Fellow presentation and intro to your career path
My name is Fernando Lemus, I am from El Salvador. I first came to the United States in 2010 to pursue a bachelor's degree in finance at the University of Texas at Austin. In high school I preferred subjects that dealt with logic and mathematics; after living through the 2007-2008 financial crisis, I was intrigued about learning the underlying reasons of the market crash, that it made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career that would give me a basic understanding of the stock market.
During my career, I studied over seven different courses in finance and four courses in accounting. The deeper I got in my studies, the more I started to think about a job where I could use all the knowledge learned over the years. During my senior year, I studied and reviewed several merger and acquisitions cases, and this helped me decide to pursue a career in investment banking. I went back to El Salvador after graduation and start working as a Financial Analyst for a regional investment bank.
Over the next six years I worked on investment banking. I was part of mergers, buyouts, private debt, and equity deals in industries like real-estate, energy, food distribution, private equity, health care and hospitals, securitization, retail, commercial banking, and insurance. During this period, I learned to perform company valuations, manage due diligence process, and polish my negotiations and presentations skills. The experience and skills that I gained through this period were crucial and gave me a competitive advantage during my interview process when I decided to change careers.
During the pandemic I had time to reflect on my career path and I decided to pivot into the corporate sector and be part of a Finance team from an insider perspective and not from a third-party perspective. At the end of 2021 I started working remotely as a Sr. Analyst for a start-up in the power flow technology industry called Smart Wires Inc. handling all the financial planning & analysis that the company needed (budget, variance, financial modeling, monthly reports). During this period, I worked closely with the CFO and supported him during an IPO (Initial Public Offering) process where the company's equity was taken public through the Nasdaq First North Growth market index. I created and managed the due diligence data room for potential investors and developed the financial projections and scenario modeling that supported the public offering.
At the end of last year, I moved to a Finance Manager role at another start up called Kairos Aerospace Inc. This company focuses on providing methane detection data to the Oil & Gas industry. In this new job, I have the responsibility of implementing and managing the Financial Planning & Analysis processes through the organization and implementing cost control tools that will enable the company to scale in an efficient manner. I am glad that I decided to focus my career on the FP&A Corporate sector, nonetheless if it wasn’t for my investment banking experience I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I was when I decided to change my career path.
Finance career options
Refer to the following table for the most common career path options available for Finance professionals. It is important to understand that some roles are interconnected, and some professionals would go through the different roles listed during a lifetime career.
- Investment Banking Analyst
Assist individuals, corporations, venture capital firms, and even governments with their requirements related to capital.
- Junior Tax Associate/Accountant
Implement measures and develop policies relating to taxes, including calculating and estimating payments, conducting research, reviewing internal fiscal systems, preparing returns and other tax-related documents, and working with auditors.
- Financial Advisor
Evaluate the monetary needs of individuals and help them make decisions about investing, budgeting, and saving.
- Financial Analyst
Examine financial data and use their findings to help companies make business decisions. Often, their analysis is meant to inform the investing decisions of companies.
- Commercial banking Analyst
Analyze and conduct systematic loan reviews of commercial loan relationships to ascertain adequacy of credit quality and compliance with established policies. Identify credit risk and assign a credit risk grade.
- Corporate Accountant
Performs accounting functions such as account analysis, auditing, or financial statement analysis.
Main hard skills you use on daily basis in your current job
Understanding of accounting principles according to GAAP, IFRS and FASB. Knowledge on recording and calculating assets, liabilities and equity accounts and consolidation of the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. Even though my position is Finance based, I am analyzing accounting data and financial statements daily so accounting is a must in my line of work. I started learning accounting in college where I took over four different accounting courses, this is what cemented my accounting base which I have further polished over the years as I have performed repeated financial statement analysis and gone through several accounting audit processes. College courses are a great resource to harness this skill and there are several webpages available like Investopedia, CFA institute or Accounting.com.
- Financial Modeling in MS Excel
Designing, creating, and maintaining financial models in Microsoft excel with full pro forma Financial Statements and their respective supporting schedules (revenue, cost of goods sold, operational expenses, working capital, other balance sheet schedules). I started learning the basics of MS excel during my time in the university by taking two courses: Financial Planning and Business Statistics. Therese two courses where MS excel based courses where I learn how to organize data in excel and use basic formulas to create financial reports and schedules. This provided the basic skills for landing my first job where I had to create financial models for valuations in mergers & acquisitions. Over the years as I practiced doing more models and using MS excel my skills improved over time, practice is the most important activity I can recommend getting better at excel modeling.
- Financial Analysis & Reporting
Analyzing monthly financial statements after each accounting period and performing variance analysis against budget. Summarizing financial data in PowerPoint presentation for upper management highlighting financial results, updated cash forecast and other KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in a monthly basis. You can start developing these skills in your university career by taking financial analysis classes and practicing in projects that involve summarizing business or financial data (business competitions or debates).
