At the close of another semester, it’s a great time to look forward to see what you can do to go from average student next door (that’s a thing right?) to superstar candidate for those upcoming internship and job interviews.
 
Whether you’re just starting out in a financial planning program, or almost at the finish line, these tips are sure to give you a big boost going into recruiting season.

1. Make a plan – The first step is the easiest. It’s time to practice what you preach and make a plan. Instead of vague goals like “Get my dream job” or “Work in a financial planning firm”, recall the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely) from those early CFP classes. So try something like “Have 2 informational phone calls a month”, “interview with 3 firms for internships by May” etc.

2. Volunteer – Now I know we all want paid internships and the best jobs, but remember that life experience is one of the most important assets you can possess. If you get a chance to volunteer your time for a financial planning cause, that is fantastic. But even if you don’t, just volunteer for a cause you care about. I remember when I got my first job out of school I was volunteering for a local dog rescue and was invited by the founder to her Christmas party. Walking into a room of strangers who were easily twice my age wasn’t something on my bucket list that year, but it made me feel so much comfortable going into new client meetings at work!

3. Network – This seems obvious, but most of us don’t do it. And no, I don’t mean sending random planners LinkedIn invites. I mean really make an effort at networking. And it doesn’t have to be in financial planning either. Personally, one of the most fun networking events I went to was an entrepreneurs social – I was in a room full of inventors, web designers, tradesmen and it was really cool to see what people outside the financial planning world were doing. Plus, it’s great practice for those career day events hosted by your school or your local FPA Chapter.

4. Go to conferences – For a lot of students, this seems really daunting, but I promise you it’s really not as bad as you think. The good thing about most conferences is that despite our well connected and seemingly small industry, there’s easily more than 300-500 people at even the small events. So even if you make a small mistake, chances are the other person won’t think much of it or better yet, give you feedback!

Just remember to be yourself and act as an extension of the program you’re representing.

5. Know the big names – When you go to more conferences, you’re almost certain to see some of the biggest names in our industry. It’s also very likely that someone will bring them up and you don’t want to look like a deer in the headlights. Think of it this way, would you go to your local pro team’s games without knowing the star players?

6. Read more – Between the CFP coursework and the papers you write in school, reading more is the last thing you want to do. I get it. But, our industry is still relatively new, and there’s new things happening every day. Whether it’s books, journals, websites or hey even audiobooks and podcasts, reading (or listening) more is the best way to see how the academic concepts you learn apply in the real world. And trust me when I tell you, they’re even more fun in practice.

7. Build an online presence – One of the best things you can do is set yourself apart from the competition by having a strong online presence. I don’t just mean create a LinkedIn account and forget about it except a month before you graduate, but you know that “About me” section every social media site has? Use it as a platform to tell your story, you never know who it may resonate with it. Join Twitter and use it as your personal news feed to keep up with Michael Kitces’ latest writing, follow other planners and see what they’re saying on the web. Join Facebook groups like FPA Activate. Even being a fly on the wall will help you learn so much outside your traditional academic materials because you’ll get to see other planners interact. It’s like the National Geographic of financial planning.

8. Try different things – Financial planners come from all different backgrounds, so don’t be afraid to try different things. While it’s tempting to take the prestigious internship in your hometown, but maybe go work for someone in a different state. Spend a summer abroad and meet financial planners in a new country. Try blogging or vlogging or writing a book. You never know what you may learn from it.

9. Be a part of a study group – Just like reading more, I know the last thing you want to do is study financial planning outside the classroom. But hear me out here; instead of getting together with the usual suspects that you see every weekend, try reaching out to students from different schools, or even consider asking the advisor you look up to from your internship and see if they would let you listen in on their study group’s phone call just once. If you get a lot of rejections because the advisors you know don’t have a study group, it sounds to me like you just found the perfect opportunity to create one.

Now I know I said to network more, but I don’t recommend a cold approach to this. If you have no relationship with the person, it may take some time before they’d want to vouch for you or trust you. Don’t be discouraged and keep your eyes and ears open.

10. Find a mentor – Last, but not the least, finding a mentor can take you zero to sixty in no time at all. Ask them questions about their career, where do they see the industry going, what advice they would give a young planner, what books they recommend you read and what they think of your ideas and plans. Having someone who has experience and wants to pass on their wisdom will certainly have a lasting impact on your career. There are various mentor match programs out there such as the CFP board’s Women’s initiative, FPA’s mentor match, NAPFA’s Mentor Engage in addition to any programs your school may offer.

Hopefully, these 10 steps will help you maximize momentum to meet your academic and career goals in 2018. And if it feels like baby steps that don’t immediately yield result, remember Mahatma Gandhi’s wise words, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Play the long game.

 

Aashwin Sachdev