Switching from engineering to finance early on?

Hey all,

Long-time lurker on WSO here, and have finally decided to make a post. I'm one of those engineering guys considering transitioning into banking or consulting in the future, and wanted to get your input on my particular situation.

I'm a senior doing Aerospace Engineering at a school well known in both engineering and business (we're either a target or semi-target). I have been set on going into aerospace/defense for a few years now, but after doing a couple internships in the defense industry, I am beginning to see bothersome potholes in an engineering career path that I wish I knew more about earlier on - it seems even the star players are subject to painfully slow salary/promotion progression and don't usually have opportunities to push themselves to their limits, which I don't like at all.

After a lot of reflection over the past ~6 months, I am starting to think that I may be better suited for consulting or banking due to my long-term career aspirations and highly ambitious nature. The money and overall reward/effort ratio is a big factor for me as well. I'm still on the fence as I have a pretty cool job lined up in defense, but the opportunities I am learning about in banking and consulting are very, very tempting. I have also taken a few business/finance courses recently, which I did extremely well in and really enjoyed.

If I decide I want to pursue this path, what are my options and what must I do to position myself for landing a job at a top company post-MBA? What about pre-MBA, i.e. in the next 0-2 years? I would want to get into a top firm ideally, but I do realize I might have to start somewhere else. Would I be at a significant disadvantage for starting out in engineering and then competing with people who already have experience in this field?

A few things about me: I'm a fairly well-rounded student – 3.5 GPA with a couple respectable extracurriculars, a lot of leadership experience, and considerable experience working in the corporate world… started working at a F500 in high school, and have worked in a few different industries as of today. I am also quite personable compared to your typical engineering student.

Sorry for the long post - any input on this would be much appreciated. Looking forward to being a part of this forum!

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Comments (57)

Mar 10, 2012 - 3:14pm

Start networking and getting your name out there. Seeing as you are graduating I'm guessing you're looking for something full time, you should really get on that seeing as this semester is like half over.

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
Mar 10, 2012 - 3:36pm

dont do it.
stay in engineering. work for a couple of years....then go to grad school. youll be alot more marketable.
do you really want to go in a field where the supply of candidates is so grossly out of proportion with the available job postings? not to mention its not at all what it used to be....

Mar 10, 2012 - 4:12pm

You seem happy with your defense job, and I'm sure the money is good relative to finance (probably phenomenal when you factor in hours) for at least the few years out of college. For the time being, I'd stay put, and continue self-teaching yourself and networking on the side. Who knows? Finance could be where you end up, but it could also be a passing interest. Either way, I would recommend doing more due diligence.

That said, I definitely understand the concern about salary progression and promotion limitations, and regardless of the doomsday prophecies swirling around finance, it's still a great career for someone willing to take on more risk for a greater payout, and diminish any sort of ceiling you're subject to in other fields. All that said, the great thing about engineering is that you're hyper-marketable to top MBA programs, and from there, landing a finance job becomes almost entirely about your hustle. You would also be able to transition into some of the more business-y aspects of engineering, where the progression and pay is ostensibly better.

Of course, this is just what I would do. I'm a Math major, so I'm smart and useless, and as much as I'd love to be poor in pursuit of a PhD, my family isn't what you'd call wealthy. Thus: Finance is a perfect fit for me. On the other hand, you're smart and useful, so I'd take advantage of the usefulness for the time being.

Mar 10, 2012 - 9:09pm

I'm actually a bit surprised at people saying not to go the business route. Top MBA programs are definitely 60%+ former bankers, consultants, PE, VC, etc. Engineers could still be a 'shoe-in' if there aren't many engineering apps, but I'm not sure this is the case.

Having said that, you're a senior, so realistically there isn't enough time to graduate into an IB stint. I would take the 'pretty cool opportunity in defense.' After your first couple months there though, start networking with any corporate finance or internal consulting folk at the firm (or any external consultants the firm hires).

If your school has an alumni database, get the names and emails of all the alumni in finance/consulting and either reach out to them now or within a few months. I would definitely get business-side pre-MBA. I could be wrong but I would think that while an engineering background is good for MBA apps, recent business experience is key.

I'm an industrial engineering senior in undergrad - so semi-smart and semi-useful haha.

