Career-Changers: 5 Tips to Find Success in Financial Planning

It can feel lonely to be a career-changer in financial planning. So much content is geared toward recent grads just starting their careers that it’s easy to feel like an outsider looking in. But the reality is that the profession is facing a shortfall of qualified job candidates, and hiring firms need the help of career-changers to serve their clients. Career-changers bring life and work experience that make them valuable assets for firms looking to add diverse skills to their team.

Here are five tips for career-changers looking for opportunities in financial planning:

Get Your Planning Skills Up to Speed

It sounds painfully obvious, but your first job as a career-changer is ensuring you can do the job you’re aiming for. This starts with the CFP® certification process and may also include the Series 65 exam. If your undergraduate degree was not in finance, you’ll need to take an approved coursework program to prepare for the CFP® exam (search on cfp.net​ for approved programs). Get started on the classes as soon as you can—they are a significant commitment on top of your day job.

In response to being asked if he went to film school, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino once said, “No, I went to films.” In a similar way, career-changers should immerse themselves in as many learning opportunities as possible. For example, FPA membership includes access to webinars, conferences, online peer-to-peer learning, and more. Make time for these sessions in your schedule to gain a deeper understanding of the issues impacting planners in their day-to-day work.

Identify Your Existing Transferable Skills

I’ve learned that the ranks of financial planners include former teachers, engineers, firefighters, and many other fields. No matter what your experience, you have transferable skills that can help you as a financial planner. I’ve identified three main categories of skills that may be especially appealing to hiring managers:

  1. Problem-solving experience. Clients come to us with problems and need solutions. Enough said.
  2. Counseling/psychology knowledge. Planning expertise is critical, but it must be leavened with the ability to understand our clients’ motivations and administer advice in a format that will be heard and implemented.
  3. Financial industry knowledge. Any existing experience in finance—whether in sales or compliance—is going to make a transition to an advisory role smoother.

Having the skills is a good start, but knowing exactly what you’re best at—and communicating it effectively—will bring your skills to life. It may be helpful for you to connect with a career/messaging coach to refine your message to prospective employers.

At the 2019 FPA Annual Conference in Minneapolis, I connected with two coaches from the FPA Coaches Corner; business psychology and productivity coach Barbara Kay, and marketing consultant Adam Kornegay. Kay walked me through the “why” of my career change, helping me understand my motivations for what I was trying to accomplish. Kornegay helped me package my value proposition, explaining how my career experience as a financial writer could help me translate complex financial topics for clients.

Voraciously Consume Financial Planning Content

We’re fortunate to work in a profession with dedicated media options. In addition to mainstream financial media (The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, etc.), many trade outlets and podcasts exist to educate financial planners on their craft. There’s the podcast dedicated to next-generation planners, “You’re a Financial Planner Now What?” (FPAactivate.org/yafpnw), adviser-content king Michael Kitces’s blog and podcasts (kitces.com), and countless podcasts produced by individual advisers (“The Elite Advisor Blueprint” by Brad Johnson and “Between Now and Success” by Steve Sanduski are two of my favorites; you can find them both at podcasts.apple.com).

Surrounding yourself with this content can be a powerful exercise. You’ll learn the language, gain knowledge on the challenges and opportunities facing planners today, and get a feel for where you stand on key issues. You’ll become a stronger job candidate, because it will be clear to interviewers that you know the profession. Think of it as your own private apprenticeship in financial planning.

Network and Relentlessly Try to Add Value

It’s important to remember that no one owes you their time; take every opportunity you can to add value for them. For instance, if you’re a blogger and you attend a networking event, do a write-up on the speaker and promote the post on your social media account. Volunteer your time for local pro bono financial planning work. People will remember that you added value during their contact with you, and they’ll be more inclined to lend a hand if the opportunity arises down the road.

You never know when you’ll be talking with someone who is looking to hire a new planner or knows someone who is. Professional organizations like FPA and NAPFA (the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, napfa.org) offer you the chance to meet with financial planning professionals and build your network. Seek mentors, either through formal programs like FPA’s Mentor Match or CFP Board’s mento​r program, or by setting up informal meetings with planners in your area. I’ve found financial planning to be a collegial profession, and I’ve had great experiences just setting up coffee with local CFP® practitioners to talk shop.

Be Humble and Patient

Even though you may be in the middle of your career and earning a substantial salary, you may need to start over in order to get where you’re trying to go. That could mean taking an entry-level role at a planning firm along with a significant step down in income in the near term.

Think about the big picture when you’re evaluating career opportunities. Instead of focusing on how much you’ll make at your first planning job, focus on the experience you can gain in this role and the opportunities it could lead to down the road.

Jason Policastro is a financial planning profession career-changer. He’s a senior digital writer at T. Rowe Price, a CFP® certificate candidate, and an active member of FPA of Maryland.