Young advisors don't have to wait for gray hair to gain credibility. (Illustration: Ikon Images/Corbis)

My career in financial planning began almost a decade ago. I was eager to earn credibility in the profession and a bit nervous about how to do so, especially as a young advisor working with colleagues and clients one or two generations my senior.

Since that time, I have heard countless conversations about how to build trust and gain credibility without any “gray hair” to help. Yes, relationships take time to develop; that is true regardless of whether young advisors are working with their peers or with retirees. However, age does not have to be a factor in what that timeline looks like. From my own experience, as well as thoughts from other NexGen advisors, here are some steps to make age nothing more than a number.

Know your stuff. Many young advisors have a distinct advantage when entering the profession—technical competence. Financial planning education has come a long way from what existed when our industry pioneers started their careers. Advisors coming out of university programs do not need to be trained on the basics of investments, retirement, tax or estate planning. A degree in financial planning (from Texas Tech University) enabled me to hit the ground running when I entered the profession.

The ability to demonstrate technical competence and the opportunity to share the rigor of education with clients is one step toward proving yourself worthy of their trust. The ability to use that knowledge to educate the client is another step. Further, meaningful designations, such as the Certified Financial Planner credential, help prove that you do, in fact, know your stuff. My firm communicates to clients the importance of such credentials and explains the process of attaining them to clients.

Act the part. You may know you are capable and competent, but the ability to demonstrate that through everyday actions is of paramount importance. Work hard to deliver on promises and exceed expectations. Own your mistakes and work diligently to fix them. Consider the whole package. Professionalism is really in the eye of the beholder, so read your audience. Do you communicate appropriately? Speak confidently and write professionally. Address clients as formally or informally as they expect. What about your attire? Not every audience equates a suit and tie with competence, but some do.

Show initiative. This one is big for me. Making an effort to take on additional responsibility or to proactively serve a client will have a big impact on the reputation you build. However, recognizing when to ask for more and when to let the career path take you there can be challenging. Know your strengths and identify how you can contribute—both to the business and to client relationships. Then, humbly ask for the opportunity.

I began helping facilitate our client advisory board because I was willing to put some of my prior (non-financial planning) work experience to use behind the scenes. Earning credibility with mentors, supervisors and owners is important and will extend to clients eventually.

Leverage Your Resources. As colleagues and peers begin to rely on your expertise and contributions, they quickly become your greatest resources. One of our advisory board clients coined the term “borrowed trust.” Because our clients trust their advisors, they have confidence in hiring decisions and are willing to extend that trust throughout the team. Just be careful not to break it because trust takes time to rebuild. I strongly believe that those senior colleagues in my firm have the potential to be my greatest centers of influence—within the existing client base, within our community and within the profession. Earning their trust and turning them into my biggest champions has significantly influenced my ability to earn credibility with others.

I hope all young advisors find a place in a firm that understands and appreciates the significance of educational training and meaningful certifications. We should all be fortunate to have mentors who encourage us and enable us to “act the part” while giving us latitude to show initiative and contribute in meaningful ways. We should all have trusted resources to sing our praises and push us to be better. As our generation builds trust and credibility with clients and colleagues, we not only position ourselves for fulfilling careers, but we enable this generation to have a role in the evolution and growth of the profession.