How a finance masters could land you a job

Just don’t expect it to do all the work

DEMAND for masters in finance graduates is rising. According to the latest data from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), 39 per cent of employers will be looking to hire one this year, up from 32 per cent in 2012.

And as competition for roles heats up, more graduates are turning to further education to get an edge on their peers. The GMAC data also shows that 70 per cent of students cited increased job opportunities as their primary motivation for taking the course.

But what is the value of a masters in finance, and can it really provide an advantage for those looking to break into the industry in the current market?

Andrew Clare, professor of finance at Cass Business School, finds it difficult to conceive of people getting jobs in the City today without the support of a masters degree. “A postgraduate qualification used to just be a nice extra – now what we’re seeing is an education arms race.”

Contrary to the experiences of many graduates, masters in finance alumni certainly seem to have no trouble finding jobs. Between 78 and 98 per cent of graduates from the top ten courses in the UK were in employment within three months of graduating.

And it also seems that the qualification is useful for getting alumni jobs in banks and the broader financial services industry. Statistics from Imperial College Business School show that, of all the masters in finance students who found jobs within three months of graduating from its 2011 programme, all were employed in a related field.

But the data appears at odds with what employers say they are looking for in their new recruits. It is important to remember that the qualification itself is not a golden key to the City.

Not one of the top ten accountancy and finance graduate employers in the UK takes into account qualifications above undergraduate level when vetting candidates for interview. Most schemes don’t even require a relevant undergraduate degree. A basic numerical ability is almost always tested through online exams, but relevant technical knowledge is rarely essential or even desirable.

Even at more experienced levels, it is uncommon to see job advertisements specifying a masters level education – aside from roles with a heavy mathematical focus, like quantitative analysis or computing.

So what is the real value of a masters degree in finance – and, more importantly, is it appropriate for you?

According to Clare, the course equips you “with the language of finance and economics, which is the bare minimum needed for working in the City.” Many students find the deep and comprehensive understanding of the financial markets provided by the course to be invaluable for selling themselves to employers.

The practical orientation of the course may also be of value to those with little or no experience of working in the finance industry. Students are often tasked with coursework centring around real-life case studies. This can give them valuable exposure to how business works outside of the classroom, and could allow them to make their early mistakes in a safe environment.

Just as important are the extracurricular opportunities provided. Most business schools place a heavy emphasis on career services, which provide workshops and presentations covering topics like soft skills, CV writing and interview preparation. The schools also host networking events, where students can meet and talk to potential employers and alumni about their options after graduation.

This was important to Anastasia Pittas, who graduated from Cass in 2009 and secured a place on the Citigroup graduate scheme soon after. She advises new students to “make use of the careers team from day one,” and to attend as many of these workshops and events as possible.

But a masters degree’s real benefit may be as an opening to a more specific and useful course. A number of business schools in the UK are partnered with the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute. This means that their curricula have significant crossover with those of the Institute-run CFA programme – widely considered to be the professional credential of choice for the investment industry. Alumni of these business schools are therefore well placed to enrol in the CFA programme and to break into finance from this angle.

The number of students furthering their education with a masters in finance is definitely rising. But the practical value of the course derives from the skills and experiences you could take from it to cement your own commitment to a career in the industry.