How to make it in your career in the finance sector - experts' advice
Updated: 3 days ago
Only a few women reach leadership positions in the financial industries worldwide, despite holding nearly 50 % of all positions in the sector. So what's the secret of making it to the top in finance? We asked two shakers at the top of their games to share their insights: Mariya Konstantinova is the CFO of Superhuman Ventures and Kerstin Andert is the Tax Manager at Value One.
They brought a lot of wisdom home from many years in the industry, and discussed topics such as the role of networking to their success, mentoring and much more. Want to find out what they had to say?
Their biggest obstacle and how they overcame it
‘My greatest obstacle was myself’ says Kerstin. ‘At the start of my career, I was super motivated and quite impatient to achieve the things I wanted. I put in really long hours and self-care took a back-seat. I quickly learnt that this was a mistake and this has been one of my biggest lessons’ she adds.
Kerstin on prioritising self-care… ‘I had to learn how to build and stick to my boundaries. I got really honest with myself about what my limitations were and what I was comfortable with doing. Then, it was a matter of sticking to those boundaries and thankfully, that has worked out for me.’
A nugget of wisdom from Kerstin… ‘Don’t believe the thought that you need to know all the answers; you don’t. You can always ask and find out. Also, don’t believe in the thought that tells you that you need to work all the time in order to make it; it’s all about balance’.
Mariya’s biggest obstacle... ‘It was making the decision to take a job that I was being offered in China. The thought of an entirely different culture, language and customs was something that brought up a lot of fear and anxiety’ she says.
On learning to take risks… ‘My biggest takeaway from that experience is to seize the opportunities that come up for you. The thing I was most scared of turned out to be the catalyst for some of my biggest opportunities so far. It has also been the main factor for me learning new lessons and expanding my network’ she adds.
Dealing with the rapid shift in technology… ‘Another reality I’ve had to grasp when it comes to the world of finance, is that you have to learn how to quickly adapt to an ever-evolving technology. I've had to teach myself things that I didn’t learn in school and how to make tough investment decisions associated with new technology, so it’s really important to do your homework when it comes to this area.’
Discussing the role of saying ‘no’ to their careers
Mariya says... ‘As being in a leading finance position often means having to make tough decisions and to say no a lot, usually due to Budget restrictions, I’ve learnt that the best way for me to do that is to keep a close relationship to the other people high up in the company. A CFO must be a partner to the CEO and involve them in using financial data to challenge the business and contribute to the decision making.’
Kerstin’s take: ‘For me it was all about getting used to it, by putting myself in a lot of situations where I’ve had to say 'no'’ she asserts. ‘What has also helped me, is having an argument for why my decision involves a ‘no’; it’s important not just say ‘no’, but to explain your reasoning behind the decision in order to make people understand, and hopefully to get on board.’
What has most helped each of them in their careers so far
‘I would say it has to be my knowledge of different languages, and my experiences in having lived amongst different cultures’ Mariya recounts. ‘When a project would crop up within my company, the people higher up knew they had to put me on the job, because I was the most suitable. I was always really adaptable and that has helped me a lot.’
If you think working in finance is boring... ‘People think a career in finance is boring, but I have something else to say. I’ve always been the person showing a lot of initiative and starting exciting new projects, which has drawn up attention to myself and which has helped me to succeed' Mariya adds.
‘If I could say one thing to you is to take initiative’ says Mariya. ‘The CFO role is a dynamic role, so be strategic; be adaptable; that will set you apart from the rest.’
On carrying on learning... ‘I think what has helped me has been my willingness to learn and to improve my skills' says Kerstin. 'My quest for new knowledge didn’t stop at university. I kept on expanding and building on my soft skills, like learning how to lead a team and how to communicate effectively’.
Independence really pays off… ‘My hunger for independence and to start earning my own money has also played a huge role in my success. It's made me ready to take on new challenges and not to be shy when confronted with new ideas’ Kerstin adds.
‘I think there is an undercurrent view in the world of finance of wanting to do things a certain way just because that is how it’s always been done. I disagree with that. There’s always new ways to improve your processes, you just have to be open' Kerstin advises.
On having doubts about stepping into a leadership role
‘I definitely felt a lot of fear about taking on a bigger role’ says Kerstin. ‘But I reminded myself that this is how you grow; when you’re presented with new challenges and you accept them, you evolve and get better.’
