6 Strategies for Career Changers

7 min read
October 13, 2016

If you’ve entered the US workforce in the 21st Century you are likely living a fundamentally different reality than the generation that came before you. It’s a reality that encourages dynamism, rewards differentiation and demands of you a scary amount of risk. It is no wonder that research shows the average millennial college graduate changes employers four times by the time they’re 32.

This is also a big reason why those of us who are “Career Changers” into financial planning are something rather special. Our peers are navigating these same choppy economic seas. They are eying professional risks to get and integrate the skills and perspective necessary for long-term success. As professionals that have lived to tell the tale, we can support and guide them from the groundedness of our own career transition.

Personally, I had never heard of a “financial planner” until well into my 30s (OK, so last year). I was not aware of anyone around me who had one and didn’t know that comprehensive financial planning was a job. Instead, I’d spent a third of my adult life abroad and all of my professional life working in NGOs (non-profit organizations), philanthropy and international higher education. My circles never really overlapped with the “finance people.” I had never heard of a BD, an RIA, or a CFP, let alone a PITA.

What I did have, however, was a clear understanding of how global macroeconomics underpinned my story, community, curiosities, passions and life’s work.

Different things can spur a major shift of professional course and my radical move was no exception. I was pregnant with my second child, a full-time working mother, with a spouse who was also working while pursuing a degree. I spent my “free time” musing about what to do for the next chapter of my career because the circumstances of my life in the previous decade would be clearly very different than those in the decades ahead of me.

As I ruminated about possible avenues to take next, eventually I honed in on what I’ve come to know about myself: I have a thirst for the big picture, I’m a practical idealist. Life has shown me both sides of the financial pendulum. And most importantly, I get infinite energy from helping others get their lives more aligned with their values and dreams.

In a flash, I thought: “Could I work directly with people, like my friends and colleagues, and their money? Was that… a thing?” And, so within a month I did my research and turns out, (spoiler alert), it is a thing. Within three months, and by the time my son was born, I had countless informational interviews with other CFPs (thank you guys!), and had finished the first two CFP courses in an online certification course.

If you are in the early stages of making the transition into becoming a fee-only, fiduciary, financial planner for the next generation of Americans, you may be looking for some guidance to help you light your own way. So far from my own journey, here are a few things to share:

Understand What You’re About to Step Into

Start out by doing your homework, because as my dad always says, “What’s the point of running if you’re on the wrong road?” It’s not only helpful to orient yourself, but also to be able to explain to future clients, where you sit within the Financial Services industry. I knew vaguely that “fee-only” was a good thing when looking for a financial advisor. I didn’t know that there were actually more structures of accountability and professionalism for some in this field, while others are operating more like the Wild West.

Does the American public understand that? No. Cultivate your voice to make that clearer. When I was wavering about my ability to fit into this field, the CFP Board’s white paper Making Room for Women in the Financial Planning Profession made me feel more welcome, as did the Board’s nascent efforts to help bring in more people of color and women into the profession. There is a very long way to go, and I want to be a part of helping to make that happen.

Another place to be a fly on the wall of the conversations shaping this field is in the XYPN Radio podcast. Really, it should be called “Inside the Financial Planners’ Studio” because it is truly a master class, with about 70 hours of insights to-date. So, how do you learn? Talk to people, follow conversations on social media, listen to podcasts, read. Figure out how you learn best, get a sense of your place in this field, and run with it.

Get the Technical Chops

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist” said Picasso about my approach to stepping into financial planning… So first of all, decide if you want to get the CFP Designation or not. The bigger your career change, the more it’s useful as an indispensable starting point. That was a primary reason for my decision. A bigger understanding of how the CFP holds you to a higher standard also impacted my choice. And while you are studying for your CFP, you will notice the parts of the work that draw or repel you.

Frankly, the CFP curriculum has some major gaping holes in it when it comes to working with people under the age of 50. Student Loan Debt Repayment, anyone? Think about what you know from your own experience. What do you want to know more about? How can you build your knowledge on those topics to form a valued expertise? Drawing on my career in NGOs and higher education, I found that I have an interest in learning more deeply about education funding strategies and socially responsible investing, for example.

Again, the XYPN Podcast is a great source for helping to spark ideas here. Alongside the CFP coursework and exam, you will get a leg up if you can learn relevant technology. Many financial planning software programs offer free 30-day trials. Always be learning.

Ground Yourself in Your Particular Reality

What is your end goal? Can you take the leap into financial planning immediately, or do you need to move more slowly? If you need to move slowly, can you find ways to stagger how you enter the field? If you don’t have one already, how might you build up a large reserve of cash to have the option of launching your own firm one day?

Get your own financial house in order to make that a future possibility, whether you take it or not. Can you be out loud about your career transition within your current profession, or do you need to keep it under wraps for a while? What are your reasonable options for getting experience? Can you manage potentially uneven cash flow by working virtually for other planners? Do you need to limit yourself to working for more established firms that pay a steady salary?

Make a multi-phased plan to help guide, propel and track your progress. As we know, the plan will always change, and that is OK.

Embrace ‘Beginners’ Mind’

Be brave enough to ask the basic questions. Just remember, you are trying to illuminate connections and see opportunities that may have been overlooked by others who have been in the field longer. This beginner’s mind approach will also help you be a trailblazer as you bridge your past and future careers. Don’t underestimate that the newer you are to the industry, the closer you are to the mind of someone outside of financial planning.

While this has its challenges, it is a benefit in the sense that it will help you contribute to the profession by connecting unlikely dots. Jot your ideas and musings down in an app on your phone or in a notebook during this stage. When you are busy later you will be glad you did. Your newness to topics will likely help you explain them in plain English to future clients.

Value Your Uniqueness and Cultivate Creativity

Being different is your friend. Take stock of what you’ve done before and who you are, and mine it for gold. In your previous work, what did you do day-to-day? What did you love about your work, as opposed to what were you good at but didn’t really enjoy? What have you always been curious about? Whatever it is, start building your expertise now. Cross-pollination is the mother of creativity and of your niche: be brave enough not to blend into the crowd.

Find and Shape Your Tribe

Put yourself out there and speak with other planners who are doing what you want to be doing. AND when you do, be respectful of their generosity of time and hard-earned wisdom. It speaks to the caliber of this community that I have had so many open conversations with other young planners. Typically, I sought them out because I found commonalities in our stories or our passions.

For example, one who cares about helping support more women to enter the field, one who is also passionate about closing the racial wealth gap, and another who has rooted his practice in new parenthood.

The XYPN Podcast Facebook VIP Community is another terrific place to connect to a dynamic conversation. Join your local chapters of NAPFA and try to join or create a study group. Follow the social media conversations of young planners. If you can do it in person, even better.

This fall I had the privilege of being a part of the XYPN16 conference and reveled in the chance to meet so many people that I connected with online, in person. Which reminds me, be sure that when it is your turn, you take up the baton to help mentor those who will come after you.

Kate Barron-Alicante headshot

About the Author

Kate Barron-Alicante has a dozen years’ professional experience in the NGO and education sectors, and is currently finishing up the CFP capstone as a career changer. Kate looks forward to 2017 when financial planning becomes her full-time professional endeavor and craft. Learn more about and connect with her here.

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