Top 4 Most Competitive Financial Careers (2024)

There are a lot of considerations to make when deciding what the most competitive finance roles are. Some roles attract a lot of applicants because they pay really well. Others are intriguing by the nature of their work or are interested in a specific position with a specific company. Though arguments could be made for a variety of finance roles, here's our list of the top four most competitive financial careers.

Key Takeaways

  • There are several financial-related jobs that are harder to land as they pay more, provide better growth opportunities, or offer great prestige.
  • Investment bankers can earn ludicrous pay, especially considering incentive, bonus, or commission pay.
  • Management consultants don't stick around consulting long, but landing a role often requires a specific background with a small chance of success.
  • Hedge fund managers can also have significant earnings while also pivoting to better, less stressful careers later.
  • Private equity firms are competitive for their pay, with many roles earning greater than $1 million per year when successful.

Considerations for Career Competition

Before we look at the most competitive roles, let's touch base on why some roles are broadly more competitive than others. This list below helps set the lens for the roles we'll talk about later, and as we shift into talking about those positions, consider how each of those positions relate back to these bullets that many job seeks consider. In no particular order, considerations may include:

  • Compensation: Competitive finance roles generally offer compensation packages inclusive of a base salary, bonuses, and other financial benefits. This bullet becomes a stronger piece of the competitive consideration when thinking through roles individuals can land somewhat easily yet with very high starting pay.
  • Educational Requirements: Competitive finance positions may require advanced degrees such as an MBA or a professional designation like a CPA, CMA, or CFA. Because some roles may necessitate higher qualification, it's important to think about how companies may make it more difficult to meet the requirements for certain roles.
  • Career Growth Opportunities: Consider the implications of potential for advancement within the role and the organization. In addition, certain roles just simply have greater upward mobility in different career paths. Some roles are just more capable of giving financial professionals greater upward trajectories.
  • Networking Opportunities: Networking is essential for career growth in finance. Some roles are competitive for the doors they can open up; for example, consulting is often a competitive career field because of the exposure you can get to other companies and its leaders.
  • Company Considerations: Some roles attract a lot of applicants because of the company that is hiring. This scope is not considered in this article; for example, though a general accounting role may get hundreds of applications to a large technology company, the nature of the accounting role may actually be declining in popularity.
  • Benefits and Perks: Another consideration not used when curating this list is the specific benefits and perks offered by any specific company. As neat as having a foosball table in the breakroom may be, this article only looks at broad positions and does not discriminate in favor of or against working at public, private, government, start-up, or mature companies.

With this list in mind, let's jump into the most competitive financial roles (in no particular order).

The overall employment in business and financial occupations is expected to grow faster than the average of all occupations between 2022 and 2032.

1. Investment Banker

Roles in investing banking are highly sought after. For investment bankers, it's often a higher competition to land a role in one of the largest firms. Consider how the top 50 firms in the industry are considered to make more than 90% of the industry's revenue each year. According to Glassdoor, an investment banker earned an average salary between $249k and $464k as of October 2023. Even those with up to one year of experience could earn up to $292k.

Companies may informally communicate applicant and position information from time to time. For example, it's reported that in 2022, Goldman Sachs received 236,000 applications for it's 3,000 investment banking internship opportunities. It's also been noted that JP Morgan received over 270,000 applications for its roughly 4,600 investment banking internship positions.

Though it may be a single anecdotal story, eFinancial also noted a case where an accounting and finance student at University of Kent said he sent 750 e-mails before he landed an investment bank internship. Though not everyone will have the same experience, it shows that for some, it is an incredibly difficult field to break into.

2. Management Consultant

Management consulting may not necessarily be a traditional finance-centric role. However, it's analytical and strategic in nature and lends itself well to financially-savvy businesspeople. As of May 2022, management analysts earned a median of $95,250 per year.

One of the reasons management consulting made this list is it's a tough job to land. According to CaseCoach, 50% of the hires of the top three management consulting firms went to five specific MBA programs. After surveying over 7,500 candidates, CaseCoach also found less than 1% of applicants get hired. It has been noted but not necessarily confirmed through other sources that nearly 200,000 individuals apply for internships with roughly 1%-2% being hired.

Management consulting is known for potentially being a great pipeline with exposure to different companies. It's also known for its churn of staff. If you're lucky enough (or talented enough) to land a job, chances are you don't last long. According to Zippia, 55% of management consultants occupy their role for two years or less. Only 12% of management consultants are able to last 11+ years. For this reason, lots of people want to get into to management consulting to gain rapid and deep experience to leverage for their next career move.

