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Financial Services: Myths and Facts

stock_businesswoman9Myth #1: People who go into banking or finance have sold their souls for big bucks and glamour.

Fact:  Yes, success in the financial services industry translates into attractive compensation packages.  But why is that something to be ashamed of?  Anyway, ask any woman in the industry what she loves about her job and making lots of money doesn’t top her list.  She’ll say she loves working with really smart people, she loves the challenge, the intensity.  She’ll say she loves learning new things all the time.  She’ll say her job is the most exciting, stimulating thing she’s ever done, that she walks away at the end of the day feeling a sense of real accomplishment.  She’ll say the competition isn’t cutthroat but that she likes to win.  And her job provides her with that opportunity every day.

Myth #2:  A career in financial services means you work such incredible hours that it’s impossible to have a life outside of work, much less a family.

Fact:  The first few years of a job in any area of the huge financial services industry will take up a lot of your time and energy.  But even in investment banking—the area with perhaps the greatest time commitment–things let up as you move up the management ladder.  And, don’t forget, there are lots of other areas where the work hours are significantly different.  In sales and trading, for example, your hours are market hours.  As an investment manager, you’re basically your own boss.  One young mother at a top investment firm gets home around 7:00, hangs out with her toddler, then does more work after she puts her kid to bed.  You have to figure out what kind of person you are before you sign up for one of these jobs:  are you a morning person or a night person?  Do you need lots of sleep?  Are you positive and confident when under pressure.  Further, just because you sign up for one kind of job doesn’t mean you’re in that mode forever.  Laura Born, Forte’s recent keynote, ratcheted down her high-powered career after child number three and is now happily teaching at a top university, sitting on the board of several mutual funds, and using her awesome skill set for community organizing on behalf of Chicago’s children.

Myth #3:  You have to be some kind of math genius to be successful in these jobs.

Fact:  Yes, quantitative skills are key to getting a job in financial services and to getting the job done once you’re there.  There’s no question that you have to be facile with numbers in this business, and, though not necessary for an entry-level job, a course or two in statistics, finance, or accounting can’t hurt.  But financial services firms aren’t looking for more math than that.  In fact, what these firms value more than anything, what really sets a candidate apart, is people skills.  Intuition.  Communication.  Financial firms love classics majors.  English, Comp. Lit., History?  They eat it up.  Yes, solid math skills are an absolute must, but in this world, they’re a no-brainer.  But take someone who, in addition to solid quantitative abilities, also comes in with creativity, critical thinking skills, a passion for learning, and an ability to communicate complex ideas and, well, the sky’s the limit.

Myth #4:  Being a woman hurts your chances to get a good job in financial services and, beyond that, it keeps you from advancing.

Fact:  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, as a woman in financial services you’ll be in the minority.  You may often be the only woman at a table full of grey-suited men.  But, what could be a better chance to differentiate yourself?  In a room where everyone looks the same, yours are the opinions that will be remembered.  You’re the one who’ll get the spotlight, effortlessly.  What you do with it, of course, is up to you, but those in the know say that when they came to the bargaining table better prepared than anyone, their gender gave them an added advantage and moved them further, faster than they’d ever dreamed.  Body language says a lot passion and confidence can enable you to take the fact that you’re a different gender than the others and use it to your advantage … and to your firm’s as well.  And, if it requires a string of all-nighters to get to the point of over-preparedness that will give you the confidence you need, well, so be it.  That’s what you’re signing up for.

Myth #5:  I want to make a difference.  Financial firms don’t make anything but money, and that doesn’t help feed starving kids in underdeveloped countries.

Fact:  Financial firms are like the circulatory system they spread life-giving funds throughout the body that is humankind.  Yes, circulating funds ends up making money for the banks, but it also does a heap of good in the world.  In the 21st century, corporations have woken up to their global responsibilities as have their employees.  Meet Alessandra DiGiusto.  Having started out in private banking, she parlayed her experience into a position at the head of Deutsche Bank America’s Foundation, overseeing philanthropic endeavors.  What does that mean?  Well, with money comes power, and with power comes the ability to do genuine good in the world, on a large scale.  “I always blended my business experience with Philanthropy,” Alessandra says, “So, in the private bank, I actually worked very closely on this program called “Wealth Through Responsibility.”  We worked closely with our wealthy clients to help them to decide where they should put their funding.  If they wanted to set up a foundation, what should its mission be?  What sorts of programs would it run?  I also spearheaded the Big Brother Big Sister program at the bank, getting volunteers from all different parts of the company.”

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