It has been two very short years since I was a financial planning graduate student given the charge to write about the trials and triumphs of the job hunt. At the time, anything was more exciting than finishing my graduate capstone project. I was delighted to have the opportunity to be the voice of a person standing outside the door of the industry trying desperately to get inside. Now inside, there are a few things I have observed as a very small cog in a very large wheel.
After a few long months of waiting, I took my first job at TrustCore, an independent, privately-owned firm. What attracted me to them was their model of hiring people to a career, not just to fill an immediate open position. My job offer, for example, presented a path not so narrow that I felt constricted, but not so open that it lacked clear goals to work toward.
Most of the staff here work in different departments. I like to think of them as launch pads. Each one is large enough to give people the ability to specialize, but also open enough to provide them the opportunity to become full-time planners. I work alongside a good mix of people, some honing a specific skill set and others working toward building their own book of business. Many of our current planners are former staff members, so the launching process works and is repeatable.
I took on the role of research assistant in the investment research department. Admit it or not, investment planning can be the part of a planner’s practice that has the most influence on his or her success. Often, it is the first place clients look to judge whether or not their expectations have been met. I knew it would make sense for me in the long run to cut my teeth on one of the most difficult pieces of the financial planning pie.
After week one on the job, I felt like I had been buried under a pile of pie charts and ticker symbols. The amount of information you can elect to receive daily in your inbox is inconceivable to me, but I would not trade my front row seat watching events in the investment world unfold for anything.
Learning to Talk the Talk
Every industry has its jargon, and financial planning is no exception. The process of learning my job was like a language immersion program: slow and grueling with remarkable results. If you have ever studied a foreign language, you know that completely immersing yourself in it is one of the most difficult ways to learn, but it is also undoubtedly the fastest path to improvement.
The first few months on the job, I felt like I did not understand a word. It seemed for a while that my level of comprehension in really technical meetings was limited to interpreting the body language and facial expressions of other participants. Time passed, and I began to understand nearly every word that was being spoken, but I was not able to participate in the discussion yet. Then came the long-awaited day when I structured my first sentence. It may have been a little choppy, but I made a contribution to the conversation nonetheless. I would like to think I am approaching fluency, but there is always more to learn.
Getting Up to Speed
The biggest surprise in my experience so far was how long it took me to get up to speed so that I could operate independently and take on a measurable amount of the workload. At the start, I was under the ambitious assumption that after a few practice laps, I would be on task and driving at record speeds. When the end of the short amount of time I thought I would need for on-the-job training rolled around, I was still a passenger in the pace car. My expectations were forced to become a little more realistic. Every month that went by, I could go a little faster because I knew a little more about the process. It was an exciting day when I was able to start driving on my own and creating real output.
The Great Divide
In my transition from school to the workplace, I have observed that a real divide exists between those who identify themselves as members of academia and those who are “real world” practitioners. Practitioners say academics sit in ivory towers and are out of touch with the day-to-day operations of a planning practice. Academics argue that practitioners cannot see the forest for the trees.