3. Hedge Fund Manager

There's no two ways around it - hedge fund managers (or similar roles within hedge funds) are highly sought after because these roles pay well. Consider the earning potential for a new graduate student; those with a master's degree earn an average salary of $190,269. Even those with just a bachelor's degree still earn an average of almost $158,000 per year.

Hedge fund managers are a highly competitive role because over the past decade or so, positions are less and less likely to be vacant. According to Zippa, roughly 5% of hedge fund manager positions were vacant in 2010. Fast forward to 2019, less than 2% of hedge fund managers were vacant. Though this has since increased, hedge fund managers roles have traditionally filled based on this information.

It's also important consider the demographic of hedge fund managers. According to the same Zippa information, 67% of hedge fund managers have a tenure of four years or less. This indicates that hedge fund management can be an excellent pipeline for higher positions or other investment opportunities for those who are able to get into the industry, gain valuable experience, then transition.

There's also substantially less hedge fund manager roles compared to other positions. According to Indeed as of November 2023, there were 1,923 open hedge fund manager roles in the United States. Alternatively, there were nearly 84,000 open accounting positions.

4. Private Equity Analyst

One indicator or the popularity of a role is how successful the candidates are and how in demand these candidates are. According to informal commentary from Heidrick & Struggles, top candidates "consistently have at least two other offers in front of them and sometimes more". Although this means candidates may have several options to choose from, it also indicates that firms may have narrow criteria for candidates if they all seek the same the same type of candidate.

Folks also tend to flock towards private equity roles because it is another profession that pays well. Even working at the smallest firm in the most entry level position, the average total cash compensation (base + bonus) for an associate was $177,000. Among the largest firms, it's not uncommon for partners or managing directors to earn over $1 million/year with principals earning just under $1 million/year.

Tips for Landing the Job

Role-specific competency is among the financial employers' list of must-haves. Believe it or not, a strong educational background is not their main focus for landing these competitive jobs. Employers desire sufficient and specific real-world experience. They are also looking for candidates who've mastered "soft skills," such as the capability to communicate well and translate industry jargon.

For these high-level positions, companies have the money to pay salaries ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. With such large amounts of money at stake, they must cautiously assess candidates on talent and skill. Bolster your chances of landing the job by following these three tips:

  1. Network: Job seekers may have trouble finding openings for a few of these senior-level positions, which aren't necessarily advertised publicly. The best way to locate them is through networking. Recruiters advise attending industry-related events, joining industry organizations, and engaging with industry-related social networking accounts.
  2. Attain advanced educational and professional credentials: Many of the jobs require a CPA or other industry-recognized accreditation. Also, remember that your education does not end when you get a degree—it's key to stay abreast of changes and technological advancements within the industry.
  3. Develop soft skills: These positions require leadership and strong communication skills. Practice now by joining local volunteer organizations and taking on roles that enable you to lead and work in a team environment. Look for opportunities to develop and enhance your speaking and presentation skills by joining a speech club or taking a class.

Keep in mind, too, that business models in the finance industry are changing; more companies are seeking candidates with technological skills, according to a 2022 survey by Deloitte. Refining your tech and strategy skills will help you strengthen your candidacy for competitive roles.

What Educational Background Is Preferred for Finance Roles?

A preferred educational background for finance roles often includes a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, economics, or a related field. Some positions may require a master's degree, such as an MBA or a Master of Finance, especially for more advanced roles or specialized areas like investment banking. Others may call for a specific certification such as a CPA license. When considering what role you may be interested in for the future, plan ahead for the educational requirements for that position.

What Entry-Level Finance Positions Are Available?

Entry-level positions include financial analyst, financial associate, risk analyst, and investment banking analyst. These and similar roles provide a foundation for a finance career and often lead to more advanced positions.

What Are the Key Skills and Qualities Employers Look for in Finance Candidates?

Employers seek candidates with strong analytical and quantitative skills, attention to detail, financial acumen, and the ability to work under pressure. Effective communication, teamwork, and adaptability are also valuable qualities in finance professionals. When preparing your resume or gathering thoughts for an interview, be mindful of how you've deployed these soft skills even in non-financial settings.

The Bottom Line

Strategic thinking, outstanding communication, and industry-specific skills will ultimately help you to not only get one of these competitive jobs but also to succeed once the job is yours. However, do not underestimate the process of joining investment banking, consulting, private equity, or a hedge fund as many, many other high-quality candidates likely seek the same roles you do.

Correction—Nov. 27, 2023:This article has been corrected to remove mention of an unrelated study.

Top 4 Most Competitive Financial Careers (2024)


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