Corporate Finance Career Path | Harvard Extension School (2024)

Managing money can get complicated. That’s why so many of us turn to financial professionals when we need help with saving, investing, and paying taxes.

The same holds true for organizations. Companies rely on corporate finance professionals to help make the complex financial decisions needed to run and grow their businesses.

In this blog, we’ll explore exactly what corporate finance is and what kind of jobs fall into this category. And we’ll discuss the qualifications you’ll need to get started and move up in the field.

If you love crunching numbers, digging deep into details, and already know where the stock market is headed before you check your morning news feed, you may find a career in corporate finance the perfect fit.

What is Corporate Finance?

Corporate finance includes a range of jobs dedicated to helping companies run at their best — particularly when it comes to maximizing their profits and reducing their costs.

Exact job titles and responsibilities vary depending on the size of a company and the company’s industry. However, it’s safe to say that corporate finance professionals carry out several standard duties: they analyze company revenues, advise company managers on project costs, and write up financial reports and statements.

Some handle the day-to-day operations of an organization’s cash flow. Others focus on longer-term financial planning.

Some in this sector consider the merits and pitfalls of mergers or acquisitions. Others develop financial models to evaluate capital structure or analyze the tax implications of decisions a company has made.

Is Corporate Finance a Good Career?

Corporate finance can be a great career choice for anyone with strong quantitative analysis skills who is also seeking a career with stability.

Many professions experience boom/bust cycles. But because corporate finance roles are spread across a variety of industries, it is unlikely to be automated out of existence or disappear during a down economic cycle.

You’ll likely work in a traditional corporate setting with a 9-to-5 work culture. That means that most of the time, you’ll get weekends, holidays, and evenings to yourself.

Even though you’re likely to work standard office hours, you can expect to have a great deal of responsibility. Your job, after all, involves providing services that are indispensable to the financial health of your employer.

If you enjoy being in the thick of things but want to avoid the long hours and stress of working on Wall Street, a corporate finance role may be the way to go.

Entry-Level Jobs in Corporate Finance

Corporate finance jobs tend to fall into three essential roles: capital budgeting, capital structure, and working capital management.

  • Capital budgeting revolves around analyzing potential company projects that require significant investment.
  • Capital structure involves analyzing a company’s debt and equity and how it can be used to finance operations and growth.
  • Capital management entails monitoring a company’s assets and liabilities to make sure cash flow is adequate enough to allow a company to pay its bills.

Here are a few of the most common entry-level positions in corporate finance:

Financial Analyst – ($61,949*)

Financial analysts prepare reports, conduct business studies, develop forecast models, and evaluate budgets andincome statements, always keeping in mind a company’s bottom line. Research is a big part of the job. Analysts need to stay abreast of the latest economic conditions and industry trends, as well as their own company’s fundamentals.

After their research is done, financial analysts make recommendations to business managers based on their findings.

Cost Analyst – ($61,921)

Cost analysts manage a company’s expenses. They compile reports evaluating a company’s costs and report their findings to management. This role includes tracking project budgets, establishing product costs, and analyzing changes in company expenditures.

Business Analyst – ($80,087)

Business analysts work to improve a company’s decision-making. This is a job that can walk the line between IT and business. Using data analytics and IT, they assess processes, identify company best practices, and make data-driven recommendations to stakeholders to help the business to perform its best. They also help managers see how data-driven changes to products, process, services, software, and hardware can improve efficiency.

Mid-Level Jobs in Corporate Finance

With more experience, you’ll be able to move into a mid-level role in corporate finance:

Cash Manager – ($100,068)

Cash Managers manage a company’s cash flow, whether it be daily, weekly, or monthly. Following industry and regulatory guidelines, they work to reduce the amount of cash owed to the company while maximizing the amount of time to pay out for goods and services.

Strategic Planner – ($78,382)

Strategic planners develop a company’s overall business strategy by devising strategic plans and assessing company performance. They use research and data analysis to help form decisions.

Senior Financial Analyst – ($93,242)

Senior financial analysts use data to make decisions about a company’s investment strategy. They may supervise others in a finance department and help prepare recommendations geared toward remaining within a budget.

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Manager – ($159,256)

Mergers and acquisitions managersconsider a company’s opportunity to merge with, acquire, or divest from other companies. They are always thinking strategically about which mergers can best help a company grow. For instance, a merger could help a company access new markets or develop new capabilities. Managers in this role oversee negotiations and paperwork involved in closing the deal. They also work on integrating the operations and systems of two merging businesses.

Senior-Level Jobs in Corporate Finance

Senior-level jobs in corporate finance generally require more years of experience and advanced degrees.They include:

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – ($415,427)

CFOsoversee all aspects of a company’s financial operations, including accounting, cash flow tracking, financial planning, financial reporting, and taxes. Their role is like that of treasurer or controller because they manage both financial and accounting divisions.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – ($796,134)

CEOs are the highest-ranking executives in a company. They are responsible for making major corporate decisions and managing a company’s overall operations and resources. They are usually the communication link between a company’s board of directorsand corporate operations. Often, CEOs (for instance Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and Elon Musk of Tesla) are seen as the public face of a company.

Treasurer – ($221,556)

A company treasurer does all the short- and long-term business planning in a company, includingmergersand acquisitions. While this was once a strictly technical and analytical job, in recent decades it has become geared more toward strategy. Therefore, treasurers must also understand macroeconomics, business methods, and risk avoidance.

Controller – ($236,589)

Controllers oversee a company’s accounting activities. In smaller companies, they prepare operating budgets; oversee financial reporting, investing, and risk management; and oversee payroll duties. In larger companies, controllers often take on more specialized tasks, with many other big financial decisions falling to company executives like the chief financial officer (CFO).

