Back in 1997, working at Fiona Price & Partners, I was “cold-called” by a student at Sheffield Hallam University. She was taking a four-year degree course in financial services and needed an employer to host her compulsory third-year placement.
Hard-working, intelligent and good in our team, she made a great addition to the company, and I was impressed above all by her courage in approaching us in that first instance and asking for our support.
Fast-forward a couple of years, now working on my own, I approach Sheffield Hallam again and, after interviewing six young men, I employed one for his placement year.
At the end of the year, I offered him the opportunity to return after graduation. He accepted, became a hugely valuable member of the team and remains a financial planner to this day.
I am often asked why I employed him instead of the others. The honest truth was that his was the only CV with no errors. Someone laughingly suggested that maybe he’d asked his Dad to check it. My response: “So what if he did? Someone who asks for a document to be proof-read before it is sent out is someone I want to employ. Someone who doesn’t ask and who sends out a document with errors doesn’t fit so well in my firm.”
Separately, I took on a rare treasure from a recruitment agency. The interview was mostly taken up with her experience completing a charity walk in Madagascar to raise funds to support endangered wildlife.
I learned as much about her in that conversation as I did from the subsequent case study I asked her to complete to demonstrate her financial services knowledge and expertise. Above all, I could see us working together and I could see my clients getting on with her famously.
I know my approach to recruitment is probably “curious” and I regularly tell my students not to assume all interviewers will be like me.
But ours is such an amazing, challenging and rewarding profession. There is a huge amount to learn and old hands can easily get complacent about how much there is to know, forgetting the amount you can only really pick up doing the job, advising real people with real and often-complex lives.
Indeed, there is a vast body of knowledge and skills, way beyond the diploma syllabus, that could never be taught in a university classroom.
What a graduate or apprentice does not know about tax calculations or drawdown rules can easily be taught, or researched when necessary. However, a trainee who does not already possess the interpersonal skills required of an adviser may struggle to acquire them.
It takes a certain sort of young person to join a very small practice and fit in with the culture and work required.
Equally, it takes a certain sort of small employer to take on a placement student or young adviser, giving them sufficient training to do the job well and space to learn new skills and develop their own interests, while allowing them to be involved in interesting and challenging client work.
So, I am delighted to see increased interest in placements, apprenticeships and graduate trainees. Every single one of us – and our clients – will benefit from this injection of young diverse talent into financial planning firms across the UK.
Gill Cardy is a lecturer, financial services, at University of Northampton