Where is the substance?

I’ve spent the last month receiving applications and carrying out interviews for a new marketing internship here at Informed Choice.

This is a paid, one-year internship, designed to help us improve our marketing efforts on several fronts and also free up a bit of my time to devote to other big projects.

The role attracted a lot of interest. We received more than 70 applications, from people with a wide range of experience and qualifications. Several of them made it to the interview stage, due to the strength of their CVs and covering letters. One of the scheduled interviews remains missing in action, which is slightly frustrating as he looked good on paper and I spent 20 minutes preparing interview questions for him.

But as a result of the process we managed to find our ideal candidate, a university student in his second year of a marketing degree. He starts with us in June and I’m already excited about what we will be able to achieve with him during the coming year.

The recruitment process got me thinking about something which is also incredibly important for Financial Planners. The main reason for rejecting applications for the role, or dismissing candidates at the interview stage, was their lack of any real substance.

These were bright, seemingly enthusiastic young people who wanted to pursue a career in marketing. They had a good mix of experience and qualifications. But when it came to the crunch, they seemed to lack anything to back it all up.

A question I asked in every interview was to name a favourite book. It appears that nobody reads books anymore; at least that is the only conclusion I could reach based on the answers to this question. One candidate went as far as telling me she ‘doesn’t really read’. The answers to the favourite movie question were little better.

Reading and movie watching preferences aside, there was so little in the way of any interests or passions. Plenty of the CVs I rejected on the basis they expressed very insular hobbies and activities. Can someone who spends their life sitting inside playing video games have what it takes to engage with real people in the real world?

Interesting hobbies were few and far between, with social media appearing to feature high on the list. There was so little world travel experienced by these applicants; one interviewee had been as far as a shopping trip to London!

Now I’m not suggesting that by the time you hit 20 you should have seen and done it all. What does seem reasonable is an expectation that an enthusiasm for a career is backed up by an enthusiasm for life. Read books, watch movies, visit places, create things.

The same of course applies to Financial Planners. As we move away from a sole focus on money to coaching our clients to live meaningful and fulfilled lives with the resources at their disposal, we can add so much more value if we are ourselves living that meaningful life.

I wouldn’t consider working with an executive coach who wasn’t a prolific reader, patron of the arts and devourer of experiences. I suggest that people should be cautious about working with a Financial Planner in a similar position.

When it comes your time to be interviewed by a prospective client for a new role as their Financial Planner, do you have the substance to back up your experience, qualifications and enthusiasm?


5 thoughts on “Where is the substance?

  • Your experiences are not unique I’m afraid Martin. One thing I try to do, and it depends on number of things whether it an option to have potentially slightly longer payback, is to take graduates with traditional degrees and not related to the job being applied for.

    I’ve found this tends to give individuals who clearly have ability to learn but also have broad knowledge. The lack of pre-existing knowledge can actually help especially if they are going to be taking professional qualifications anyway as it removes complacency (and a danger of knowing everything already!).

    As the Apprentice scheme gains traction and evolves in future years I very much hope this will also provide a more diversified output from age 16 to benefit industries and th economy. At the moment I’m not sure the education system is producing what the country actually needs.

    • Thanks Bert. Hiring based on attitude and aptitude for learning definitely beats qualifications and experiences. We can always teach the technical bits, but attitude is pretty much impossible to change. I agree entirely that the current education system is not geared up to producing the skills and candidates needed in the real world, although we are starting to see more vocational options appearing from 16 onwards, which should be good long-term.

  • Very interesting article Martin. I used to do quite a bit of speaking to financial services audiences (PFS, IFP etc.) and a question I sometimes asked an audience was “How many of you have read any of the following books?” Among the books I mentioned were ‘The Richest man in babylon’, ‘Think and grow Rich’, The millionaire next door’, Rich Dad, poor dad’ and ‘Secrets of the millionaire mind’. The reason I asked was because these books are about money and have sold by the millions, so clearly a lot of people are interested. I would say that usually less than 10% of people had read any of the books I mentioned. Surely, the role of a financial professional is helping to educate people about money and improve their relationship to it and not simply being a technician who knows about products, investments, tax etc.?

    • Thanks John. I’ve not always been an avid reader on a scale I am today, but I have always read books. It’s a bit scary how frequently I come across people today who simply don’t read anything, save perhaps a Harry Potter on the beach during their summer holiday. It strikes me as such a wasted opportunity to expand your horizons and learn different skills, knowledge and perspective.

  • You make some really interesting points Martin. I’ve always thought it must be difficult to build rapport with clients when you have few or no shared experiences. Recently I’ve had emails from clients recommending books and travel destinations because they know my interests, and I theirs.

    Interestingly, the marketing apprentice we took on last year, who came straight from college, is a prolific reader, and a huge name in the Bristol spoken word scene, which I suspect played a part in the decision to offer him a position.


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