How to Avoid Making Wrong Turns to Keep Your Career Path on the Right Track
Last year a 28 year-old New Jersey tourist was traveling in Iceland and accidentally misspelled the address of his hotel into his GPS. He drove nearly six hours out of his way before fully realizing something was wrong. People became fascinated with this story and it quickly became headline news. How could someone drive around for over 6 hours lost without realizing the mistake? As hard as it is to imagine we have all heard stories about people spending hours lost trying to follow GPS directions.
I was speaking at the NAPFA Conference in Seattle last spring and used my phone’s GPS to get walking directions to a restaurant where I was meeting a colleague for dinner. I spent over an hour walking in basically a one-mile circle trying to find the restaurant. Instead of stopping and asking for directions I stubbornly tried to figure my own way. By the time I finally met up with my friend I was exhausted and quite frustrated, not to mention late.
It strikes me that one’s career can follow the same misguided path if we aren’t intentional about how we pursue the course. We all follow or can follow a GPS system (of sorts) throughout our career; a set of directions that take us from career point A to career point B. Like the driver in Iceland did, or myself in Seattle, it’s easy to get lost while following directions. In order to prevent any wrong turns in your career, I have provided the following directions to help you navigate your path.
Set Clear Career Goals and Communicate
You must know what you want out of your career, and you should be clear about these goals with your manager. Setting career goals is a great way to measure your progress throughout the year (and year-over-year) in combination with your regular annual performance reviews. If you don’t have regular reviews or performance conversations with your manager use your own career goals as a guide post for engaging your manager and others about where you are headed and how they can help.
Three typical trajectories that define career paths at an advisory firm include: the advisory track, operations/administrative track, and for firms that have an in-house investment function there can be a third investment track.
*Advisory Track Roles:
The Operations/Administration Track Roles:
Chief Operations Officer/Chief Compliance Officer
Operations Manager/Client Service Director
Client Service Administrator
Investment Track Roles:
Chief Investment Officer (CIO)
Senior Portfolio Manager
*(Not every advisory firm is structured exactly the same so there are some variations in the positions and job titles found within firms.)
Your career goals should not only be defined by the different positions you will pursue along the way, but also by a plan for progress, development, and growth. Beyond the determined or predetermined career path at an advisory firm, your path should include the progression of capabilities, skills, and experience that include training targets and knowledge attainments such as credentials and education. You want to make sure you have the expertise and knowledge to handle the challenging financial situations and questions that you will encounter over the life span of your career. Some designations to consider include:
Financial Planning designations – Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
Investment Management – Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or the Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA)
Retirement Planner Designations – Retirement Management Analyst (RMA), established by the Retirement Income Industry Association, Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP), offered through the American College, and the Certified Retirement Counselor (CRC), established by the International Foundation for Retirement Education
Insurance – Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
Determine Your Strengths & Weaknesses
As you think about your career and career path take a step back to assess your strengths and weaknesses and how they compare to people who have been successful in the advisory industry. The following core competencies are the strengths and attributes that are needed to be a strong advisor:
• Organization and planning: plans, organizes, schedules, and budgets in an efficient and productive manner; focuses on key priorities
• Analytical skills: able to structure and process qualitative or quantitative data and draw insightful conclusions; exhibits an inquisitive mind and achieves poignant insights
• Intelligence: learns quickly; demonstrates an ability to quickly and proficiently understand and absorb new information
• Attention to detail: does not let important details slip through the cracks or derail a project or process
• Persistence: demonstrates tenacity and willingness to go the distance to get something done
• Communication: speaks and writes clearly and articulately without being overly verbose or talkative; maintains this standard in all forms of written communication including email
• Listening Skills: lets others speak and seeks to understand their viewpoints
• Flexibility/adaptability: adjusts quickly to changing priorities and conditions; copes effectively with complexity and change
If you aren’t clear where your strengths and weaknesses lie, I recommend using one of the online assessment tools such as the Gallup Strength Finders assessment. The GSF assessment is a great tool to use to determine what you are good at (and not so good at) and ensuring your natural strengths are a match up the role (s) you are pursuing. The assessment will also give you insight into areas that may need to be massaged in order to define your career path GPS.
Additionally, a great way to get career path advice is to ask some trusted sources what they think you are good at and what you are not so good at doing. This is the easiest, and often times the most difficult assessment to utilize. It’s never easy to hear of our weaknesses from those we trust. However, advice from those we admire is much more likely to be taken and put into practice. Remember concentrate on what you’re best at, and what you have a passion for; don’t spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make your weaknesses your strengths.
Lastly, once you have some additional insight into your strengths and weaknesses be sure to practice self-awareness about what you’ve learned about yourself. This includes being clear about your values and living them, continually being mindful of your inner state, being aware of your impact on others, and learning how to manage your emotions and thoughts. The latter can be the greatest contribution or downfall to your career success.
Think About Your Accomplishments Differently
Try to discuss your accomplishments in more quantitative terms than qualitative. Incorporating more quantitative speak into your vernacular will quickly define for others your successes without a lot of hyperbole. Think about it as if you’re selling an asset to a client, they want to hear the nuts and bolts and not much fluff. We all have responsibilities and successes, but the people who stand out talk about their responsibilities and successes in terms of numbers, achievements, and results and they have examples to back it up. What numbers, examples, achievements, and results did you produce this year?
Get Into the Conversation
Read, read, and read more. . . industry publications, websites and blogs. Share the articles you like to your manager and colleagues and make comments on the articles and pieces to spark a conversation. Position yourself as an expert in the industry, or on a specific topic, and position yourself as a valuable resource within your firm and professional community.
Raise Your Hand
When a new project comes up and it aligns with your goals, raise your hand and volunteer to handle it. Let your manager know that you want to learn some new skills or gain a deeper experience on a knowledgeable topic. Be clear on what you can offer to the project and get involved.
Find A Mentor
Hire a coach, or find a wise experienced person to give you counsel, and preferably someone who is outside of the firm. This will give you a trusted resource and a neutral ear where you can express your fears, hopes and dreams. This can be the same person for whom you asked about your strengths and weaknesses – a trusted mentor who can help guide you to the wisest decisions.
Admittedly, all of these recommendations will take a little extra time and effort above and beyond your normal job, but this is what is required to take ownership of your career. Start with a few hours a month reading and researching the industry and connecting with new people. Spend time building and maintaining your work files, documenting key accomplishments, and maintaining and building your social profiles. You are accountable for your own success. So it is your responsibility to discover your special gifts, attributes and capabilities that can give you a competitive edge and the greatest probability to have a flourishing career.
Managing your career requires quality networking, earning a voice at the table, knowing your unique value proposition and how to use it, and being influential. If you are able to incorporate some or all of the directions I provide, you will most likely find your career GPS on point.