Mar 10, 2012 - 9:19pm
QuantKing45:

If I decide I want to pursue this path, what are my options and what must I do to position myself for landing a job at a top company post-MBA? What about pre-MBA, i.e. in the next 0-2 years? I would want to get into a top firm ideally, but I do realize I might have to start somewhere else. Would I be at a significant disadvantage for starting out in engineering and then competing with people who already have experience in this field?

Yeah definitely start somewhere else (I think). Personally, I don't distinguish that much between being in school, and 'starting' your first job anyway. Your just continuing with your life. If you network well and perform well I would think you can move from engineering to business stuff easily enough after graduation (you're not highly-paid enough to be pigeon-holed into anything).

I think for next 0-2 years, moving from an engineer at a defense firm to an internal consultant at that defense firm is more realistic than moving from there to McKinsey (and definitely more realistic than moving from there to GS).

After a couple years doing something business-side at the defense firm, I would imagine you could work into an MBB if you're good (don't know this for sure though). Breaking into a bank or PE/VC might have to be a post-MBA move (if that's even what you still want by that time!)

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Mar 13, 2012 - 10:18pm

At this point (if I started looking for jobs NOW), how much is still available out there and
what are my chances as compared to if I waited a year? Are firms generally open to hiring people on as analysts with 1-2 years experience in another field?

And I'm worried that if I broke into a botique or smaller consulting firm, I might be at more of a disadvantage for getting into a good MBA - the place I work is known by pretty much everyone (as compared to a less known botique) and the work I am doing is somewhat business-y

The work I will be doing isn't hard-core engineering, but is more of a half engineering half management
type role. It largely involves coordinating with other people to make sure technical problems are solved, setting up and running meetings, and sometimes working with lower level executives on key issues and proposal type work.... so, in general the job largely involves working with people as compared to sitting alone on a computer doing analysis. I think that is definitely applicable to consulting, and maybe A LITTLE for banking

Best Response
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:19pm

Engineering Student Going into Finance Career (Originally Posted: 05/20/2008)

Hello All,

I am currently a 3rd year UCLA EE student with a 3.4 GPA. I have worked in Lockheed Martin and Broadcom as an engineering intern but realized I do not want to be an engineer. I am looking for alternate careers and I found a finance career to be very interesting.

My first question is, since it is too late for me to become a business major, should I just finish my EE degree and go onto a MBA school then pursue a finance career?

I will graduate in one year and can do one more summer internship before I graduate. Should I try to get a finance internship during that summer? How hard is it for an engineering student like me to obtain a finance internship?

I am thinking to get any summer analyst position in a boutique bank to see what it is like.But I am also considering getting an internship in consulting companies such as Accenture or Deloitte. What skills should I have and how can I prepare for transitioning into these industries? I have been reading Wall Street Journals and the Vault but I am not sure how much these materials help me.

I know it 's a lot questions, but thank you for your time and effort. I greatly appreciate it.

  • 5
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:20pm

I went to UCLA (Bus. Econ/Accting Minor). Your B.S. degree is going to take you a lot further than Econ, trust me; it's almost worthless in terms of the knowledge you gain. On the otherhand, the accounting minor is really helpful.

You should have no trouble getting an internship as they are mainly looking for those with analytical skills. However, I would recommend taking Mgmt 100 (is it back to 1a/1b?). A 3.4 in EE is really high, recruiters/firms will definitely acknowledge that.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:21pm

Thank you for the response, is there anyone else willing to post some suggestions?

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:23pm

i had a similar background to yours. engineering internships made me realize the being an enginerd sucks. but there is hope.

finance is very broad, you should do a bit of research and see what you like the most. because you are from an engineering background, it might actually be pretty easy for you to move into a quant role. there is always the possibility of doing a one year fin math or fin eng degree at somewhere like columbia, stanford or CMU to polish those quant skills. If you are into corp fin then it might be a bit harder to sell (and get interviews). I ended up doing a one year masters in fin and econ in the UK at a target to make the switch to corp fin because that was what I was more interested in. Once I sold the interviewers on the fact that an engineering degree helps me look at deals from a very analytical standpoint, getting the offer was not that hard.

Also, possibly seeks dosks advice on resume (even though you have to pay for it) because your resume structure is different from what it would be if you were applying to engineering jobs.

Good luck

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:25pm

switching from major in Finance to Engineering (Originally Posted: 07/21/2010)

Hello,

i am currently in the end of my first year of undergraduate university. Currently doing a major in finance. But i have recently considered switching to engineering so i could pursue possibly a career in trading or quants. What do you think is this a wise choice or should i stick with M.Finance.

