How To Get A Finance Job From An Engineering Background

By: Ian Spellfield

I'm an engineering major, how can I get into finance?

I find myself answering this question a lot, possibly because I'm from a non-finance background myself. Or maybe just because everyone wants to get into finance.

Getting into Finance From An Engineering Background
How you can leverage your technical background to land a job in the jungle of finance? As a technical person right out of school, you have two ways of breaking in:

1. Engineering to Investment Banking
Get an investment banking analyst position in the technology or TMT (Technology, Media & Telecom) group of a bank. You will use none of your quantitative/analytical background and instead use your interest in the industry/work ethic to get in.

2. Fix Income Trading
Get a quantitative job at a hedge fund or doing trading/fixed income at a bank. You will leverage your quantitative and probability skills to get in.

Of the two, the second is easiest for most engineers. Wall Street has never been more quantitative, and it's only getting more quant-focused each day. Even with some recent problems in the credit market and some high-profile difficulties at prestigious funds such as Goldman Global Alpha, this trend will not stop anytime soon.

3) Banking Analysts, Hedge Fund And Related Finance Jobs

Get a Job as a banking analysts
The good news is that if you're an engineering major at a top university, you have a good chance of landing one of these jobs, as a banking analysts or in Hedge Fund even with no previous finance experience. During your interview, remember to emphasize your interest in finance because this is how they select candidates.

Here's a direct quote from a Citadel recruiter:

  • 'To be honest, we know you're all pretty good quantitatively... after all you got an engineering degree at one of the top programs in the country. You need to show us that you're interested in finance because that's what differentiates you.'
  • During interviews they will ask you quantitative questions but it's crucial that you show them you have had a strong and consistent interest in finance. Have some good stories prepared, especially on personal investing and why you're particularly well-suited to be a trader.
  • For trading jobs the 'fit' part of the interview is even more important than it is for banking. If you don't trade stocks in between classes and wake up early each morning to read financial news, gambling is a good hobby to mention. I was asked if I played video poker/online poker and other casino games when interviewing for hedge fund jobs. You want to emphasize hobbies/interests that show you can think about risk vs. reward.

4) I Just Want To Be A Banker
As a banker, the hours are going to be far worse than trading, the pay won't be much better and you'll have to do truly menial, low-value-add work. The advantage is you do have a wider variety of exit options - doing engineering and then banking sets you up very well for venture capital. And the perks are nice.

Being a Technical Person asking for a finance job
You have several things going for you right away

  • No one will question your intelligence, and they probably won't ask you brain teasers or math questions. If you can get a degree in Electrical Engineering, you can do Excel calculations in your sleep.
  • And no one will question your attention to detail (or at least not as much as if you were an English major).

You need to focus on demonstrating your

  • 1) Interest in finance
    When you discuss your interest in finance you need to mention tech companies if you're applying to a tech group in a bank. Don't just mention Google or Facebook. You need to show real interest in the industry, which means taking the initiative and talking about less well-known companies. 
  • Ability to handle the hours/stress of the job
    You can explain your ability to handle stress by stating the obvious. As an engineering major you should have had many extended project classes and projects. These are all good to mention, as are any internships where you launched a product that required 'crunch time' at the end.

Good luck with moving from Engineering to Investment Banking or any finance jobs for that matter. Final warning. Finance jobs can be worse than those of an engineering/tech company.

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