Career Advice

Hi everyone, so far I have picked up a lot on this site, and I’m hoping I can get some insider perspective. I will give a breakdown of my situation. I’m sorry if it is long and detailed, but I would rather list it now to avoid needed specification. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Finance from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in 2004. Instead of going into finance I went into sales, specifically mortgage banking. The industry proved very lucrative, which can seem to be all there is to it to a 22 yr old who is making what his father makes and more than his friends who went into finance. After success with a large company I opened my own brokerage with a partner. After marginal success, I began to realize that the “career opportunities” were limited and that I essentially missed using my brain as I had in finance during school. Then the obvious situation with the market helped me confirm my desire to transition back into finance. This is where I need advice/perspective: I am realistic as to the challenges facing someone in my position, primarily the experience factor. I have faced the fact that although I may have been successful in sales, and have professional experience, this doesn’t equate to analytical finance experience, and I am willing to start at an entry level position, even if this means taking a step back regarding my personal income. Basically, I realize that to develop the career in finance that I want, I am going to have to put in the time. Here are my top obstacles I have seen so far: 1. I am in a “limbo” stage at age 25, 3 years out of undergrad, where I am not an “expereinced hire,” but also where the top firms usually hire entry level directly out of undergrad programs. 2. The mortgage industry has a terrible stigma, and differentiating myself as an intelligent, analytical professional from the uneducated car salesman is difficult without a foot in the door or a person-to-person meeting. 3. Although everyone “admires” my entrepreneurship in starting my own brokerage, I feel it also calls into question my dedication or career commitment when financial firms look at my employment history. I would appreciate any experiences, advice, criticism, etc. regarding my current situation. The best advice I have received is to register for the CFA level one in June, which I have done and am currently studying for. The intent is that by passing L1 this will show not only ability but commitment to my goals, which would make me more attractive to potential employers. I have recently been offered a good position in sales, but as I’ve stated I am willing to make less to get a position in finance now. Do any of you think I should take this more lucrative position now and then approach the transition when I (assumably) pass L1, or do I have a legitimate shot at breaking into finance before I pass? I apologize for the long post, but if you are still reading I would appreciate all comments. Thanks, Jon

Jon, Anything is possible. Are you in the Chicago area? My good friend is a head hunter anc can maybe help you out.

I was in a similar situation in that I graduated in 2003 and then went travelling for about 2 years, to “find myself” and what not. During that time I decided I wanted to get myself into finance. I had a few contacts with some big Canadian banks and was able to get interviews with recruiters through executive referrals. But the recruiters had no idea how to “fit” me into their recruiting policies since I was not experienced in the field and no longer a student. I brought up the point that I was basically like a new grad just with a couple of years of life experience but this meant nothing to them. They have a little square box and round pegs just can’t be fit into it in their opinions. I ended up getting a middle office job in a firm making lousy pay. But I worked hard and moved up and finished level I. Now I have switched companies, still in middle office though, but the pay is getting much better. So my advice is that you will certainly meet some obstacles and definately take a large pay cut, unless you are lucky, but take level I and keep plugging. If you truly want to get into finance you might as well go for it now. I doubt you can get front office right away, I am still trying myself and it seems you have a window to do it before you graduate and then after that you need a few years of work experience and some luck. But at least you can get some experience that will count towards your CFA designation. But it will be an uphill slog for sure for a couple of years.

Have you thought about doing an MBA?

IHMO MBA without experience is even worse than Undergrad without experience… I was facing the same problem, graduated in 2006, took a year to pursue something else, and then when I realised I wanted to go back to Finanace, it was hard since I graduated over a year ago, and didn’t fit into “new grad” category. I think its just a matter of getting a foot in the door, I currently work at a large mutual funds company, it doesn’t pay much, but I’m building up experience, and sitting lvl 1 in couple of days, so I hope that next year the experience will pay off and I’ll be better compensated at a more analyst type of job. Good Luck, it must be hard but it will work out fine. Try to use your self-employment experience when writing a resume, since owning your own business requires good time management skills, being aware of deadlines, working in a team. And I concur, take a pay cut, but get relevant experience.

Thanks for all the suggestions guys and gals. Goldeyboy, I am in Chicago and would love to speak to a recruiter to get some advice and suggestions. I can be reached at Does anyone else have advice, or knowledge of a good place to start in the Chicago area? I appreciate all your help!

Maybe Calamos

I think it’s important for you to figure out what it is you are looking for, and why. I kept waiting for the section in your post where you explain what specifically it is you are hoping to get into. Unfortunately “finance” is a very broad term that can encompass a number of fields. There are countless relatively smart people toiling away in the back or middle office trying desperately to move into a vaguely defined analytical role. Frankly, the odds for these people aren’t great. What will set you apart is figuring out something specific that you are passionate about. It might take a while to actually get your shot, but when you do your application will ring true. Obviously you don’t have to have your entire career planned at age 25, but it is advisable to have some broad areas of the business targeted, along with thoughtful reasons why these areas interest you. I know we’ve interviewed bright candidates who, upon fairly basic questioning, reveal that they are really just interested in getting a “good” job at a “good firm”. That’s generally a turn-off to interviewers. You might have all this figured out, but if not I’d recommend doing a lot of reading about the industry. There are tons of books, magazines, online forums, etc to help you out, along with following day-to-day market and economic developments. Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of the industry (which you may already have, just can’t tell from your post) you will be better positioned to start building / taking advantage of your network. Set up informational interviews with people in fields that interest you (can find contacts through alumni networks, family friends, etc). Use the opportunity to ask them about their career, and have them critique your resume. These may not lead directly to a job opportunity, but will give you a solid group of people you can call for tips when you finally do get your shot. And, of course, it makes sense to leverage your mortgage experience if you can. You’re right that mortgage brokers have somewhat of a stigma, but anything can be spun in a positive light. Good luck, it’s a long road but if you really want it someone will have a spot for you.