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How to Prepare for a Career as a Stock Trader

If you’ve always dreamed about a lucrative career path in a fast-paced field filled with a variety of opportunities to pursue, then a career in stocks and securities is probably right up your alley. It's a rich, constantly changing environment with many smaller sectors to pursue. What’s more, working in stocks and trading can be a great way to earn a sizeable salary and work your way up the ladder. However, you need to set yourself up for success from the get-go because this field is just as much competitive as it is lucrative, and only the best will work their way to the top.

Enroll in the Right Degree Program
Like most other white-collar careers, you will need some type of college degree to land a job in stocks or securities. While there isn't a degree for this exact profession, you will want to look into degree programs in related fields like business administration, finance, accounting, or economics. Most entry-level positions with stock brokerages only require a bachelor’s degree, which is only a four-year investment. When looking for a college, make sure you find one that is accredited and offers courses that seem relevant and interest you. You may also want to look at the university’s internship options, or research if any alumni work at firms you’d be interested in pursuing after graduation. This information will help you narrow down your search and focus on schools that will look good on your future resume.

Unfortunately, college isn’t always something people can just cover with cash and scholarships. Luckily, there are other ways you can pay for college beyond that. You can take out student loans to cover expenses beyond what you can afford. If that isn’t an option, you can also consider a work-study program or other employment opportunities on campus that may help you cover part of your tuition. All of these options provide you with life experience that could help you as you wrap up your degree and seek employment trading stocks and bonds.

Read more: 12 GREAT Ways Not To Get Student Loans

Complete a Relevant Internship
As you move closer to graduation, your college will likely give you the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through an internship. Even if you don’t sign up for an internship through your university, you may still want to look into a summer internship with a local firm. Many students find that an internship with a large investment bank or brokerage firm helps provide work experience and other benefits that can make the job search easier after graduation. You can also gain valuable network connections that may help you land a job or even get an offer directly from the firm where you work as an intern. 

Internships can provide you with great insight into how trading works in real-time. You also learn tricks from people in the business on the best times to buy or sell, or other tactics that can ultimately help you make the best decisions for the portfolios you manage. Sometimes these internships are even paid opportunities, which can help you build up a small amount of savings before you graduate from school.

Take The Necessary Exams
In addition to your bachelor’s degree, you will also need to obtain some sort of licensing before you can officially trade stocks or securities. In order to obtain a license from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), you will need to complete at least one exam related to the type of work you plan to do after graduation. Some of the necessary exams you may need to take include:

  • Securities Trader Representative Examination
  • General Securities Representative Examination (also called the series 7 exam)
  • Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination (also called the series 63 exam)
  • National Commodities Futures Examination (also called the series 3 exam)

You will want to check the exact requirements before signing up for any relevant exams. However, you will likely need at least one of the previously mentioned exams before you will be authorized to do any type of trading for a brokerage. By getting these exams out of the way before you interview, you have a leg up on others who may not have planned ahead.

Land Your First Job
The final step in your career preparation is to land a job. Unfortunately, this can often be the hardest step for people because they don’t know how to set themselves up for success when applying for their dream job. However, landing your first gig isn’t as hard as you may think — it’s just about selling yourself the right way. First and foremost, you will want to create a resume that can easily be adjusted to match the exact company and position you are applying for. Because resumes are often first viewed by automated screeners these days, you will want to pull specific keywords from the job description and find ways to work them into your relevant experience and listed skills. You will also want to include notable achievements that can help you stand out from the competition. These small customizations in your resume may make the difference in landing your first interview.

Also, because the stock industry is a tight-knit community, you will want to make sure you keep your online presence strong and use your LinkedIn profile to highlight the networking you’ve already done. This may help you land an interview as well. When you go in for the interview, make sure you appear confident and prepared. You can practice interview questions with a friend or family member beforehand, and take time to brush up on any gaps in your knowledge that may need work. But, most of all, just be genuine and authentic in your interview — you want to land a job that’s a good cultural fit just as much as find something to pay the bills. Then, as they say, the rest will be history once you land that job offer you’ve been working towards. Just remember to keep your eye on the prize and really stand out during the interview, because your career is all riding on that first impression.

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Rick is a two time best selling author (his books have become Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon best sellers), investor, and mentor. His work has appeared in the most authoritative publications, including Good Morning America, Washington Post, Yahoo Finance, MSN, Business Insider, NBC, FOX, CBS, and ABC News.