This previously published article is part of 12 Days of Wealth Management: The Year in Review.

Financial planning firms are constantly under pressure to do more with less to keep up with client demands, industry developments, and economic circumstances. This requires top performance from everyone in the firm especially new hires, but this can be difficult due to the combination of unclear expectations, lack of structured training, and limited formal mentoring.

When this happens the relationship is strained, leaving the employee confused and employer frustrated. To help alleviate some of this tension, new planners should be aware of these commonly cited irks by firm owners and take the necessary steps to avoid them.

1. Lack of Initiative

Once you walk across the stage to receive your diploma, say goodbye to the days of rote memorization, regurgitation, and being spoon-fed all information needed for problem solving.  Firm owners become easily frustrated with new employees who cannot think critically and develop and defend a solution. I often get asked why new college grads wait for their employers to tell them exactly what to do. Among other things, I tell employers that it likely stems from the fact that you are afraid to make a mistake, probably because you haven’t been given the proper training.  An informal poll of some of my clients affirmed that most firm owners would prefer you ‘take a swing’ and miss versus not taking a swing at all.

Takeaway: A good manager will set up situations for you to take a swing that won’t adversely impact the firm if you strike out. However, not everyone is a good manager and in these instances try asking your firm owner, “Do I have your permission to fully run with this? If so, here is the direction I was thinking about, do you have any other suggestions?”

2. Unclear Passion

Firm owners want to see tangible signs that you are truly committed to the financial planning profession and not merely trying it out on their dime because it looks fun. Realize financial planning is a difficult career; you will experience hardship(s) at some point during your career.  Employers are looking for candidates and employees who will overcome and learn from these hardships and not let them keep you from what you love. There is a clear differentiation between employees who work in financial planning to enable them to live versus employees who are passionate about doing financial planning.

Takeaway: Passion for your vocation cannot be taught – you either have it or you don’t.  You shouldn’t spend your life doing something you are just lukewarm about. Get involved in professional associations and community organizations that further your career and promote causes you are passionate about. 

3. Poor Attitude

A degree in financial planning along with passing the CFP examination doesn’t mean you will be a successful financial planner. These are merely starting points for a long journey to becoming a competent practitioner. When you go work for someone else, no matter what your title, you are the “low person on the totem pole.”  Keep a positive attitude, respect other team members who might not have your credentials, learn, and contribute as much as you can.  Also, remember that firm owners have feelings too and started where you started. They want to be valued just like you want to be valued.  If they do something you appreciate, let them know!

Takeaway: Poor attitudes are fueled by egos that stoke the fires of outright arrogance which is detrimental to any team. Remember that you do not know everything, check your ego. One day when it is your company (after many years of hard work), you can do it exactly how you want to.

4.Repeating Mistakes 

Due to the limited time that firm owners think they can devote to employee training and development, they may only be able to show you how to do something once or twice.  This may be your only opportunity to learn so take copious notes, ask questions, create screen shots, and practice a few times on your own if able. Understand that you will probably have limited time with your firm owner and you should strive to maximize it by asking as many questions as it takes for you to be clear on their expectations before telling them you understand. Keep a list of questions to go over during your specified meeting times. Refrain from asking dozens of one off questions throughout the day creating unnecessary interruptions.

Takeaway: Avoid taking short cuts and trying to do it ‘your way’ until you have mastered their way. It is helpful to remember you were hired to take the pressure off of the firm owner and existing staff to make their lives easier not more difficult. The last thing you want to do is to create more work and stress.

5. Thinking Like an Employee

Successful employees have a “think like an owner” mentality from day one. Employees are focused on getting THEIR work done; owners are focused on getting THE work done. To get to that point, ponder how what you are doing affects the client, process, or firm overall instead of exclusively focusing on getting tasks crossed off of your list. This also means owning up to mistakes you have made or think you have made. Lofty expectations aside, firm owners understand mistakes will happen so the best thing you can do is own up to them. Do not wait until the last minute to let someone know that you have not completed a project and will miss the deadline. Don’t be prideful and/or nervous to let your supervisor know you cannot get something done. Consider asking them what their top priority is if you struggle to prioritize long task lists. Asking these kinds of questions will give you a baseline expectation.

Takeaway: Take responsibility for projects and complete your work as if it is the final, client-ready version. Do not assume that someone else will be doing a final review to catch errors. When a project or plan gets to your firm owner’s desk, there should be very few adjustments required. Once you are able to do this, you are bringing a significant asset to the firm by freeing up their time.

Remember no matter how poorly you think your boss communicates and manages, keep a positive attitude; take initiative by thinking like an owner. If you do these things, your passion will show and you might be surprised how receptive your boss will be. 

Caleb Brown is the chairman of FPA NexGen and a partner in New Planner Recruiting, a recruiting firm that places financial planners in financial planning firms nationwide. 

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