Reading Between the Lines: A Closer Look at the Financial Analyst Job Description
A basic financial analyst job description will give you the outline of what your job will look like, some common tasks and maybe a bit about what the employer is looking for. But you’re looking for more than just the bare-bones information. You’re looking for a behind-the-curtain understanding of the job – an inside scoop.
You know that pursuing a financial analyst position will require a significant amount of time and effort. But before you go back to school to follow this path, you want to be sure that this career is everything you’re hoping it to be.
To give you a better idea of what to expect, we consulted with current financial analysts and professionals to give you the behind-the-scenes peek you need to feel confident about moving forward. Keep reading to see what the financial analyst job description truly entails.
First, a look at the basics
Before we get into the fascinating stuff, there are a few basic facts you need to know to decide if pursuing this career will be worthwhile. No matter how exciting the job duties may be, you need to know it can provide you with job stability and financial security.
Take a minute to glance at the quick facts about financial analysts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), so you can move on to the expert insight you’re seeking.
Median annual salary: $80,310 per year1
Projected Job Growth (2014 – 2024): 12% (faster than average)
Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
Basic duties: Financial analysts typically recommend investments, evaluate current and historical financial data, study economic and business trends, examine a company’s financial statements and determine the value, meet with company officials, assess strength of management and prepare written reports on findings.
Things you won’t find in the financial analyst job description
We asked the experts to provide us with a glimpse into the profession. These details go deeper than any financial analyst job description you’ll encounter, so take note of their insights.
Math is only part of the equation
“Most analysts can do the math part well enough,” says financial analyst Martin Elliott. “What separates a great financial analyst from merely a good one is the critical thinking.”
Sure, you may be great at crunching numbers — calculating expense ratios, profit margins and the like takes a lot of knowledge. But can you draw the right conclusions from these calculations? Do you know how to apply the information in a strategic way? It takes critical thinking skills to put these things into context.
You may spend more time acquiring data than analyzing it
You’ll most likely see data analysis listed somewhere in a financial analyst job description. But in order to identify insights from data, it has to be collected first.
“Just getting good data, sourcing it and validating it often takes more of a financial analyst's time than the actual analysis," Elliott explains.
Much like a computer programmer, financial analysts are familiar with the idea of “garbage in, garbage out”. If your source data is flawed or taken out of context, the entire analysis could be called into question. This makes tracking down quality source material just as important as the analysis that follows.
You should be prepared to investigate
Once you’ve received a data set, you’ll need to review it with a sharp eye. A critical thinking mindset and strong analytical abilities will take a financial analyst far in the field.
“We spend a lot of time doing what I call investigative work,” says AJ Literski, Supervisor of Financial Planning and Analysis at UTC Aerospace Systems. “This would include questioning numbers or accounting that doesn’t look right and finding another source to validate it against or reaching out to others to validate it.”
Key financial analyst skills
It should come as no surprise that skills like budgeting, accounting, forecasting and financial reporting were found to be commonly required in our analysis of financial analyst job listings.2 But what else do financial analysts need to succeed? We’ve outlined a few key competencies according to industry experts below.
"Analysis ineffectively communicated is worthless,” Elliot says. “We look for great communicators when we hire financial analysts." You may be a mathematical master and a critical thinking whiz, but those skills are all for naught if you don’t have the interpersonal skills to compliment them.
At the ground level, financial analysts should be able to take their mental game one step further than most. “A financial analyst needs to deal with uncertainties and risk,” Elliott says. “The analyst needs to be able to apply probabilities to the analysis and understand a range of possible outcomes of a decision.”
“Employers are looking for self-starters who don’t need a lot of direction to accomplish a task,” Literski says. This means you’ll have to be willing to learn as you go and try new things rather than being trained how to do everything.
Employers are always looking for people with positive outlooks. Nothing beats a can-do attitude in the workplace, especially in finance, according to Literski. Coming to work each day with a positive attitude is something you can’t be without.
Employers want people who are naturally curious and want to find out the “why” behind things, not just how to get them done. This helps financial analysts improve and better grasp the bigger picture, Literski adds.
A financial analyst’s future
You want to choose a career that will open doors and offer a lot of opportunities. Read on to learn what these industry insiders see the financial analyst position leading into.
Countless industries need financial analysts
Virtually any industry has a need for financial analysts. Everything from quick service restaurants to renewable energy requires investment planning and risk management. That’s good news to financial analysts looking for employment opportunities.
“There are a lot of different types of analyst roles in different industries, so there is always an abundance of opportunities,” Literski says.
Career advancement opportunities are available
You might be surprised, but becoming a financial analyst could be your first step toward a successful and influential career.
“A good analyst with a strong understanding of accounting principles could lead into a career as a Controller or Finance Director,” Literski says. ” If that person also possesses other strong business acumen and executive management skills, they could become VP, CFO and even CEO.”
Financial analysts acquire a broad understanding of how businesses succeed
"Financial analysts build a strong understanding of how an organization works and what the levers are to grow and make money,” Elliott says. “Because they know the business so well, financial analysts can often leave finance and become great business unit leaders."
Ready to take the next step?
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of a financial analysts’ duties beyond what you’d find in a job description, you might be wondering whether pursuing a degree in finance is worth it.
As with pursuing any degree, there are pros and cons, but if you’d like to learn more about the potential opportunities available to finance graduates, check out our article: How Majoring in Finance Can Set You Up for Success.
1Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 118,143 financial analyst job postings, April 01, 2016 – March 31, 2017).