At face value, the finance and tech industries might not seem all that similar — but there’s more overlap than you’d think, particularly when it comes to tech startups. This means that when those in the finance industry are looking for a career change, tech should be at the top of their lists. Here are some ways to set yourself up for a smooth transition.
1. Identify your transferable skills.
If finance and tech were put on a Venn diagram, the middle section would show a decent amount of shared skills. Assess which of these you already have, and which you could learn.
Prasant Sudhakaran, cofounder and director of corporate development at Aingel, notes that data could be a good tech home for previous finance professionals, “The ability to look at numbers, distill a story from it, and manage a team is something that is directly transferable from a traditional finance career.”
Personality traits matter as well, says Philip Lang, cofounder at Triplemint: “Finance has a number of transferable skills in tech. The three things I think are most relevant are excellent excel/powerpoint skills, attention to detail and work ethic. Many people like to think there’s a great divide between finance and tech, but the reality is that Google battles Goldman for recruiting top talent out of college.”
2. Clarify your personal goals and expectations.
Do you want to write code all day at a larger tech company, or would you prefer to get involved with a startup and wear lots of different hats throughout the day? If the former, are you ready to compete against more seasoned programmers? If the latter, are you willing to accept a lower salary than you might be used to, especially at first?
Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, advises, “Have realistic expectations as to the level and scope of the role you want, the operational and cultural differences between a startup or smaller tech company and a bigger more traditional financial institution, and, most important, compensation. Just because you may be highly compensated on Wall Street does not mean you deserve to earn an equivalent salary in tech, particularly in a startup environment where cash is always a stretch.”
3. Define your value proposition.
If you spin it right, plenty of tech companies will jump at the chance to hire a multidimensional candidate. “What skills, experience, and qualifications enable you to easily hit the ground running and contribute immediately?” asks Cohen. “The goal is to show that your skills can easily be repurposed to benefit the new environment.”
Sudhakaran, adds, “Career programmers are usually very skilled at what they do, but might lack exposure to business cases and context — which can be something finance professionals can bring with them.”
Startups are in the perfect position to benefit from well-rounded candidates. Highlight how you’ll be able to not only work effectively in development/software/data/your chosen tech specialty, but also contribute finance and business insights and understand the big picture.
4. Seek out a FinTech company.
It’s the best of both worlds: at a company that blends finance and technology, both of your skillsets will automatically be valued and usable. “For someone who is further in their career and has a specialization, I’d recommend looking for a tech company in a tangential arena,” says Lang. “There are a number of great fintech companies that offer opportunities for people who have a finance background.”
Cohen adds, “Recognize that your experience in a traditional Wall Street function will be invaluable to a tech company working on automating and then marketing this function.”
5. Consider whether there’s a gap in the market you can fill with your own startup.
Finance professionals are typically accustomed to fast-paced industries and comfortable with the idea of calculated risks. Both of these traits lend themselves well to the world of startups and business ownership.
Jessica Postiglione, CEO and cofounder of OLIKA, explains, “I made the transition by demonstrating that the skills one obtains in finance are directly transferable to running a company. In finance, you analyze a company’s operations inside and out, determine if they have a viable business plan, their path forward for growth and their position in the marketplace. All things I did when I was starting my company: what is our value prop? how do we make money? who are our competitors? what is the market opportunity?”
Ultimately, running a successful business does come down to understanding numbers, says Jaymin Mehta, founder of Newbury Mills: “It is important to understand the costs, margin, overhead, and how decisions affect the bottom line. Not truly understanding this, or mismanaging this, could reduce the runway a startup has. That could make the difference between success and failure. Know your numbers!”
6. Seek out resources and support networks.
This applies to anyone making a career change, regardless of industries: don’t try to do it all alone. Glean insight from those who have done it before, and connect yourself with mentors or thought leaders who can help guide you. Plus, networking early can lead you to the people and opportunities that have the potential to change your life and career.
Says Ben Chaung, the former Operations Manager at Blue Apron and current cofounder at Big Apple Buddy, “Put in the networking hard yards. In my case, I had over 150 coffee chats before landing on my position with Blue Apron!”
Personal support networks matter too. “The key to the transition is that you need to have a strong investment thesis, good network, and support of family and friends,” says Peter Ho, founder of MultiplyIQ. Also recognize the personal factors and lifestyle differences that changing careers may bring: “One hurdle finance professionals need to overcome is to feel comfortable with risk and change of lifestyle.”
Whether you join an existing startup, start your own, or take your burgeoning tech career in a different direction, don’t leave your past behind entirely. Take it with you and make it work for you in your new role.
Laurence Bradford is a product manager at Teachable, an EdTech enthusiast, and the creator of Learn to Code With Me, a blog and podcast helping self-taught coders get ahead in their lives + careers.