On putting in the work… ‘You also have to remind yourself that with new responsibility, comes the necessity to put in more hours. You have to put in the work if you want to succeed’ adds Kerstin.
‘I had to face many of my fears, when stepping into a leadership role’ says Mariya. ‘I didn’t know if I was good in resolving conflicts, good in decision making or if I was any good at managing other people, and this was a really big issue I had to deal with. I was also worried about keeping a good work/life balance, since my new responsibilities would take up more of my time.’
How she reached a solution… ‘I had to remind myself that taking on more responsibility is how you make things interesting for yourself and also how you grow’ Mariya says. ‘And when it comes to managing people, it turns out I am a good fit for it, but I only found that out by having a go at it. So I say, if you’re considering whether or not you’re up for the job; have a go at it and accept the position and if you don’t like it, you can always move on to something else.’
On the role of networking to their success
‘Having worked in both the corporate and the startup world, I can safely say that networking played a huge part in my success in both environments’ says Mariya.
‘When I was new to the corporate world, what helped me was to meet key people and to learn who to ask questions to. Also, knowing the organisation in quite some depth has helped me immensely. Because I knew in-depth what the processes were at my company and who was responsible for what, I got put in charge of other, more important projects’ she adds.
On the importance of attending events… ‘When I moved on to the startup environment, it was important for me to attend many in-person conferences and events’ Mariya says. ‘I got really involved and that helped me massively to progress quickly and to meet the right people.’
Mariya adds: ‘My advice to you is to also go to as many conferences as possible and once you’re there, to really be present. Find out who the influential people are in your industry and strike up a conversation with them. Then, always follow up on social media afterwards.’
An important maxim to remember… ‘I’ve learnt a saying that is huge in the startup world, and I’ll say repeat here because its really helped me: first you have to give, give, give (to your network and your community), then (and only then) - you can ask for help you need’ Mariya says.
Kerstin's take on networking... ‘It's is a crucial part of the job. The first thing I do once I'm in a new job, is to not only get to know people and learn who to go to for help, but also to make sure that people know who I am, what my role is, and that they can come to me for help as well. It’s about making an impression that sticks in people’s minds.’
Some tips on networking effectively
‘It’s about quality over quantity’ says Kerstin. ‘Knowing a few key people you can count on in your company, but also outside, is essential.’
How to do away with excuses... ‘It’s all about being proactive and going to as many conferences and events as possible. Throw any excuses out of the window for why you might not want to attend, like: it’s raining outside, you don’t really feel like it, etc.’ Kerstin advises.
‘Also, look for people with different backgrounds to yours that you can bounce off ideas with. Don’t be shy; ask questions about any problems you might be facing. And, most importantly: do not treat people as a one-time solution. Be there for them when they need help, too' Kerstin adds.
Mariya’s shares her insights... ‘I’ve always been a fan of the personal touch. The impressions I’ve made on people when I’ve arranged to meet them in person for a drink instead of just meeting on social media, have really stood the test of time. The connections you make in person, although more time consuming, are really important.’
On the importance of mentors to their careers
‘I’ve always tried to be in the company of other people who I could learn from’ Mariya says. ‘I’ve sought out people at the conferences I’ve attended, and it has helped not to be shy and to share with them what my career plans were.’
She adds: ‘In the corporate environment I was in before, the concept of mentors wasn’t really as prevalent, but I’m glad this is changing now. I’m hugely thankful to be working in the startup scene now, where the role of connection and mentoring is really valued.’
Kerstin's take on mentors... ‘For me, much like Mariya’s experience, the concept of mentors wasn't really widespread within my company when I started out. But, what helped me was to reach out to people outside of my company to seek advice from’.
'Also, voicing my concerns out loud and asking questions has been really valuable. At various points throughout our careers, we’ll come across similar obstacles to other people; so, it’s helpful to ask them how they have overcome them and to learn from them’ she says.
On the importance of female role models... ‘It has also been hugely inspirational to look up to other women in senior positions within my company; to look to what they have achieved to inspire me’ Kerstin adds. ‘It instils in me a sense of hope and drive. I think often; ‘If they can, so can I’ and that has been a huge motivator for me’.
Finding the right role model to accelerate your career
One of the best investments you can make for yourself and for your career is to find the right mentor. Having a structured program that helps to keep you accountable, can mean the difference between success and failure.
Interested to learn how? Find out more about how to take part in our global mentoring program for future female leaders and get paired with one of 150+ industry leaders world-wide.