Thanks

I don't want to be a product of the environment, i want the environment to be a product of me
  • 1
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:27pm
nelly0:
Do you mind if I ask what school you go to?

Mcgill University in Canada
I don't want to be a product of the environment, i want the environment to be a product of me
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:29pm
kelleykid:
what classes have you taken so far since your only in your first year?

it took core management classes like Macroeconomics, financial accounting ... But my backgroud in high school is science so i guess i wont have any problems switching
I don't want to be a product of the environment, i want the environment to be a product of me
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:30pm

Wouldn't a math major or a statistics major (if your school offers it) be of more use for a quant career? They'd be more related to trading than engineering. Sure you'd get a good math background in engineering, but clearly you'd get a better one as a math major. A math major with a computer sci minor seems like ideal prep for quant trading careers.

  • 1
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:31pm
OGBanker:
Wouldn't a math major or a statistics major (if your school offers it) be of more use for a quant career? They'd be more related to trading than engineering. Sure you'd get a good math background in engineering, but clearly you'd get a better one as a math major. A math major with a computer sci minor seems like ideal prep for quant trading careers.

its true i didn't think about that option
I don't want to be a product of the environment, i want the environment to be a product of me
  • 1
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:33pm

just want to thank you all for the advices it gived me so interesting ideas

I don't want to be a product of the environment, i want the environment to be a product of me
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:34pm

math n finance combined....financial engineering....stats or math combined with computer sci....this would ideally give u the best chance. pure engineering would give you slightly less of a chance although better than a pure finance major for the quant roles.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:35pm

If you want on the strats desk, any type of quant trading, alg trading... financial engineering is the only way to go. A MSFE will equipt you with enough knowledge/skill in CS, finance, financial math and derivative valuation to compete with those physics/math PhDs who have been in finance a few years.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:36pm

I am also at McGill in engineering minoring in management and I would really suggest you to stick to finance.
Desautel is A LOT easier than engineering, I found my minor classes easy and fun, my eng. classes horribly hard and boring.
Personaly what I think ... Its not with a B.Eng that you will become a quant.
And you do not need to have a B.eng to be a trader.
You should considering taking a concentration, major, minor, or whatever in math it will give you a level that will be stronger than engineering.

By going in a BSc in math or a B.eng you will get far away from a career in finance while in finance you are already in the field... It will be much harder finding a non-technical position at the end of your engineering curriculum except if you have an amazing resume.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:40pm

If you are in first year you aren't even in finance yet. Look a lot of people here are going to suggest business. Its true business is more rewarding and seems like a helluva lot more fun and yeah if you are asking on a finance/business forum most of us would suggest that. However, if you look on the long-term trend, finance as an industry is not only going through a cyclical trend, but a structural one with the coming of Dodd-Frank and Basel III. The finance industry in the future isn't the same one that existed during the boom years before 08' and probably won't be in a long time. If you look at the bonus #s for this last year you'll see what I mean. A lot of people got donuts and cash bonus are cap'd at $125,000 at MS, are you fucking kidding me?

I'm not suggesting you pick engineering just from my post but if the kids at Google are making $120,000+ doing creative stuff that they actually ENJOY and not just for the exit ops then they must be doing something right. The safe thing to do is the 5-year double degree that they have. You stay just one more year, and you get a lot more opportunities in hot technical fields if IB doesn't work out.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:41pm

Forget IB. Go into engineering for engineering.

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:42pm

What kind of engineering? Do engineering if you like engineering. IB math is not rocket science. You don't need multivariable calculus, differential equations and probability to do IB(I took all those course in elec at Waterloo/UofT). In Canada to go from engineering to IB is going to be very very difficult without an MBA. And if you don't like engineering you won't last very long in school either, or you will end up with crap GPA. Now otoh you are passionate about coding transfer to Waterloo or UofT. MS, Google, Facebook etc recruit here, not sure whether UWO is a target school.

You got into [email protected] Congrats! It's a solid target for IB. Fuggedbout engineering dude.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:44pm

UWO offers a concurrent program where you can get an engineering degree and the Ivey HBA in 5 years, might be worth looking into...

