Q I was wondering if you could shed some light on money-related careers. I understand that there is a huge difference between accounting, financial planning and investment advising. I wonder if accounting would be too precise and somewhat boring for me, and I don't know if I'd like the sales aspect of financial planning. Do you know much about investment advising? I'm even considering going back to school for an economics/finance degree.
A You're right that there are big differences among money-related careers. I find them all fascinating in different ways. For example, analyzing securities for a portfolio manager and working toward managing a portfolio on your own can be an absorbing job.
When it comes to personal finance, I am a fan of the certified financial planner (CFP) designation. From my experience as a journalist, plus knowing several friends that got a CFP, it gives the practitioner a very broad overview of household finances. The CFP offers the kind of broad background that will enable you to deal with everything from managing a portfolio to dealing with long-term care insurance to philanthropic gift giving.
I could go on, but you get the point: A lot depends on your personality and what you enjoy. All the main money-related careers offer entrepreneurial opportunities, too. I don't have enough information to give you targeted advice, but I do have a suggestion.
Before you go back to school, I would talk to lots of people in the jobs you're interested in. For instance, you might want to visit a few trade conferences of certified public accountants (CPAs), CFPs and investment advisers. You could also set up informational interviews with professionals you admire to get their take on the business. Most people are generous with their insights and judgment about their chosen profession. You can research salaries and employment at a number of online sites, such as www.salary.com and www.monster.com.
What's more, over the past two decades the financial services industry expanded enormously. One implication of the current environment is that many sectors of the industry will consolidate in coming years. That has implications for job and pay prospects. It's a line of questioning I'd pursue. Good luck.
Chris Farrell is economics editor for American Public Media's "Marketplace Money." Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.