savings, tax planning, mortgages, and all other financial issues. The majority of personal financial advisors work for investment firms, but about 12% are self-employed.

Financial Managers

Median Annual Salary: $139,790
Job Growth: 16%

Financial managers oversee an organization's long-term financial goals and plans. They often work closely with other high-level executives, and they may also manage employees in an organization's finance department. Projected economic growth is driving the demand for financial managers, especially those who specialize in various areas of finance, such as credit, insurance, and risk.

Budget Analysts

Median Annual Salary: $82,260
Job Growth: 3%

Budget analysts are often employed by the government or by organizations and consulting firms. They often work with program or departmental managers within an organization to gather financial records and monitor spending to ensure the organization stays within budget. They must have strong interpersonal skills as they're often called upon to explain budgets and collaboratively solve problems with top managers. 

Financial Analysts

Median Annual Salary: $96,220
Job Growth: 8%

Financial analysts can be found working in many types of organizations, including banks, investment firms, consulting firms, and corporations. After gathering and evaluating data about securities, commodities, and other investments, they assist managers or individuals in making decisions about expenditures and investments. 

Financial Examiners

Median Annual Salary: $82,210
Job Growth: 20%

Another high-growth finance occupation, financial examiners monitor the financial health and actions of institutions that handle monetary transactions to ensure they comply with state and federal regulations. For example, a financial examiner might review a bank's balance sheet, assess the level of risk in the bank's loan portfolio, and evaluate the bank's management. 

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Median Annual Salary: $67,480
Job Growth: 7%

The primary job of financial services sales agents is to connect buyers and sellers in financial markets. This could mean functioning as a broker, buying and selling securities and commodities to individuals. It could also mean working as a trader on a stock exchange or working as an investment banker, assisting organizations in finding funding.

Loan Officers

Median Annual Salary: $65,740
Job Growth: 3%

Loan officers typically work in commercial banks, mortgage companies, and savings institutions. In general, they are responsible for evaluating and approving personal and business loan applications. This includes attracting potential clients, educating prospective clients on their loan options, verifying applicants' information, and reviewing loan agreements to ensure they comply with state and federal regulations.

Many industry experts advise finance graduates to remain open to many opportunities in a wide range of industries beyond the typical roles in finance. For example, Brad Cummins, CEO of Insurance Geeks, shares his experience:

"Finance has opened the doors to more industries than the financial industry itself. My degree from Ohio State University has allowed me to own and lead two businesses and ultimately gain a wider understanding of the underlying economic impact that a decision has on stakeholders."

How to Get a Job in Finance

According to the BLS, most entry-level positions in this field require a bachelor's degree in finance. Some high-level managerial roles may require an advanced degree, and a few positions also require certification. 

Finance Degrees

Online and on-campus finance degrees are available at all levels of education. A few community colleges and universities offer associate degrees in finance, while nearly all four-year schools feature bachelor's degrees in finance. Some schools also offer advanced degrees, which are usually master's degrees or doctorates in business administration with a concentration in finance. You may want to research the degree level that's generally required for the finance career you have in mind before you enroll in a program.

Associate Degrees

There are several occupations related to finance that may require specialized training but not a college degree. These include bank tellers, real estate agents, and insurance agents. Although you don't need a degree to land one of these jobs, having an associate degree in finance may make you a more marketable job candidate.

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree in finance often involves 120-126 credit hours, and most students finish their program in four to six years. Many finance degree programs require students to complete at least one internship

Because there are so many career paths you can take in finance, you may also want to pursue several externships to help you decide which area is best suited to your interests and skills.

"Shadow as many finance professionals as you can – early," advises Kayla Johnson, a financial planner at Corbett Road Wealth Management. "Be open and be greedy with your experiences. These college years are formative, and you can save yourself a lot of heartache by figuring out what you want to do early on."

