How to start a career in corporate finance

Learn what it takes to start a career in the fast-paced and high-pressure environment of corporate finance.

In terms of prestige, power, and pay rates, corporate finance is one of the top careers available. However, this also makes it one of the most competitive and difficult to get into, much less to reach the top at. Knowing the steps and tricks to starting a career in corporate finance is immensely valuable for anybody thinking of trying out this difficult and challenging, but also highly rewarding line of work.

What is corporate finance?

The first step in deciding whether or not a career in corporate finance is right for you is figuring out what exactly corporate finance is. There are a wide variety of positions and aspects of corporate finance out there, and what you may be doing depends on what you specialty is, but in general corporate finance deals with a company or firm's assets, their money, their holdings, and their investments. Corporate financial workers help to manage the large and complex corporate portfolios, helping companies and clients organize their wealth and make wise investments with that money. They also help corporations make financial decisions, such as whether or not to buy a smaller company or how to make the best use of their holdings and turn their potential earnings into an actual profit.

On the day to day level, people who work in corporate finance spend a lot of time talking to investors and company officials, learning about the status of a company and the intricate holdings and financial workings of the organization. Often, selling and trading stock is a major part of the job, or researching and writing about possible sales and purchase options. In the field of mergers and acquisitions, commonly known as M&A, financial analysts help companies consolidate and merge their operations, or help with large sales or purchases of factories, workers, or products.

But though the work is varied and the types of tasks numerous, what is certain about almost all aspects of a career in corporate finance is that the hours will be very long and the work very challenging. Only the most efficient and productive people can keep up with the fast pace of the corporate world, and the grueling 100 hour work weeks that are standard of the industry. So before you make the decision to pursue a career in corporate finance, make sure you have the drive and the passion to succeed in the stressful and difficult job environment.

So how to start a career in corporate finance:

Even before you actually begin to work in corporate finance, there are a number of steps that people tend to take, to set themselves up for the future job. Majoring in economics or finance at college or university is usually a beginning, as it introduces the young student to the ideas and concepts of corporate finance and the financial world. Next, summer internships are a great way to get on the job experience, and to see the inside world of the major investment banks and corporate locations. While finding an internship is difficult, talking to professors, friends in the industry, or other people involved in the world of finance can open up possibilities. Also, talking to alumni or fellow students, or simply making an appointment with an on-campus recruiter can give you some much-needed information. Personal contacts are the smartest and most efficient way to get an internship.

Often, summer internships can be transitions into full-time job offers. Once a student has worked for several months with a corporation, they have gotten to know the work and the other people in the office. Their performance, if good enough, can be an indication of their ability to succeed, and many will be asked back after the internship ends, often at a high starting wage.

Although the importance of a Masters in Business Administration is being questioned, many people who are serious about starting a career in corporate finance do end up going on for further study in Business School. After a year or two in the job market, a few years of study to get an MBA can open up many further opportunities at higher pay. However, simply because one does not have an MBA does not mean that they cannot reach the highest levels of corporate finance. Often in the highly competitive world of investment and finance, performance is only real key to success. A highly motivated and talented investor will progress much more quickly and to a higher level than a mediocre business student with a degree.

So if you think that the high-paced and challenging world of corporate finance is right for you, go out there and pursue it. In the end, after getting an internship or landing your first job, the only real key to success is your own talent and skills. So do your best in the industry and there's no telling where you'll end up!

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