What finance recruiters want: The best work experience to get a financial adviser job interview
Contrary to how it may seem, you don’t need an Ivy League degree and a Merrill Lynch internship to get a job as a financial adviser. In fact, most of us didn’t start there either. What’s important is that your work experience prior to a finance role shows your people skills and hustle. Whether you’re a college student looking for a job or a career switcher trying to think of the best positioning of the experience you already have, we’re here to help you figure out what finance job interviewers are looking for.
Most desired experience (in order):
- Working for a finance firm
- Sales experience
- Retail and/or Service-oriented experience
- Market knowledge through other means
This list is based on our conversations with hiring managers and recruiters at multiple top tier firms. Let’s break it down.
Working for a finance firm
Now I know we just said that you don’t need a job at Merrill Lynch to get a role as a financial adviser, but if you had that work experience, it would definitely be the most relevant. Finance is such a specific industry and your network (connections) are so helpful that this should always be your goal and top choice.
However, this doesn’t always mean getting a coveted investment banking internship or entry level sales role as a major firm. There are other, less difficult entry ways into the finance industry that can help you create a wedge in the door to the job of your dreams.
First, smaller firms are often easier to break into for an internship than larger firms. Note that this is not necessarily true for entry-level roles, where they could be very picky, but smaller firms do not often have a formal internship program and do often have a lot of work that needs to get done. If you reach out to them or connect via a friend or family member offering yourself as a helping hand, you may be able to create a job for yourself where none existed.
Second, experience in the finance world in a role that is outside of the financial adviser position is still relevant and valuable. If you’re doing marketing, customer support, or research in the finance industry, you’re still learning about the jargon and giving yourself a base of knowledge to leverage in a sales role later. Being a bank teller still gives you a lot more finance industry immersion than something outside of finance.
Honestly, if you took what a financial adviser does and put it in any other industry, it would be called sales. Sales skills will be invaluable to you in a role as a financial adviser, and entry-level sales roles are a great stepping stone to a career in finance.
The most important thing you’ll learn in an entry-level sales role is selling. Selling is a transaction between a buyer and seller, and as the sales person you are guiding the customer throughout most or all of that transaction. You need to pitch the product, ensure it’s a good fit for the prospective buyer, guide them through the purchase process, and then close the sale. After that, often times you’re still responsible for the relationship – keeping the customer happy, up-selling them to new or more advanced products, or helping them use what they bought. All of this is going to mirror what you would do as a financial adviser.
The second thing you’ll learn in a sales role is how to generate new business. Prospecting, which is sales lingo for ‘building a list of potential customers (aka targets), is tedious but important work – it lays the groundwork for your success. Learning how to build a high value list efficiently is crucial in sales and in a financial adviser role. Once you have that list, you need to reach these customers either through email, phone calls, or in person – often a combination. Learning how to put on your best smile and call a total stranger is never easy, so having confidence in your ability to do that is going to help you stand out to a finance recruiter.
And lastly, being able to consistently perform and hit quotas in a performance-driven job is a huge plus on your resume for a finance recruiter. Financial adviser roles are often highly tilted towards performance-based compensation, meaning you ‘eat what you kill’ and only earn as much money as you are successful. This can lead to the tremendous upside that the best financial advisers enjoy, but it’s also much more stressful than a fully salaried job for a lot of people. Being able to thrive in this environment is an early indicator of a great culture fit for finance.
Retail and/or Service-oriented Experience
The most notable and interesting change in financial firms’ hiring profiles recently is that they’re looking to hire people from retail or service-oriented backgrounds. This includes everything from retail sales to restaurants to hospitality. The idea behind it is that can be easier to teach finance skills to a people person than people skills to a finance person – and that there are lots of smart, talented candidates in these service-oriented industries that would thrive in a financial adviser role.
Financial advisers are at the front line of a financial firm and are often the customer’s main point of contact with the company. Keeping customers happy and dealing with unhappy customers are key skills that every financial adviser should have – but many don’t. That’s where you have a unique advantage. Candidates with retail experience that are looking to apply to a finance role should focus on examples of how they delighted customers. Bonus points if the customer was stressed or unhappy and you turned them around – bad days on the stock market can be tough and you need to maintain confidence with your client.
Obtain market knowledge through other means
Even if you don’t have the opportunity to get other experience before applying to financial adviser roles, you can show your interest in the industry by learning more about it on your own. The stock market is a living, breathing thing that involves millions of people around the world. Lots has been written about it and there are many who have made a living creating resources to help other people learn more.
First and foremost, you need to get your finger on the pulse of news and industry jargon. To do so, we recommend following major financial news outlets such as Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times finance section, and The Economist.
Next, there are a number of as-you-go finance industry resources that you can learn from, most notably Investopedia and Wall Street Oasis (Disclaimer: WSO is an Achievable marketing partner and a great group – we really like them). There are thousands of hours of content on those two sites alone, and then there are Youtube channels, blogs and podcasts galore as well.
For the truly curious and motivated, there are also online courses to teach you more about the stock market and the practice of investing. Most are aimed at the retail investor, but can give you valuable insight that others applying to the role may not have. Udemy and Investopedia Academy are great places to start.
And lastly, if you really want to take the plunge, you can invest or ‘fake invest’ some of your own money on the stock market:
- For those with some cash, don’t go overboard, but investing in the actual stock market will give you some real world experience in what it’s like to be a ‘customer’ of the financial services industry. Stick to the well traveled roads of the Fortune 500 (no penny stocks) and do your research, and you’ll be fine. Just remember that the job is not guaranteed, but your profits and losses on the stock market are.
- For those without cash in the bank, I recommend making a spreadsheet with $100,000 or $1,000,000 in ‘fake money’ allocated to yourself and then build a portfolio with those funds. Track your performance and make transactions with yourself in a spreadsheet. Over time, you can see your portfolio rise and fall much like a client’s would in a financial adviser role.
In either case, be prepared to defend your performance and choices in an interview. But the interviewer is going to be very interested to hear about your experience doing this, and it can be a big plus that sets you apart from other candidates.
Thanks for reading!
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