Master's Degrees

If you're interested in executive-level management positions in finance, or if you majored in another subject and would like to pivot to a career in finance, you may want to consider earning a master's in finance or an MBA with a finance concentration, which may take two to three years to complete. A master's in finance program, which tends to be a math-heavy program, typically provides an in-depth examination of all aspects of the field. A marketing MBA program, on the other hand, generally provides a broader overview of business management with extra emphasis on finance. Master's programs often require an internship and possibly some type of capstone experience.

Doctoral Degrees

Those who want to pursue a career as a college professor or high-level researcher may want to consider earning a doctorate in finance. This could be either a Ph.D. in finance or a Doctor of Business Administration in finance, and you may need three to seven years to complete the doctoral degree. 


In the field of finance, certification after earning a degree is not necessarily required, but it is highly recommended, especially for those pursuing careers in personal finance. Many employers and clients prefer to work with certified professionals. Certification indicates that you're knowledgeable in your particular niche, ethical in your practices, and committed to professional growth. A few of the more popular certifications in finance include:

Certified Financial Planner

Personal financial planners who consult with individuals and offer advice on wealth management may want to consider becoming a Certified Financial Planner through the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Candidates must earn a bachelor's degree, accumulate a specified number of hours of professional experience, and pass the CFP exam to earn certification. Most applicants need 12-18 months to complete the process. 

Chartered Financial Consultant

Sponsored by the American College of Financial Services, the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) certification is also for personal financial planners who assist individuals in managing their wealth, planning for retirement, and addressing tax needs. Candidates for the ChFC must have earned a bachelor's degree and accumulated three years of full-time work experience. After completing eight additional courses, applicants may sit for the certification exam.

Chartered Financial Analyst

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program, sponsored by the CFA Institute, is designed for investment professionals. CFA certification signifies that you are an expert in financial analysis, wealth planning, and portfolio management. Candidates must pass a three-part exam to earn CFA certification. Test preparation tools are available through the CFA Institute.

Another possible career path for those interested in money management is accounting. Find out more about accounting degrees and certifications.

Skills Required

To succeed as a finance professional, you may need to master several hard and soft skill sets. Hard skills are technical skills, such as making statistical calculations, interpreting common financial documents, and using industry-standard software, such as Xero or Oracle Financials Cloud.

Some of the soft skills useful to finance professionals include: 

Customer Service Orientation — Encompassing both the ability to listen carefully and speak persuasively, customer service orientation also involves thinking of ways to enhance your clients' or employers' financial situations. Henry Abenaim, the CEO of Fundingo, notes, "My advice to those pursuing a career in finance is to make sure you are attentive and personable. It's important to strike a good personal balance between business and customer service as this will assist you in moving up in the finance world."

Strategic Thinking — A significant part of many finance jobs is planning for the future. You'll need to be able to assess situations as they are, envision how you want them to be, and develop the strategies and tactical moves that need to be implemented to achieve financial objectives.

Networking — Many roles in finance depend on networking, either in the pursuit of new clients or in working effectively with others. Kevin W. Walton, a reverse mortgage loan originator, explains, "Building a book of business doesn't happen on the internet alone. In-person and Zoom networking groups get you in front of other business professionals where you can hone your elevator pitch. You've got to create a word-of-mouth referral network and learn how to build credibility and trust." 

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving — Finance professionals make important decisions every day, so when you're faced with issues, you'll need to be able to develop all possible options, weigh the merits of each alternative, and select the best solution.

Lifelong Learning — Many aspects of finance — including the stock market, investment vehicles, and regulations — constantly evolve and change, so you'll need to commit to routinely acquiring new information, understanding the impact of the changes, and adapting to new situations. 

Where Do People in Finance Work?

The finance profession is highly diversified, encompassing many different roles, and finance experts are needed in all types of industries and organizations across the country. Some finance jobs — including financial managers, financial and investment analysts, and securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents — tend to be concentrated in the major business hubs, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, hundreds of thousands of finance positions can also be found in Florida, Illinois, Texas, and every other state.

