How to Properly Prepare to Be a Financial Analyst at a Large Company

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), financial analysts have a median pay of $76,950 per year, or $37 per hour. Economists have a median pay of $91,860 per year, or $44.16 per hour. Working on Wall Street or for your local or state government might not be such a hard job to get after college (and years of research experience). But trust me when I say that you’re not going to be prepared to work in technology or in many other large companies unless you read this.

NOTE: Bear with the length of this article. The reason why it’s long is because of the qualifications that I show from other companies. I promise that after reading this, you’re going to actually be prepared for these kind of jobs after college.

What Employers Pay has an amazing list of employers in the US with specific job titles and the range that they pay for those jobs. After clicking on the link I provided, you should look for the companies you want to work for (if they’re on the list) and then click on the see more jobs link. You should then look for your desired job title and then you could see which employers you want to work for based on pay.

Bachelor of Arts/Science in Finance or Economics with a Minor in Math: Not Good Enough

If you’ve seen enough episodes of How I Met Your Mother, you probably remember Marshall cracking his whip, shouting, “Not good enough!” If you had no idea that you needed to have so many extra classes and added experience, you might feel like the big companies are using Marshall’s whip on you. Before you get too far into wanting to be a financial analyst or economist for a big company, you might want to look at what they require.

It’s not even just the tech industry anymore! Amazon, though a tech-y kind of company, is an example of non-tech companies that want you to have a lot of experience with databases. Here’s what they require from a LinkedIn job post for ‘Financial Analyst:’


· BA/BS degree in Finance, Accounting, Business or related field
· Advanced Excel skills
· Highly analytical and detail oriented

Preferred Qualifications

· Proactive, process- and results-driven, able to set priorities right and committed to deadlines
• Fluency in standard software including Excel, Access, Oracle, Essbase skills are a definite plus
• Solid problem solving and root cause analysis experience
• Excellent oral and written communication skills
• Strong analytical and business sense
• Strong attention to detail, and the ability to self start and self motivate
• Leadership skills and the ability to meet deadlines while managing multiple projects in a fast paced environment

According to their “qualifications,” I’ll be “qualified” to work for them after I graduate. But according to their “preferred qualifications,” I’m not what they want. I’m everything else they want except for fluent in Access, Oracle, and Essbase. Trust me, when they say “preferred” or “…skills are a definite plus,” you might not want to get your hopes up. It’s still worth a shot. After all, you might have more to offer them than the kid who had such experience.

Maybe Microsoft has fewer requirements. Unfortunately, they have kind of similar, if not harder requirements. Here’s their requirements for a ‘Senior Financial Analyst:’

§ Bachelor’s degree required in finance, accounting, math, business or economics
§ 1 year of financial planning and analysis or related experience.
§ Strong technical skills with advanced understanding of Excel, PowerPoint and SQL Server
§ Detail oriented yet also able to think ‘big picture’ and understand the key trends and levers that impact a business.
§ Excellent communication skills (verbal and written) and effective executive presence.
§ Self-starter who can effectively manage competing priorities and work collaboratively with and through others.

Here’s what they look for in a ‘Finance Manager’ in terms of technology:

Technology Expertise (0 – 2 year experience)
• Basic level demonstrated experience with any BI Stack. Experience working with SQL Server, SSAS, Microstrategy, Cosmos is a plus.
• Ability to perform detailed data analysis using excel or other tools
• Fluency with Excel Pivot Methods and advanced Excel Functions used to extract numbers from data cubes

If you’re like me, you have absolutely no idea what SSAS, Microstrategy, or Cosmos is. In fact, if you’re like me, you just googled what a “BI Stack” was and still didn’t understand it. While the qualifications all say that “BA/BS Degree in finance, accounting, business, or economics,” you have to really look at a lot of job postings to get a feel for what you want to really do and where you want to end up. One last thing: You should probably figure out what an SQL server is and how it works.

How to Qualify for These Jobs

Obviously, you’re going to need some kind of training in Oracle, SQL, and potentially some others. Luckily, in the case of SQL servers, Microsoft has partners that will teach in-class and online courses. However, you should be warned that this is an expensive route to take. According to Microsoft’s live chat person I talked with, it can cost anywhere between $1,500 to $4,000 per class. There is, however, a much less expensive way.

If you don’t have the thousands of dollars to shell out for classes, you might be interested in the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). They have free online materials for you to learn and study for certification exams. Keep in mind that it’s much better, at least in my opinion, to go through some optional training that is provided by the MVA and then play with databases than it is to just take a series of classes that your college might not even offer.

Getting Trained and Certified

Oracle Essbase

I’ll be honest. I don’t know what Essbase is. All I know is that Oracle offers tutorials on it. I’m just going to assume that it’s another form of a database that they made. However, I do know that it’s an acronym for Extended Spread Sheet dataBASE.

SQL Certifications

According to Microsoft, you have four options for certifications (though, they will let you take all of them if you so desire). While it may be tempting to get the highest certification available, it’s really not needed. I say this because those certificates are intended for people who are wanting to work in the IT world. As an economics or finance major, you probably don’t need something of that caliber.