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:45pm

we can all talk about how finance is going through structural changes but do we really believe, 5 years down the road of their respective careers, a successful finance guy will be making LESS than an Engineer? that is doubtful. Not to mention when we speak of the structural changes we are mostly speaking on IB/PE and completely ignoring finance for other companies, opportunities like internal M&A and Corporate development down the road, not to mention corp fin for top companies. Then there is PWM and the like that hasn't seen nearly as much regulation as IB, there are stiill opportunities in finance and if my goal was to be a "baller" at some point in my life then I'd still go w. finance. Finance doesn't begin and end with investment banking.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:47pm

There is no perfect combination of school, major, experience, etc....do the major that you are most interested in and focus your time on Networking

XX
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:48pm

I would have majored in Engineering if I could do it all over again. Most successful finance people could have probably done well at engineering but chose finance for the "bucks". Now they hate their lives cause they do mindless shit at work all day long.

If I could redo everything I would've majored in mechanical engineering, work as an ME for 3-4 years, get my EC's up then do my MBA and jump right into a Business Development or Strategy role at a supermajor oil company.

With that said, do what you want, I chose finance and I regret it sometimes but when I get paiidd I feel much better. And no, I don't think Finance is going anywhere, I think Finance people will still be raking in the big bucks even 5-10 years down the line. Greed is the nature of the business, if you take that away then we'll be pretty f**ked.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:49pm

I would be careful about presuming that "most" successful finance folks could have done well in engineering. You REALLY have to put in a lot of effort to get good grades in engineering or you have to be one of those really smart people. The analytical skills required in finance are an absolute joke compared to engineering courses (I took both finance/business courses and am an electrical engineer). Don't underestimate the amount of work to be done in engineering to get good grades. Add self studying to classes of 25 - 30hours/week and you can kiss your social life goodbye.

And all this effort and hard work for what? An engineering job for 55-60k a year while your friend who majored in business and partied all year along gets a job with the same salary. Yes there are software jobs that pay a boat-load, but to get a job at a place like Google/Facebook etc you have to LOVE programming. And if such is the case you wouldn't be deciding between engineering and business. And in engineering you need to constantly keep upgrading yourself with new technologies or you become redundant. Waaaayyyyy too much work for too little money imo.

Having said all this if a person is undecided on his career path engineering is a good major to have. It's a very versatile degree and will give you solid math and quant skills. You can go from engineering to business, but not the other way around. And even though 55-60k is not a lot of money, but compared to the general population out there it's still not a bad deal at all.

There is one upside of engineering studies though: in my (non-engineering) job interviews no one doubts my quant/math skills. They ask questions on my soft skills. No silly brain teasers to contend with. And that's why even though my GPA is closer to 2.5 than it is to 3.0, I landed MBA interviews at T-15 schools. If someone asks me about my low GPA I can always play the "yes I do have a low GPA but it's in electrical engineering so I am damn smart as evidenced by my GMAT" card. But knowing what I know now about my career interests I would have tried to get into Queen's Commerce or Ivey HBA.

But I do agree with your point of working with oil majors. My friends are in Calgary, Alberta and are raking it in. A few years in the field to build up experience, then a cushy office job where you work 40 hours/week and still make very good money. They have no plans to do an MBA.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:50pm
IRSPB:
I would be careful about presuming that "most" successful finance folks could have done well in engineering. You REALLY have to put in a lot of effort to get good grades in engineering or you have to be one of those really smart people. The analytical skills required in finance are an absolute joke compared to engineering courses (I took both finance/business courses and am an electrical engineer). Don't underestimate the amount of work to be done in engineering to get good grades. Add self studying to classes of 25 - 30hours/week and you can kiss your social life goodbye.

And all this effort and hard work for what? An engineering job for 55-60k a year while your friend who majored in business and partied all year along gets a job with the same salary. Yes there are software jobs that pay a boat-load, but to get a job at a place like Google/Facebook etc you have to LOVE programming. And if such is the case you wouldn't be deciding between engineering and business. And in engineering you need to constantly keep upgrading yourself with new technologies or you become redundant. Waaaayyyyy too much work for too little money imo.

Having said all this if a person is undecided on his career path engineering is a good major to have. It's a very versatile degree and will give you solid math and quant skills. You can go from engineering to business, but not the other way around. And even though 55-60k is not a lot of money, but compared to the general population out there it's still not a bad deal at all.

There is one upside of engineering studies though: in my (non-engineering) job interviews no one doubts my quant/math skills. They ask questions on my soft skills. No silly brain teasers to contend with. And that's why even though my GPA is closer to 2.5 than it is to 3.0, I landed MBA interviews at T-15 schools. If someone asks me about my low GPA I can always play the "yes I do have a low GPA but it's in electrical engineering so I am damn smart as evidenced by my GMAT" card. But knowing what I know now about my career interests I would have tried to get into Queen's Commerce or Ivey HBA.