- Budgeting and Forecasting
Managing the budgeting process through the different department in the organization and collaborating with each department leader to inform them about variances in their corresponding departmental cost structure and get feedback to update the expense forecast in a monthly basis. Taking cost accounting and financial planning courses will provide a good basis for this skill and joining workshops where you can create budgets from scratch will help you polish this highly demanded skill in the finance job market.
- Financial Software
Basic knowledge on how to use accounting, expense, and financial planning IT systems: QuickBooks, NetSuite by oracle, Carta, Ramp, bill.com. In the current market companies are using several tools for accounting and expense management to avoid human error and manual entries. I learned this skill during my different jobs over the years and usually companies understand that entry level professionals will need training to use their IT systems. Nonetheless, you can take courses online to have a competitive advantage in the recruitment process.
Soft skills you use on daily basis in your current job
- Effective Communication
Ability to convey and receive complex information in concise messages, communication should be a two-way street where you are sending and understanding the received information from your coworkers. I would suggest taking business communication or debate classes during your college career to practice on how to effectively communicate and present data to a public.
- Strategic Collaboration
Collaborate with different departments within your organization by providing relevant insights and attending inquiries related to expense, budget, or analysis. For example, finance should always collaborate with the commercial department in any organization making sure the pricing on contracts, products or services are aligned with the actual cost structure of the company to achieve the certain gross margin and profitability. I recommend reading books about business strategy and collaboration but overall, this skill is learned through experience in your professional career as you collaborate with different teams in your organization.
- Problem Solving
Using logic and experience to solve problems that arise in the workplace. The ability to identify, analyze and solve problems is essential in any type of industry. This soft skill can be developed through case reading (read real life business cases where complex problems are presented and resolved) and critical thinking (ask questions, be always open to learning new subjects).
- Attention to Detail
Monitoring and checking financial data accuracy while organizing and performing analysis is a key soft skill for any finance professional. To develop skill, I advise breaking complex tasks into smaller tasks and focusing on one task at a time whenever you are presented with a project or complex endeavor at school or work. When you focus your attention on smaller parts of a complex problem you start to develop attention to detail, and it helps you prepare to be aware of what to look for in future processes.
Your personal path
Perseverance and resilience are characteristics that are indispensable to get a desired job or achieve anything meaningful in life. I worked over six years in investment banking, and I didn’t particularly enjoy some of the experiences but the knowledge that I grasped and the mindset of always moving forward and seeking opportunities is what ultimately helped me get my job at my previous employer (Smart Wires) where I shifted career paths.
During the six years in investment banking, I probably submitted over one hundred applications to different opportunities in the corporate sector in El Salvador. I never decided to make the change in careers because the few jobs offered were less competitive. I continued my search and used different resources (Upwork, indeed, etc.) and managed to land a remote job through a LinkedIn application. The interview process took about two months: I had to pass three levels of interviews and do a small power point presentation before landing the job as a Sr. Financial Analyst at Smart Wires Inc.
Most people don’t want to put the effort into the recruiting process for some jobs, but I was willing to go the extra mile in every application I selected, and it eventually paid off. My experience at Smart Wires and the impact I left on upper management is what prepared me and helped me get to my current position as Finance Manager at Kairos Aerospace where I was recruited by an executive who saw my potential at Smart Wires.
Perseverance, hard work and going the extra mile will always pay off, you might not see the results immediately but in the long run it will always pay off. So whatever career path you decide to take, if you are resilient and take your time to take the extra step that none of your peers are willing to give you will eventually achieve or land your desired job. It's just a matter of time.
What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?
I would tell him to be patient and humble, and most importantly stay hungry for learning new skills inside and outside of your trade. At the beginning of my career, I dreaded the times I got assigned duties or projects that were not related to my main task and responsibilities. Over the years, I realized that those tasks are opportunities to grow and have molded my experience and influenced my path to where I am today. Challenges are always opportunities in disguise.
Final tips and insights
I highly recommend taking advantage of your school resources and taking as many different Finance & Accounting courses as possible so you can start exploring the different paths that you can take in the Finance Industry. Ask your professors and teacher assistants about their own career experience, try looking for mentors in student business organizations, practice mock interviews offered on campus. Try to always be on the lookout for internships by using your campus network and job fairs, use online resources (Indeed, LinkedIn), most importantly focus on the real-life experience you are going to get and not the size of the company when thinking about applying. At this stage in your career, it is paramount to research different fields and gather as much working experience as possible so you can make a proper decision on what path do you want to take regarding your professional career.
As a conclusion, please round up your ideas and share some motivating words for students in your field.