I recommend the MTA (databases track) and MCSA: SQL Server certifications. You don’t need the MTA certification in order to get your MCSA certification. But you should at least have the knowledge required for the MTA certification. The MTA database track exam (Exam 98-364) is $115. The MCSA: SQL Server certification requires three exams: Exams (70-)461, 462, and 463. All of these exams are $150 each. So if you were to pass all three exams the first time, you’d be in the hole about $450. If you took Exam 98-364 with these three, you would’ve paid $565.

Please note that you don’t actually have to be certified in this in order to get a job that requires the knowledge of it. The only reason why I ever recommend getting certified in anything is because it will show that you have proof of what’s on your resume, not just “Very knowledgeable in SQL servers.” Instead, you could put down that you have an MCSA: SQL Server from Microsoft on your resume.

SQL server training courses offered by the Microsoft Virtual Academy can be found here.

Oracle Training

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as Oracle University. Just as with Microsoft’s in-class courses, you may end up paying a lot of money just to learn how to use Oracle. I would not really recommend getting certified in Oracle unless your employer said you needed to. While SQL server training and certification would provide you with an edge that your potential employer wouldn’t find elsewhere, Oracle is really just a little cloud-based database that has a lot of complex keyboard maneuvers to remember.

Be very careful if you take a formal course from these guys. Even an online two-day self-study course is $710. I recommend learning through the tutorials provided by Oracle. The “2-Day DBA” tutorials, which are completely free, are an hour long each. There are 10 of them for Oracle Database 12c. After you do all of these tutorials, and actually understand everything you just learned, you can put on your resume that you have a basic or intermediate knowledge of Oracle.

If you already know how to use Oracle Database, then you might find Microsoft’s training on how to use your skills on SQL server 2014 interesting.

Microsoft Access and Excel

While I mentioned earlier that you don’t need to be certified on SQL Server 2014, you’re going to need to be certified on Microsoft Excel and Access if you really want to blow the competition out of the water. Exam 77-424 is Access 2013, which is recommended for “information workers,” according to Microsoft. This is the only Access 2013 exam they offer. However, Excel 2013 becomes a little different.

You could take Exam 77-420 for Excel 2013. But I don’t recommend that you do that if you’re applying for a job as a financial analyst or economist. I don’t recommend it because Microsoft says this: “Candidate roles might include students, clerical workers, bookkeepers, instructors, and others.” In other words, you’re only saying that you know what anybody with a degree in finance or economics learned by their sophomore year.

You’re going to want to take Exams (77-)427 and 428. These are the exams for Excel 2013 Expert Parts One and Two. Here’s what Microsoft said about who should take these exams: “Candidate roles might include accountants, financial analysts, data analysts, commercial bankers, and others.” It’s pretty self-explanatory.

Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Certification: Excel 2013

The Microsoft Office Specialist Master Certification has an Excel 2013 track where you take the expert level Excel exams, a basic Word 2013 exam, and an elective exam of your choice of: PowerPoint 2013, Access 2013, Outlook 2013, SharePoint 2013, and OneNote 2013. If it isn’t obvious yet, the one exam I mentioned you would be away from getting this certification is Word 2013. Believe it or not, employers will actually eat this up and launch you straight into consideration for the position. No joke!

So what do these exams cost, right? Well, I’m not sure if there’s a specific fee the third-party vendors charge you, but if there isn’t, then the registration fee is $115 per exam. For four exams, that’s only $460 to get your Microsoft Office Specialist Master: Excel 2013 certification. As I said earlier, this makes you very attractive. Think of it like this: You go from a pretty girl at school to hot supermodel babe.

Last Piece of Advice and Word of Encouragement

Don’t worry about the cost of these exams. They’re really not as expensive as they could be. Getting your Series 7 alone is $305. The MOS Master certification will cost you a total of $460. If you decide to tack on the MCSA: SQL Server certification ($450), your total cost in these exams would be $910. These two things will really help you out in the long run and I’m not talking just about your resume.

Don’t forget that everything that requires a lot of hard work and perseverance is completely worth it in the long run. You may not feel like that this isn’t worth much. But I can assure you that it is. My assurance comes from a professor of mine at BYU-Idaho who worked for the Federal Reserve for 26 years. He says that while the exams may come off as an annoyance, they really boost your resume more than you will know.

Start preparing now. Remember, it’s about much more than just getting fancy pieces of paper. You’re going to be much better educated in these areas than your peers will. Even if your teacher was like mine who said to get certified in Excel, I guarantee that you will have classmates that won’t believe them. Use that to your advantage and get ahead in life.



  1. This is personally the BEST i have ever read in all of the internet. Most people often give advice of get another Master’s degree in Finance or CFA or some other qualification that does not give you the required practical skill in a particular software like Ms Excel. I am currently studying towards the CIMA Chartered Institute of Management Accounting professional Finance programme. I have taken several MTAs one of course in the Database Track and i am also currently working on the MCSA. Really nice advice here. i will Share this with as many friends as i can. Great great advice again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I’m still an undergrad at the University of Oregon, obviously studying economics. I’ve been highly interested in being a financial analyst or even a pricing analyst and I decided to do a little digging.

      I agree that the CFA isn’t for everyone. Most people do it in place of an advanced degree because of how long it takes. It’s also freakishly hard judging by what I’ve heard about it. I wish more programs required database training in their finance programs.


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