6 Things I Wish I’d Known My First Year in the Profession

Journal of Financial Planning: February 2020



Jon Luskin, CFP®, is a fee-only planner and pledged fiduciary at the independent financial planning firm, Define Financial. He was named to InvestmentNews 40 Under 40 list in 2017.

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When it comes to advice for new financial planners, read Michael Kitces’s “10 Tips for New Financial Planners to Maximize Career Progression,”1 if you haven’t already. I won’t repeat the points he made; instead, I’ll share a few things I wish I knew when I first got into the financial planning profession.

Be Prepared for a Change in the Job Description

As I shared on the “You’re a Financial Planner; Now What?” podcast, it’s often the case that the actual duties of a job differ from the job description.2 This was the case for the first three financial planning firms I worked for. Many of those unmentioned duties included administrative work and certain client services. Said again: the job posting may offer a very poor indication of what you’ll be asked to do, especially if you’re looking at an entry-level position.

Here’s one way to control what you do all day: Let’s say your job duties end up different from the job description. You could make the case that your new employment sucks. After all, this isn’t what you signed up for. What’s the solution to this “false advertising?” Talk to your boss? Good luck with that—there’s work to be done! If you’re the new hire, you’re probably going to be the one to do it.

My suggestion? Just hold the line. On a long enough timeline, you’ll gain sufficient experience to create more marketability for yourself and specificity in your skills so you can move up and on to better opportunities.

Some Veteran Planners May Not Practice Evidence-Based Investing

Take this with a grain of salt: veteran planners often do not embrace evidence-based investing. Sure, I’m making a gross generalization here, but it is based on my experience. In a good chunk of my career, I’ve witnessed evidence-based investing take a back seat to anything else that sounded more interesting or sexy at the time.

Sometimes those sexy things manifest as random and unfounded stock picks. Other times, it’s sector exclusions, because “now is the time to get out of small caps.” And sometimes, it’s a structured note designed to be a good deal only for the bank selling the offering.

Eventually, you learn to recognize planners who are effectively gambling their client’s funds based on a “coolness factor.”

Fee-Only Fiduciary or Bust

In his “10 Tips” article, Michael Kitces suggests taking any job as your first job in financial planning. I disagree.

I want you to run screaming from any job with a firm that isn’t both fee-only and a fiduciary. (Ideally, find a firm that practices evidence-based investing, too.)

To be clear, there’s no guarantee that even with these features you will find an amazing job experience. However, going in this direction, you are more likely to develop the skills you need to help people as a real financial planner, rather than as a commission-based salesman of not-so-great financial vehicles.

You’ll Perform Better If You Enjoy Your Role

Any successful person will tell you that finding the right employment fit is not easy, but it’s so important. Here’s why: you’ll do better at something you love. When we work hard for something we don’t care for, it creates stress and unhappiness. But when we work hard for something we love and believe in, it drives passion, creativity, and satisfaction. With better performance should come greater compensation, and then it’s a win all around.

Go to FPA NexGen Gathering

Joining a group of young professionals who are dealing with the very same issues you are is critical. That’s what the FPA NexGen community offers. Don’t skip NexGen’s annual conference—NexGen Gathering—either (FPAgathering.org​). This year it’s June 21–24 in Las Vegas. If I could only go to one conference a year, it would be FPA NexGen Gathering.

Financial Flexibility Is Career Flexibility

This last piece of advice is for any career, in any industry or profession, and for any person trying to find meaning and satisfaction in their work: save more; spend less.3 Following this simple approach to your personal finances will allow you to enjoy greater flexibility in your life.

Let’s talk about how leveraging moderate spending can give your career a boost. What do your personal finances and your career have in common? Everything.

Consider this: you’re presented with an amazing job opportunity. In this job, you’ll have the autonomy to do things that have always been important to you. Maybe that means attending marketing seminars, writing for the company blog, or having the time to research the next great stock pick. You’ll get to grow your skills, learn from the best, and finally focus on what you enjoy.

Sounds great, so what’s the catch? Well, the job doesn’t pay much. Do you (can you) take the job? It depends.

Have you set yourself up for financial flexibility? Have you built a comfortable financial cushion that will allow you to experiment with a temporarily lower salary if it means being able to invest in yourself and your future career? Or, have you let your earnings dictate your spending? Have you saved only the minimum recommended by your Aunt Sally and spent every other dollar as if it was pocket money? The more you have an oversized mortgage, giant property tax bills, massive utility bills, a big car loan, etc., the less likely you will be able to afford such a career move.

But, what if you had made the decision to keep your lifestyle inflation in check? What if you drove a 10-year-old Honda Civic and rented a studio apartment that you shared with your partner? With tiny living expenses and a big cash cushion as a result of living below your means, you can do whatever you want.

Leveraging moderate spending allows you to consider the long game: opportunities that pay back tenfold in the long run because you’re investing in yourself. That can mean taking the job that gives you freedom to focus on what you enjoy—or heck, maybe building your own business. Financial flexibility means career flexibility.

Focus on the Right Opportunity Versus Immediate Gratification

Simon Sinek argues that millennials—who are accustomed to immediate gratification—are flailing at both relationships and employment.4These are two things that can’t be ordered the night before and delivered the next day via Amazon Prime.

While I understand that it’s difficult to find the “right” opportunity” as a new and green financial planner, I believe considering the advice shared here can help you filter through the weeds.


  1. ​Access Kitces’s article at kitces.com/blog/10-tips-for-new-financial-planners-to-maximize-career-progression.
  2. Listen to the podcast episode at FPAactivate.org/cost-matters.
  3. See jonluskin.com/spend-less-save-more for more on this topic.
  4. Watch Simon Sinek’s talk, “On Millennials in the Workplace,” at youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU.

This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of the Next Generation Planner, FPA’s publication for new planners.

General Financial Planning Principles
Career stage
Learning / Aspiring