I need a job: simple problem. No simple solution, I’ve been surprised to find.
It has become an all too familiar process. I find a job request. I begin by reading the description; it sounds like the perfect job. I read the education and certification requirements; I meet and often surpass them. Finally, I read the experience requirements: game over.
To my great disappointment, I am afraid I have obtained a graduate degree only to find myself still swimming in the same pool of applicants as when I completed college the first time. I haven’t given up, but there are a few things that I have observed.
In my search over these past few months, it has become pretty obvious that there seems to be a gap between the job that I have been equipping myself for and what I am actually being offered. As a person soon to be holding a degree in financial planning, I am ready to hit the ground running. However, I feel like I am being disqualified as a runner, but only because it is my first race. Little attention is given to how much time and effort I have spent in training. No one is willing to look beyond the fact that I have never formally raced.
As an applicant, it appears to me that the industry’s definition of “experience” is hard to overcome. I would propose that what my classmates and I lack in “industry experience,” we make up for by way of “experiential learning.”
Car manufacturers test their latest models in a controlled environment before they are given the OK to be manufactured and driven on the real road. We as financial planning students have been testing and polishing our skills within the confines of the educational institution where we have spent the last few years.
There are various ways for students to apply their studies in an environment where the stakes are still low. Take Red to Black, for example. This student organization on the campus of Texas Tech University allows financial planning students the opportunity to meet one-on-one with individuals to provide financial planning and counseling. This experience is deemed worthy of earning CFP experience credit. As a result, many volunteers finish their degree with numerous hours of experience and are more than ready to sit in front of a client. Imagine their surprise to find that an employer deems them not ready to do so.
In addition, many students are also required to complete professional practices classes, again giving them one-on-one experience with the general public and grooming them for more formal internships. Most of these students also walk away with a greater understanding of the value of pro bono work within the local community.
Granted, none of these opportunities may be ranked on an equal level as industry experience. However, I do not think that they should be overlooked. Our resumes can only say so much, but these experiences hold great stories of lessons learned and classroom knowledge coming to life.
There seems to be much discussion about how much the industry is changing. Tax laws, fiduciary standards, investment product regulations: All of these things change. As financial planning students, we are well aware of this. The information contained in the textbooks we used only last year is already out of date.
Here lies another value of a newly-graduated student. These changes are the foundation of our education. Much time is spent talking about them, both how they affect the continuity of a firm and clients’ individual needs. Moreover, educational institutions are often the birthplace of new ideas and practices that solve problems in the real world.
Stuck on a complex issue? Ask a recent graduate. He or she just might hold the answer.
The Value Factor
In my MBA classes, we spent countless hours talking about how to add value to a firm. There are two things that I learned about value. First, value is the unique piece your firm provides to clients that the firm across the street does not. Second, value is not always measured in dollar signs, but it can do much to increase your competitiveness.
It is essential for firms to know what value they are providing to their clients, the icing-on-the-cake element that sets them apart. In recruiting new hires, your value component should be at the forefront of the discussion. Explain your firm’s value and ask a candidate what skills he or she has to add to it, or better yet improve it.
I would love to be asked this question in the interview process. This type of discussion shows that the firm has a vision and is seeking someone who will help bring about growth in that direction. As a financial planning student, I am looking for a job that will turn into a career. This type of questioning is a positive sign that the firm will provide the opportunity for such.