According to the BLS, there are currently approximately 792,600 financial managers, 376,1000 financial analysts, and 482,200 financial services sales agents, just to highlight a few of the many finance occupations available. The types of organizations that employ the highest number of financial professionals include:

  • Lending institutions, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and U.S. Bank
  • Financial services firms, such as Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup
  • Insurance carriers, such as State Farm, Allstate, and Progressive
  • Management and technical consultants, such as McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Accenture, and Boston Consulting Group
  • Accounting, tax, and payroll service providers, such as Deloitte, PwC, and Ernst & Young  

Advice From a Finance Professional

Andrew Lokenauth, a finance professor and director of finance at a fintech startup, shares his insights on finance careers.

How Has Your Career Progressed?

I was able to start my career at Goldman Sachs due to a finance degree. I am currently at a fintech startup as the VP, Director of Finance & Accounting, and before that, I was at Amalgamated Bank as Vice President, Head of Financial Reporting & Accounting Policy. I would not have been able to land these roles without a finance degree. 

What Do You Like Most About Your Job?

The most rewarding aspect of working in finance is that the work you do drives the company forward and assists management with the decision-making process. It is a very visible role. You create the information that management needs to control current operations and plan for the future. 

You learn many great skills, such as how to think more analytically, and you learn how to communicate that to management. This is a very important skill if you want to transition to executive management.

Another rewarding aspect is the compensation. I was able to make a six-figure salary early on in my career as compared to my peers. 

What Can Graduates Do With a Finance Degree?

In finance, there are many paths available to you. Many go on to become a Certified Public Accountant due to the job security and guaranteed jobs, even though the hours are long. Some study for their Chartered Financial Analyst and start as junior analysts. Many start with jobs in banks and consulting firms, performing a large number of financial tasks, such as running models, producing reports, and validating financial decisions. 

After a couple of years of experience, you can land a general management role or a role as an investment banker, treasurer, or Chief Financial Officer. As you specialize in a niche, you can branch off into trading, derivatives, credit, analytics and model building, financial technology, or financial risk management.

What Advice Do You Have for Marketing Majors?

My advice would be to go to career fairs at school or join a finance or accounting club like Beta Alpha Psi in order to network for potential job opportunities. I became a member of Beta Alpha Psi at Pace University, and I would recommend doing the same.

FAQs About Careers in Finance

Do Finance Careers Pay Well?

Yes, in general, finance careers are known for lucrative salaries and bonuses. Recent college graduates most likely start with entry-level positions and lower salaries, but with some experience, many professionals advance to six-figure incomes.  

Is Finance a Stressful Career?

Yes, the highly competitive world of finance can be stressful. Finance professionals make important decisions that can significantly impact an organization's finances or individual people's wealth, which can cause a great deal of pressure. Additionally, because the economy, the stock market, financial investments, and other related factors are constantly changing, finance professionals must work hard to stay on top of these changes. 

What Are the Highest-Paying Careers in Finance?

Financial professionals with high-level financial management responsibilities typically earn the highest salaries. For example, the BLS states that financial managers earn a median annual salary of $139,790, with the highest 10% of managers earning more than $239,200. At the top executive level, chief financial officers earn a median annual salary of $189,520, with the highest 10% of executives also earning more than $239,200.

Is a Career in Finance Worth It?

A career in finance can be an excellent career choice for some people — well worth the effort that goes into earning a bachelor's degree in finance. Professionals can take their finance careers in many different directions, and most roles in the industry pay well. However, some finance specialists dislike the stress that comes with major responsibilities, the long hours, and the constant need to acquire new information and skills. 

Should You Pursue a Career in Finance?

Finance can be a high-stakes, pressure-filled field. The financial world changes dramatically all the time, and finance professionals must adapt quickly and confidently. Yet, many people thrive in this environment, finding personal fulfillment and professional rewards in their finance roles. If you're fascinated by money and investments, this may be the right career for you.

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