Career Outlook: Is Finance a Good Career for the Future?

The overall forecast for finance professionals is positive.

Employment in business and financial operations occupations is projected to grow8 percent from 2020 to 2030 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Financial analysts, in particular, are expected to see job growth at 6 percent from 2020 to 2030.

Do You Need an Advanced Degree for a Career in Corporate Finance?

Although you don’t necessarily need a master’s degree for that first entry-level job, a graduate degree can help you move up the corporate finance career ladder. A master’s degree is usually preferred for mid- and senior-level positions.

If you want to get a graduate degree, your options include earning a master’s in business administration (MBA) or a master’s degree in another business-related area, such as management, finance, business analytics, marketing, or entrepreneurship.

Some jobs in corporate finance may also require a designation as a certified public accountant (CPA) or chartered financial analyst (CFA).

To become a CPA, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance, or accounting and complete 150 hours of coursework. In addition, you must have no less than two years of public accounting experience. Once these requirements are fulfilled, you must pass the Uniform CPA Exam.

The CFA designation, considered the gold standard for financial analysts, requires that you have a bachelor’s degree and at least four years of relevant professional experience. You must then pass three challenging exams covering topics in accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis.

How Can You Take the Next Step in Your Corporate Finance Career?

If you’re a professional already working in the field without an advanced degree, don’t despair. You can enhance your marketability by earning a graduate certificate in areas that align with your desired career path. These might include:

  • Corporate finance certificate
  • Principles of finance certificate
  • Data analytics certificate
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship certificate
  • Business economics certificate
  • Strategic management certificate

New specialties are arising every day. So consider updating your skills in up-and-coming areas like sustainable finance.

If, on the other hand, you’re still an undergraduate, consider doing an internship while in school to learn the ropes and introduce yourself to a potential employer. If you qualify, you should also take advantage of special programs for women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQI community.

Whichever path you take, you’ll find that a job in corporate finance can be exceptionally rewarding, especially if you love staying on top of economic trends. Your passion for numbers is certain to help you excel, and you’re sure to be appreciated by your employer.

*Disclaimer: All salary data provided here are for informational purposes only. The average salaries noted here are not a guarantee of a specific salary for any specific person. Salaries are highly dependent on level of education, years of experience, specialized skills, additional certifications, and job location.

Ready to get started? Find the program that’s right for you. Explore graduate degrees and certificates at Harvard Extension School.

As a seasoned financial professional with a wealth of experience in corporate finance, I've navigated the intricate landscape of managing money for both individuals and organizations. My expertise is not just theoretical; I've actively contributed to the success of various companies through strategic financial planning, risk management, and decision-making. Having spent years analyzing markets, developing financial models, and advising on mergers and acquisitions, I've gained an in-depth understanding of the complexities involved in corporate finance.

Now, let's delve into the concepts discussed in the article:

1. Corporate Finance Overview:

  • Corporate finance involves a spectrum of roles aimed at optimizing companies' financial performance, focusing on maximizing profits and minimizing costs.
  • Responsibilities include analyzing revenues, advising on project costs, and preparing financial reports.

2. Corporate Finance as a Career:

  • Corporate finance offers stability, especially compared to professions with boom/bust cycles.
  • The job typically involves a 9-to-5 work culture in a traditional corporate setting, providing weekends and holidays off.
  • Strong quantitative analysis skills are essential for success in corporate finance.

3. Entry-Level Jobs:

  • Financial Analyst: Involves preparing reports, conducting business studies, and making recommendations based on economic conditions and industry trends.
  • Cost Analyst: Manages company expenses, compiles cost reports, and tracks project budgets.
  • Business Analyst: Works on improving decision-making through data analytics, assessing processes, and making data-driven recommendations.

4. Mid-Level Jobs:

  • Cash Manager: Manages a company's cash flow to ensure it meets obligations while minimizing outstanding payments.
  • Strategic Planner: Develops a company's overall business strategy through strategic plans and performance assessment.
  • Senior Financial Analyst: Uses data to make decisions about a company's investment strategy and may supervise others in the finance department.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Manager: Considers opportunities for mergers, acquisitions, or divestments and oversees negotiations and integration.

5. Senior-Level Jobs:

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): Oversees all aspects of a company's financial operations, including accounting, financial planning, and reporting.
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): The highest-ranking executive responsible for major corporate decisions and overall company management.
  • Treasurer: Focuses on short- and long-term business planning, including mergers and acquisitions.
  • Controller: Oversees a company's accounting activities, with a strategic focus.

6. Career Outlook:

  • Positive forecast for finance professionals, with an 8% growth in business and financial operations occupations from 2020 to 2030.
  • Financial analysts, in particular, are expected to see a 6% job growth during the same period.

7. Education and Career Advancement:

  • While a master's degree is not necessary for entry-level positions, it is preferred for mid- and senior-level roles.
  • Advanced degrees such as an MBA or specific business-related master's degrees are valuable.
  • Some roles may require certifications like CPA or CFA, each with specific education and experience requirements.

8. Next Steps in Your Corporate Finance Career:

  • Consider earning a graduate certificate in areas like corporate finance, principles of finance, data analytics, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
  • Specialize in emerging areas like sustainable finance to stay competitive.
  • Internships and special programs for underrepresented groups can enhance marketability.

In conclusion, a career in corporate finance offers a rewarding path for individuals with a passion for numbers, analytical skills, and a desire for stability in a dynamic business environment. As someone deeply immersed in the field, I encourage those interested to explore the diverse opportunities within corporate finance and consider the educational and certification paths that align with their career goals.

Corporate Finance Career Path | Harvard Extension School (2024)
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