Landing Your First Paraplanning Internship

Whether you’ve just completed your degree, started your journey towards the CFP designation, or recently decided to make a career switch, you’ve ultimately decided that financial planning is your calling. 

Whatever journey you’ve taken so far, you’re now ready to land that first gig, which may be in the form of an internship. While often associated with students, the short-term nature of internships makes them great for career changers as well. Many planners do at least three internships before settling on a target demographic to serve.

So how will you find and secure this first internship? Getting started in any new field is hard, whether you’re a recent graduate or career changer. The process can seem opaque, mysterious. It’s hard to know what to say when approaching a CFP or a firm.

The good news is that the world of personal financial advisors is a friendly one, says Shawn Tydlaska, CFP, MBA.

“It’s kind of a giving profession,” he said during a recent Simply Paraplanner webinar. “I always want to be opportunistic with my hiring. If someone seems like a promising candidate, I want to give them an opportunity. Even if I don’t have an opening, I can at least give a referral to another firm.”

Shawn started his own successful firm in May, 2016, helping young professionals and families reduce financial stress and achieve peace of mind around their money. Before launching Ballast Point, though, he moved three times around the country. He had to start his professional life from scratch each time, doing the legwork to create that initial opportunity. He has done internships at Merrill Lynch, at a small RIA and at Personal Capital. 

“I know what a grind it can be,” he says. “It’s not glamorous doing some of the grunt work, some of the networking. But it’s worth it in the end. There are opportunities. They may just be a little hidden.”

A proactive mindset is essential to uncovering entry-level opportunities. You’ll want to keep in mind that there are more CFPs over 70 years old than under 30 years old. The average age of a CFP is 50 years old. As individuals, many have never previously hired a paraplanner. They may not know how to onboard you or most effectively utilize your skillset. 

Bigger firms aren’t an automatic answer, either. Typically risk-averse, larger firms may be reluctant to commit to full-time employment of workers they’ll have to train. So oftentimes, your path to an internship will involve helping the firm or individual planner understand how you can add value from the very beginning.

Those seeking a foot in the door also need to understand and accept that the demand for virtual jobs has increased. As many as 70 applicants may be applying for a single job on a traditional job board. So it’s crucial to get creative and seek opportunities beyond what’s posted.

This information may feel overwhelming, so let’s break down the path to that first internship or job. These are great steps for new graduates, career changers, or those who have moved to a new city.

1. Listen + Leverage

Some good news: exploring our industry while finding places to create new opportunities is something you can start today – even while you’re driving! The XYPN Radio podcast, which airs weekly, is a great resource. Host Maddy Roche interviews firm owners about all kinds of topics. Many client demographics are addressed, so you’re sure to find something interesting. With at least 280 episodes archived, there’s plenty to dig into. Listen, peruse the show notes, and soon you’ll have a dream list of firms and planners.

Michael Kitces of Nerd’s Eye View also runs a valuable podcast. Listen hard for planners who say they have waitlists; they’ve just expressed a need you could address.

A simple search on the website for the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, or NAPFA, is also a quick way to find firms in your area. Don’t forget to also query your local Financial Planning Association, or FPA.

Joining Facebook Groups associated with the aforementioned podcasts can also yield good information. Forums like Reddit offer some inside perspective, too. After listening for a while, you can post something like, “Hi, I’m a new paraplanner and I have some capacity for work. Does anyone need help?”

Should you be studying to attain your CFP designation, that’s worth a mention in your post, too.

2. Warm Up to Cold Pitching

Now that you’ve found some firms or decided which clients you’d like to serve, it’s time to reach people with the power to hire you. At home alone behind your laptop, it’s easy to feel nervous and second guess yourself as you craft those cold queries. Take heart though, Tydlaska says. Cold emails or LinkedIn messages really do work.

“If someone has taken the initiative to reach out to me, I’m happy to give people some time on my calendar. Sometimes 30-60 minutes of time, even,” he said. “We want to help you get started. Everyone has gotten a lift up from someone else and it’s kind of a pay-it-forward profession. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”

There are many ways to connect with specific individuals in a position to hire.

LinkedIn is one way to ferret out these folks. Alumni, past colleagues or others already in your network may be able to connect you to planners or firms. Don’t panic if your initial LinkedIn messages don’t receive a response, though. Not everyone regularly uses each communications platform on a regular basis. So if a LinkedIn message doesn’t garner a response, try email. Or vice versa.

Email addresses can be difficult to find; don’t hesitate to make some educated guesses as to a person’s email address. Try following the format used at a specific firm, like [email protected]

Some planners have online scheduling tools on their websites, typically meant for prospective clients. But it could be a. tool worth utilizing to schedule a meeting with the planner to pitch your services. Tydlaska said a prospective intern approached him that way, an initiative that impressed. He helped the candidate with a referral.

What to write in that first message? Do some homework and mention something that resonated. Let them know you heard their podcast, read their article, or saw something you liked on their website. Establish a connection.

Being flattering doesn’t hurt, either. Crafting a message that says things like, ‘I’m impressed with your growth’ or ‘I want to learn how you got started and navigated the industry’ can help start a conversation. 

Be sure to go beyond flattery, though, and include a brief mention of your professional goals. Utilize your writing skills and demonstrate – rather than state – your passion.

“We’re kind of called to this profession,” Tydlaska says. “I’m looking for something like ‘I was so inspired by personal finance, it was so empowering that I read everything I could like Rich Dad, Poor Dad or Billionaire Next Door. I have a big appetite for this.’”

Next, mention that you want to learn more about the industry while working on a contract basis. Or that you’re interested in gaining experience working with a particular client demographic. Describe ways you can add value. Perhaps that’s an offer to clean up their Client Roster Management system or an offer to take meeting notes and thus accelerate the planner’s workflow.

3. Be Easy to Hire

When querying a big firm, being willing to work on a short contract basis helps the firm reduce risk. But at a small firm, the barrier to entry is often the logistics and compliance issues involved in hiring.

You may be the first hire an independent CFP will make. To hire you, she will have to think about how to pay you (with a check? PayPal?) and which tax forms are required. She will need you to complete an I-9 as well as other tax forms like a W-9. If you’re being hired as an independent contractor, she will need to create a contract or agreement delineating expectations. A background check should be done.

One way to add value from the outset is to research and proactively describe these steps in an operations manual for your prospective new employer. This is a resource the employer can utilize right away – to your benefit – as well in the future.

The creation of operations manuals are a big way interns can add value; crystalizing various internal processes and workflows will make it easier for you and other paraplanners at the firm to assist the CFP.

In summary, the path to an internship can feel steep. Breaking it into steps that begin with research makes it manageable. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to fall into your lap. Take initiative and seek out your next financial planning opportunity. 

Advisors, Paraplanners

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