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Time to work on your soft skills

If you are looking to enter the finance sector, it looks like it is time to work on your soft skills. While you would assume that the most valuable characteristic of a graduate applicant is a finance degree with a high final grade, this does not seem to be the case any longer.

When looking at job adverts in the financial sector, you cannot help but see a pattern of employers valuing personality traits over experience. Employer after employer is requesting skills like numeracy, ambition and drive, commercial awareness, being organised, having excellent interpersonal skills, and so on.

This has always been a popular industry for graduates, mainly because those who apply themselves to the work can look forward to a high salary and a fair amount of prestige and excitement. As a graduate fresh out of university you can look forward to things like a full-time permanent job, a competitive salary, excellent benefits, funded training courses (working towards for example a CIMA qualification), substantial bonuses, and a quick career progression. However, the price for these wonderful benefits is that you will most likely be working very long hours in a high-pressure environment where time is always of the essence.

The finance sector consists of many disciplines and sub-sectors, notable mentions are investments, pensions, accountancy, banking, financial planning, and insurance. These all command different experience and educational backgrounds, as well as, more and more importantly, character traits and soft skills. When deciding what your future career will look like, make sure to research what each role entails and what your chosen sub-sector demands in terms of education and skills. Currently employers are not putting too much weight on what subject applicants have degrees in, usually only remarking that they want to see a degree of 2:1 or higher. With a combination of great grades and well-developed soft skills, anyone has a chance of entering the finance sector and doing very well.

Other things to take into account when you are looking at what part of the finance sector to join is the rate of available roles. The recently released AGR 2015 Annual Survey reveals that accountancy or professional service firm jobs are up 18.4 per cent year on year, with banking or financial services jobs being up 7.3 per cent year on year. Out of all graduate vacancies, accountancy makes up for 16.1 per cent of them, which is the most of any career area presented in this report. This means that the jobs are certainly there for anyone with the experience and personality to fill them – good news for anyone looking to join this sector.

When it comes to salaries, banking or financial services have the second highest median graduate starting salary with £31,250 while accountancy comes in sixth with £28,000.

An excellent starting salary is to be expected in this sector, however were you to join a smaller business or service your salary will not match these ones. Swift career progression should propel candidates into a higher salary within a few years though.

It is well-known that finance is a competitive area, and that it can be extremely intense and stressful. As we can see from employers’ current job adverts, they are now looking for the right individual for the job, and not the perfect CV. This opens up the competition and gives applicants more of a fair chance no matter what their background is. If you are planning to enter work in this sector, begin your preparations in university. Join societies and clubs that allow you to exercise the soft skills your preferred financial sub-sector demands and you will be ahead of much of the competition when the time comes to nab your first graduate job. For example, if you are looking to go into accountancy refine yourself to have excellent numeracy skills, teamwork, working well under pressure, etc. By developing your skills in line with the career you are hoping to have, you are streamlining your efforts and not wasting any of your time.

Should you choose a graduate scheme as your first step on the career ladder, you can look forward to some excellent results. Graduate schemes allow you to get a taste of an industry and, usually, the different parts that make a company work. You will get to spend some time in different parts of the company and can come to an educated conclusion of where you fit best. There is also the possibility of the company supplying you with funding to complete a business qualification – something that will benefit you for the rest of your career. At the end of the scheme, there is the chance that you will receive an offer from the company. After all, why would they mold what they believe to be the perfect employee only to let a competitor nab them?

The finance sector is vast and full of possibilities for anyone willing to make the effort, however a degree to do with finance is no longer vital. If you have good educational background combined with the correct personal traits and soft skills, you are bound to find great success in this industry. Companies on a whole are more relaxed and modern, looking for the right individual rather than the right CV and background. If you are that individual, you can look forward to a highly exciting and fruitful career in this ever evolving sector.

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