While financial advisors work from offices, many spend time with their clients outside the office, getting to know them on a personal level and helping them with difficult financial situations.
Financial Planning is one of the happiest and most satisfying careers available. It revolves around helping people bring order to their financial lives, achieving the financial stability that will allow them to enjoy life by worrying less and having the security to pursue their dreams. Who wouldn’t want to come home feeling that they've made a difference in someone else's life? Plus, it's one of the careers that will experience growth–nearly 32% over the next two years–and its salary ranges from $30,000 to $120,000 a year.
So how do you become one? First, get some life experience. Financial planners address everything from buying a car to saving for college to general budgeting. Learning how to manage your own finances successfully is the first step, gaining the personal stories that will help you connect to your clients.
Second, cultivate your skillset. Financial planners need a diverse range of skills–computer, research, math, and communication. In high school, take algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. Cultivate your oral and written communication skills through speech and English classes. And master computer programs like Microsoft Office, which you’ll use on a daily basis.
Additionally, try to take a foreign language–in an increasingly diverse world, being able to help clients with other languages can provide you with incredible opportunities, like spending a semester working for a financial firm in Europe! And pay attention in history class–often, history repeats itself. The financial crash of 2008 in the U.S. was compared to the Great Depression, and many people wanted to know why and how it was or wasn't like the 1929 crash. Knowing your history puts you in a better position to explain how the markets work–and why they sometimes fail.
Then, go to college. Look at the business departments of universities you like. Ideally, you'll want a degree in Financial Planning. These programs provide business courses as well as introductions to estate planning, insurance, and tax planning. You should also seek a program that encourages–or even requires–internships to gain practical experience. Look at the faculty and their specialties, as well as whether they’ve worked in the field or currently work for a financial planning firm. Having mentors with real-world experiences to draw from helps enrich your studies.
On that note, get a job. Ideally, an office job. Even if it’s in the mailroom, the experience of working in a professional office and learning how it works from the bottom up will help you shine. It shows your dedication to becoming professional, and your willingness to understand how all parts of the business will work together. Nothing says professionalism more than respect for even the lowest guy or gal on the totem pole.
Additionally, financial planning is about more than managing money: it's about counseling. Some of your clients will have trouble just sticking to a budget, and even the ones that can manage their day-to-day finances often find it hard to deal with more complicated matters, like retirement savings. About 90% of your job will be counseling people as to how to manage their money or deal with difficult family situations. You’ll find yourself getting to know your clients on a personal level. So take psychology courses, and take every opportunity you can in learning how to communicate with people. Volunteering in your community can help expose you to different types of people and personal situations.
Finally, network. Contact professionals in your community, and ask to shadow them for a day. Try to attend conferences or webinars. And do your reading–history, economics, and financial planning books. If you want to specialize–say, in helping same-sex couples or individuals with special needs–find resources about their unique circumstances. Cultivate all the skills you can. Being a Financial Advisor is about more than knowing how to manage money, it's about knowing how to help people in difficult, complicated situations. And it's about dedication to helping other people achieve their dreams.
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