Dear Matt: I just graduated with a degree in finance and want to become a financial analyst. Every job I look at requires 1-3 years' experience. I have internship experience, but I'm not getting interviews. Help!
Matt says: This is a Catch-22 that many new graduates seem to face: you can't get a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. This is particularly true for those pursuing careers in finance, as employers are often looking for candidates with more technical skills that can take on some of those more hard-to-fill positions.
"Even for entry level roles, employers want new hires who can contribute immediately, particularly in light of the leaner teams many companies are operating with today," says Steve Kenney, Regional Vice President of Robert Half International (rhi.com).
You've had an internship, so use the contacts or resources obtained in that to your benefit. Even if that company doesn't have openings, your contacts there know people who know people. Next, consider temporary work. This is a great way to gain experience and showcase skills to a potential employer who may not have the resources to extend a full-time offer right away. Many staffing firms also provide technical training and opportunities to expand your learning and skill set.
In today's market, employers are looking for financial analysts with strong database and Excel skills. Experience working with financial reporting tools like Hyperion and Cognos are also a plus. In addition, employers want strong written and verbal communication skills, the ability to multitask, attention to detail, and the ability to learn quickly.
If you're applying for an entry-level finance position, Kenney recommends targeting large companies. They often have training programs for entry-level positions, and will look to recruit young professionals right out of college. Or explore similar positions in accounting or as a budget analyst which will provide relevant job skills. Also consider volunteering for a company or a non-profit that may not be able to afford your services but that can provide real world work opportunities.
"Find reasons to engage in complex projects that allow you to utilize and improve those skills most in demand by employers, such as Excel and Access database skills," said Kenney.
Look at the job descriptions to find what technical skills are required. If you don't have those, search for opportunities to acquire those skills, through adult education or say, the Science Museum of Minnesota's Computer Education Training Center (comped.smm.org).