Why advice is about more than just qualifications


Qualifications, qualifications, qualifications. Is that what it is all about, or is there more to progressing your career? I am contacted regularly, either by those trying to get into financial services or those in the early years of their career, to ask about qualifications and what they should sit to get to where they want to be.

Career progression seems to revolve around qualifications: what exams have been passed, when were they passed and what exams are you planning to sit in the future? Certainly, having and working towards qualifications is important for entering the profession but is there not more to it?

My father – a retired doctor who still teaches medical students – has commented many times that today’s pupils lack basic skills such as having a good bedside manner and being able to communicate with patients. It has become all about sticking your head in a book and coming out with a qualification. Is this also true in financial services?

We are at risk of overlooking the essential soft skills in the rush to obtain the piece of paper that  says “pass”.

Holding qualifications is important but other skills, such as being able to communicate verbally and in written form, as well as listening and researching, have to be just as vital. My grammar is not always what it should be but some of the mistakes I see on a day-to-day basis can be quite astounding (and sometimes just plain funny).

There also seems to be a lack of knowing how to communicate to a person depending on the topic and the relationship between the two. I  like to be friendly and relaxed in my communications with our customers but I hope I achieve a good balance with remaining professional and respectful too.

Have you ever received an email in text speak? This does not bother me but I struggle to understand why it would be a good idea to send somebody other than a friend a communication in this manner. It is akin to seeing me in the street, giving me a high five and asking “what’s up?”. It would be weird.

I am sure many of us remember our parents banging on about saying “please” and “thank you”. Annoying at the time but so important. It is surprising the number of emails we receive that ask for things without a simple please or thank you. I doubt they are meant to come across as abrupt and demanding but that is what happens. I know I am much more likely to go the extra mile for someone if they are polite.

Just the other day a recruitment contact was telling me about how they could not quite believe the CVs and covering emails they receive. There seems to be a great deal of grammar and typo issues alongside a far too laidback approach to communicating from some people who may just have the right opportunity for their next career move. Has the need for soft skills been forgotten?

Informed Choice managing director Martin Bamford recently wrote an article about his experience trying to recruit. He says he saw very little in terms of interests or passions and wondered whether people have the “substance to back up your experience, qualifications and enthusiasm”. He really hit the nail on the head.

Qualifications are important, as is experience, whether that be experience in financial services  or in other areas of life. But being able to display enthusiasm, motivation and general all-round ability to communicate is just as important.

What does playing a team sport have to do with winning a position in financial services? It suggests an ability to work with others towards a common goal, as well as a level of competitiveness. What does loving to read educational and thought-provoking books say about someone? It says they are keen to learn, to expand their knowledge and to be self-motivated. What does helping out on your kid’s school PTA and taking part in fundraising events tell you? That they are willing to devote time to things that matter to them.

Having interests outside of work can make an individual stand out from the crowd. So it is not all  about qualifications. It is about being well-rounded with good communication skills and providing a lot more than the knowledge studying for exams does.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training