What I Wish I Knew Before Working in Finance
By Megan Ruesink on 12/14/2015
It’s always fascinating to sit down with a professional and hear about the behind-the-scenes of their career. Things like what they wish they’d known before starting, what they learned the hard way and what surprised them all prove valuable for the uninitiated. Life as a finance professional is no different. There are going to be things about the career that reveal themselves only to those in the thick of it.
If you’re interested in finance, here’s why you need to keep reading. We rounded up finance professionals and asked them to reveal what they wish they knew before starting their finance careers. This will help you get a better idea of what working in finance is really like – and if it’s the right fit for you.
What did you wish you knew?
It’s never good to go into a new situation blind; the odds are good that you’ll make a mistake and wish you’d done things differently. So spare yourself a few regrets and read up on what experienced finance professionals say they wish someone told them before starting their careers.
It’s more about who you know
The age-old mantra is true to some extent. Yes, textbook knowledge is valuable, but it’s not all you will need to succeed. There’s tremendous value found in professional relationships, according to Tom Balcom, founder of 1650 Wealth Management.
"Having contacts is often more important than being the smartest person in the room."
“Having contacts is often more important than being the smartest person in the room,” says Balcom.
Seeking out an experienced co-worker for guidance could save you a lot of time and frustration when faced with the unfamiliar. Focus some time investing in those relationships.
You’re going to trip up sometimes
No one plans to fail. Yet the expectation to get everything right all of the time can be just as detrimental to your career and personal wellbeing as actually failing. What’s more important is embracing and learning from your mistakes, according to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide”.
“When you realize that none of us is perfect, you will not be immobilized by feelings of failure or embarrassment,” Cohen says. “Instead, see it as an opportunity to grow and to learn.”
The industry is always changing
Finance is an ever-evolving industry. New or changing laws and regulations on everything from trading to taxes will definitely keep you on your toes as you work to stay in compliance.
“Be prepared for change,” Cohen advises. “The goal always is to stay a step ahead when it comes to ensuring that you will continue to be relevant and valuable.”
What did you learn the hard way?
It’s no fun learning something the hard way. Instead why not learn from those who have gone before you? You’ll likely still have some tough lessons to learn on your own, but at least you can check a few off of your list right now.
Past success doesn’t guarantee future success
Think of it this way. You don’t want your dentist to do a thorough cleaning one time and then a crummy cleaning the next just because of a successful prior visit. The same goes for future clients and employers. They want consistency!
“What these firms really want from employees is proof that your performance will be repeated again and again,” Cohen says.
You can’t rest on your laurels. Sure, you might feel like a million bucks after helping your client make a million bucks—but don’t think your work is done.
You can’t help everyone
Though you may be the expert, that doesn’t mean people’s emotions or prejudices won’t get in the way.
"People don't always make rational decisions when it comes to their finances."
“People don't always make rational decisions when it comes to their finances,” Balcom explains. “Emotions often get in the way of making good decisions.”
You shouldn’t give up at the first sign of resistance to sound financial advice. But at the same time, it’s important to know when to part ways with a client who won’t accept your advice.
“I spent a lot of time trying to help someone see the error of their ways,” says Shawn Adamo, CPA, PFS. “It was hard to cut someone loose, but I later realized these were their issues not mine.”
What surprised you?
As with any industry, there will be things that surprise you when you get into the daily grind. Here’s what surprised our panel of finance pros.
The bonds you build with clients
Finance brings out a different side of people. It may take longer for them to trust you, but once they do, it’s whole-hearted.
“I had an elderly client who used to call me first instead of her children whenever there was something she needed advice on - no matter what the subject,” Adamo recalls.
How transitory trading floor friendships are
“You work with people 12 hours a day, every day,” says Sam Polk, former hedge fund trader and founder of Groceryships. “You spend more time together than you do with your family. And then one day, they are gone to the next firm.”
It might seem a little off-putting given the amount of quality time you’ll spend together, but not every work relationship is built to last. Not all finance positions are the same, but life working on the trading floor is demanding and it can be easy for work relationships to fade without the day to day proximity.
People are willing to help
The world of finance may seem ruthless when portrayed in the media or on the big screen, but not everyone is in it for themselves. If you want insight, direction or mentorship, just asking can go a long way.
“While the industry is certainly competitive, there are many individuals who are willing to share their knowledge,” Balcom says. “It's not as secretive as I expected.”
Is finance a fit for you?
Now that you have a behind-the-scenes perspective of working in finance, you should have a better idea if it’s right for you. Do you think you have what it takes?