Are you thinking about becoming a financial advisor? This fast-growing, lucrative field needs people who understand financial markets and can talk with clients to communicate complex ideas. You'll also need the right undergraduate coursework to land an entry-level role. Here's your guide to launching your financial advisor career.
1. Understand the requirements for financial advisor positions
A bachelor’s degree is an essential part of the financial advisor education requirements. Many in the field earn degrees in business, economics, accounting or finance.
Taylor Wootton, a Charleston, SC-based advisor in Morgan Stanley's Global Wealth Management department, says his undergraduate course in intermediate investments laid a strong foundation for his future career. But, he says, his communications and marketing classes had just as much impact.
"You need to be able to distill complex financial concepts into clients in simple terms, on how it impacts their overall financial plan," says Wootton. "You also need to be able to convey your value and process to show how you are unique to others within the industry."
Here are some other important financial advisor skills:
- Communicating and presenting persuasively
- Managing time and staying organized
- Understanding financial markets and products
If you've read through any financial advisor job descriptions, you've likely seen many of these qualities included.
2. Focus on people
"I advise business owners and executives on all aspects of their balance sheet, including investments, lending, cash management and trust and estate planning strategies," Wootton explains. "I fell in love with the role right from the start. That's not to say it's not difficult or that I don't have my bad days, but I wanted a role that was client-facing and intimately involved with financial markets."
Wootton has an additional list of soft skills he thinks are necessary for financial advisor jobs:
- Be a self-starter
- Be willing to get out of your comfort zone
- Be willing to have difficult conversations
- Don't get easily discouraged when someone tells you no
- Be intellectually curious
- Always stay abreast of financial markets and current events to know how they will impact client portfolios
Marketing yourself and your services might be the most important aspect of being a financial advisor. To succeed in the field, you'll need to build a strong base of clients, which means being able to network and close the deal. Being friendly and kind helps too.
"I get to meet many interesting people and have one of the most personal conversations one can have about their goals and objectives for their wealth, and how that impacts the people closest to them," says Wootton.
3. Build your network
Wootton's best advice for those looking to become a financial advisor is to network with those within the industry. Don't rush into any specific role.
Create a LinkedIn profile if you don't already have one, and connect with your peers, former supervisors, professors and other professional contacts. Update your resume and perfect your elevator pitch: a few quick sentences about your background and dream job. (Writing a couple of cover letters can be a helpful way to distill down what you want to do and why you're qualified.)
Your school's career center or alumni network can also help you connect to more people in the field. For additional networking opportunities, consider joining professional organizations such as:
- CFA Society, which boasts 150,000 members in 165 countries and regularly connects colleagues at local and regional meetings.
- National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), which offers professional development, webinars and an annual conference that provides members with valuable personal interaction.
- Certified Financial Planners, which provides certifications, a set of ethical guidelines and a robust job board.
- National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), whose members gain access to professional development, industry insights and the web-based membership forum.
4. Take the Securities Industry Essentials exam
To bolster your application, consider taking the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam, an introductory level test that shows you are a qualified candidate who is knowledgeable about the securities industry and understands fundamental concepts. The SIE is administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). You will eventually be required to obtain a financial advisor license, but the SIE is an excellent way to show that you are motivated to succeed.
Once you have the test under your belt, Wootton suggests looking for a junior partner or client service associate role for a good entry-level position.
"The best role would be a junior partner on a high-performing team that has a dedicated investment process," he says. "This way you can learn from their experience and have help when trying to win new business."
5. Fine-tune your application
When you start applying for positions, be sure to highlight your communication skills by writing the best cover letter and resume you can. In today's job market, it's essential to have a polished application, with a custom resume, for each job.
Use LinkedIn, your school's career center or your alumni association to find or make connections at the places you are applying. They might be able to tell you more about the position and the company culture. If you impress them, they may even offer to pass your resume along to the hiring manager. These connections can be invaluable during your job search, so make a point to reach out.