How to Break into Finance from another Industry

Breaking into a role in investment analysis or asset management is tough and can be even tougher for candidates from other industries. Focus on your strengths to land your first finance job.
Last week’s post about getting a job in finance brought up another question we receive often here at Finquiz. The CFA exams attract candidates from a wide range of sectors and one of the most common questions is, “Can the CFA designation help me get a job in finance if I’ve only got experience outside of finance?”
The short answer here is yes…it can help, but it will not immediately land you offers from large asset management firms. As we saw last week, landing your dream job as an analyst is difficult enough for those with strong experience in the field. Your lack of experience in finance will be a roadblock on your resume but you may be able to turn knowledge of your prior industry into an advantage if you can get your foot in the door.

You’re in a Social Field Now

Depending on the industry you’ve worked in previously, networking and making contacts may be a new challenge for you. Those coming from engineering or other technical fields may not have needed to network at social events or build a name for themselves around the industry other than through their work.
Asset management is a social industry. While those in corporate finance may not need to network as much, investment managers and others in the sector depend on their connections to bring them leads on accounts and deals. This makes it difficult for outsiders to get a foot in the door because they don’t have the connections with people filling positions on their team.
It makes networking through your local CFA society and other connections so much more important if you’re trying to break into a finance position. Other CFA candidates will have built their file of connections through four years of undergraduate as well as at their current position. You need to put in the extra effort to meet people and make up for lost time.

  • Attend CFA Society networking events and consider volunteering for the society
  • Look for other industry events or conferences in your area
  • Try finding a mentor within the industry from any of your existing contacts

Turn your Disadvantages into Advantages

Your disadvantage of not having asset management or finance experience may be able to be used in your favor. You will still need to get your resume noticed through networking but once you’ve got an interview, you may be able to use your previous experience to get a leg up on other job candidates.
Many analysts come directly from the sector or industry they cover. Sell-side firms are always looking for people to give them deep technical knowledge of an industry, especially in fields like pharmaceuticals, technology and energy. Not only does your experience in the industry give you a deeper knowledge of the business but it lends you more credibility as an analyst.
Before you make the leap into asset management, spend some time to really understand the business model within your industry. It’s not enough to know the technical specifications of a product, you need to know how the product is manufactured, how it is marketed and what the industry looks like on a competitive basis. You need to show potential employers that you are an expert on the industry and that goes well beyond just having experience in one particular role.
Progress to the CFA designation is a strong plus for people coming from other industries, even more than for those already in finance. The CFA curriculum is broadly based and many universities use it as a model for a graduate program. Having passed the three CFA exams or progress to the designation shows you have the basic knowledge of finance and how the industry works.
That said, I would still recommend you take a basic cash flow modeling course online as well. The CFA curriculum covers some detail in financial statement analysis but really doesn’t go into practical application. Working through a modeling course will help show you how the financial statements are integrated and how to work through to a proforma valuation. Look through several reports on companies within your prior industry. Are there areas where you can use your previous experience to improve on the analysis?
Whatever you do, do not present yourself as a “well-rounded” candidate with knowledge across different fields. Employers do not want someone that knows a little about a lot. Employers want an asset that can bring detailed experience about a particular field and apply it to outperform other analysts.
Getting a job in finance is certainly not impossible though it may feel that way for candidates without any industry experience or connections. Make the connections you need through networking and highlight your experience in another field. Stick with it and don’t get discouraged.
‘til next time, happy job hunting!
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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