But I do agree with your point of working with oil majors. My friends are in Calgary, Alberta and are raking it in. A few years in the field to build up experience, then a cushy office job where you work 40 hours/week and still make very good money. They have no plans to do an MBA.

I definitely didn't mean to discount the work put in by engineering majors but I feel like there are some brilliant people in finance who could have majored in pretty much anything and gotten far, they chose finance/econ for the money.

I work for a major down in Houston and I envy the engineers because they are destined for success if they pursue an MBA. About 65% of our BD/Strategy roles go to MBAs (Rice, UT etc) who have an engineering background. About 35% go to MBAs (once again Rice, UT etc) with a finance background who have worked all over the world for the company (and kissed some ass along the way).

Engineers are more respected in the oil business due to the technical nature of the industry. In the financial services industry I'm sure its a different story...

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:52pm

Chem Engineers usually work in the downstream side of the business. Mech Engineers work on the upstream side. Industrial Engineers work in procurement.

Oil majors are pretty sweet if you're an engineer and the pay is very good. The perks are even better. From what I've seen, most engineers who make it to the top have ME backgrounds. Some universities in energy industry regions (Houston, Oklahoma, Calgary) offer Petro Engineering so these backgrounds are common as well.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:53pm
pacman007:
Chem Engineers usually work in the downstream side of the business. Mech Engineers work on the upstream side. Industrial Engineers work in procurement.

Oil majors are pretty sweet if you're an engineer and the pay is very good. The perks are even better. From what I've seen, most engineers who make it to the top have ME backgrounds. Some universities in energy industry regions (Houston, Oklahoma, Calgary) offer Petro Engineering so these backgrounds are common as well.

I just got rejected from a private equity holding firm after a 2nd round interview with the CEO. I rue the day I received my acceptance letter from engineering undergrad.

Mar 13, 2012 - 10:59pm
pacman007:
Chem Engineers usually work in the downstream side of the business. Mech Engineers work on the upstream side. Industrial Engineers work in procurement.

Oil majors are pretty sweet if you're an engineer and the pay is very good. The perks are even better. From what I've seen, most engineers who make it to the top have ME backgrounds. Some universities in energy industry regions (Houston, Oklahoma, Calgary) offer Petro Engineering so these backgrounds are common as well.

There are quite a number of ChemE and MechEs in both upstream and downstream. Petroleum Engineers will only be found on the upstream side of things. MechEs are typically in drilling while ChemEs are found mostly in production and reservoir (myself being an exception as a ChemE Drilling Engineer). Plan is to do 2 years drilling, 2 years as a reservoir engineer then apply for T-5 MBA programs and see what happens.

Anyway, OP if you want to do engineering then make sure you are interested in it because if you aren't then theres a good chance you'll get cut down. If you're set on doing IB/PE then just go with a business major and kick ass, intern, and network.

Rise early, work hard, strike oil.
  • 2
Mar 13, 2012 - 10:55pm

I just finished my first year as a business major and I was considering changing to Computer Engineering. What do you recommend?

Mps721
Mar 13, 2012 - 11:00pm

I wish I had switched to Eng if I had a chance to, my school has a well renown engineering school but I chose to do the College of Arts and Sciences. Looking back, I had more fun in university but during recruiting I had a way difficult time as people questioned why I choose to a liberal arts degree instead of something quantitative.

Mar 13, 2012 - 11:01pm

If I were in your shoes I would not have made the switch. But that's entirely because I love the subject and have a passion for it and have also craft a niche for myself in the field. As far as your choice is concerned you should go for the one that really excites you, the one that you love studying and also going ahead and making career choices. Don't be impulsive, take your time and then decide.

Mar 13, 2012 - 11:02pm

Hi - Current engineering major interested in finance (Originally Posted: 01/10/2014)

Am current engineering major interested in finance trying to land an internship

Mar 13, 2012 - 11:03pm

Such an eloquent introduction.

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for freedom of thought which they seldom use.
Mar 13, 2012 - 11:04pm

Usually posts such as yours include some questions.

Rarely will any of my posts have enough forethought/structure to be taken seriously.
Mar 13, 2012 - 11:07pm

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