A grounding in figures can really add up, writes Ellie Levenson

For young people wondering about a career in finance, there is a lot to be confused about. Job titles that occur nowhere else, few set career paths and a vague feeling that once you enter the field, either the money or the specialised skills acquired will stop you ever leaving. However, this isn't necessarily the case. Careers in finance can give people a whole raft of skills that fall under the general heading of commercial awareness that can lead to all kinds of other things, and careers advisers should emphasise these when suggesting it as a possible career option.

Hazel Clapham, for example, worked in finance before deciding she would like to set up her own business. Her route into finance was an unexpected one, as both her BA and MA are in philosophy, although this is not unusual as financial institutions do tend to recruit the best graduates from all disciplines. Clapham's first job was working for a research team for Initiative Europe, a provider of specialist information on private equity and venture capital markets. "After a year, I was made manager of a team of seven analysts. We were producing data systems, reports and analysis within the private equity space. After a year or so, I helped my company launch a specialist advisory boutique." This project was so successful that Clapham has just gone into business with some colleagues, launching Arbor Square Associates to provide strategic consulting services to groups operating within the alternative assets industry.

Charlotte Moore, 35, also left her job in finance as an investment analyst to work for herself, though in her case as a freelance journalist. "I got my first job in the mid-Nineties as a graduate trainee at UBS. I also worked for West LB and Cazenove. I learned how financial markets work and got a good grounding in accounting from graduate trainee programs, reading, asking questions and some one-on-one training with a senior analyst. Training in investment banking is pretty unstructured and its up to you to teach yourself. My presentation skills were sharpened just from going out to see clients and present to them."

These skills have helped Moore in her work as a journalist: "As an investment analyst, I often had to react quickly to news and put out either a quick e-mail or talk to the salesforce about the implications for the company I covered. This is good training for web reporting as it is often about writing a story as quickly and as accurately as possible. My analysis skills are still useful because they help me spot the real story. Being an investment analyst is also good training for the attention to detail that is necessary for being a reporter."

Moore is the first to admit her career change was a bit unusual: "Going from investment analysis to journalism is an odd career progression. My financial skills have helped me in many ways. Although one of the key benefits is that I have such an unusual CV, people invariably want to talk to me."

Attention to detail is one of the key skills that Kerry Andrews, 28, feels will help her in her proposed career change. Working in operations for an investment bank, she plans a move into training and development, having entered a career in finance after a languages degree. She lists the skills she has gained as project management, communication, problem solving and analytical thinking, learning to be detailed orientated and being adaptable. "You have to be incredibly flexible in role within operations as you never know what a day will bring. In the future it allows you to be very open minded and experienced in dealing with change. Operations is also very control focused and though you have to be aware of the wider picture at all times, details count. My role requires me to be detail orientated as I often need to spot where things have gone wrong and then correct them and put controls in place to ensure issues do not recur."

Farrah Brown, 28, is assistant treasurer at Henderson Global Investors. Although she is not planning a career change, Brown feels she has developed transferable skills that would be useful in a variety of industries. "I've learned negotiating and influencing skills, interpersonal skills whereby I have learned to communicate with people of different levels, team working and problem solving skills."

Jo Forrest, 28, head of trading at a financial service company agrees that it is impossible to work in finance without learning how to handle relationships: "I work in an area of finance where our business is relationship based. Each party has their financial objective so one party wants to borrow a security for the cheapest rate and the other side to lend security at the highest rate. Each party always has their own clients on the other side. This means you need to negotiate to your financial advantage within the context that it is a repeated game and you need to establish a long term relationship with your counter party."

Forrest also lists politics as something she has had to develop: "I'm still learning this one but I think learning to 'play the game' is present in every job and it's important to learn how to deal with different people and situations."

Although Forrest is referring to office politics, party politics is also a potential career. The Labour Party candidate in a recent by-election in Bromley & Chislehurst, Kent, was a former economist for the Bank of England. If she had won then one thing is for sure - to counter the general mistrust of politicians she would have needed all the relationship, people management and communication skills possible, and it is likely her job in finance would have provided these.