As the workforce ages, recruiters in the financial services business are on the hunt for new talent, and this has opened a vast window of opportunity for young aspiring advisors.

“From a career perspective, it’s a growing area,” says Jason Round, head of financial planning support at RBC Financial Planning in Toronto. “We know, because of those demographics, there’s going to be more opportunities opening up in the future.”

How can you set yourself up for success in this growing business? Here are some strategies for getting your career off to a roaring start.

> Build the technical skills

To be successful in today’s financial services business, advisors must be well-versed not only on investment and insurance products, but on many other topics relevant to financial planning.

“There are so many things that today’s advisor must know in order to be proficient at his task,” says Sam Albanese, industry director, insurance and financial advisement at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. “We’ve got far more complex products, we have a much more complex consumer, a much more demanding consumer. There are taxation aspects, there’s compliance, there are regulatory issues.”

Increasingly, advisors are expected to engage in comprehensive financial planning, which requires them to have a broad base of knowledge.

“Just getting a life insurance license, or just getting a mutual fund license, in my mind, doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Albanese.

Colleges and universities offer many programs that aim to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide clients with comprehensive financial advice.

Most programs will prepare you to achieve such industry qualifications as the Canadian Securities Course and the Life License Qualification Program, which are important for advisors to have. Recruiters recommend going further and pursuing such industry designations as the certified financial planner designation.

“To find that job, it’s nice to have some accreditations,” says JD Greenberg, financial planning professor at Seneca. “It really makes your resume stand out.”

> Build the soft skills

Equally as important as technical knowledge to an advisor’s success is the ability to communicate well and to build strong client relationships. Aspiring advisors must therefore develop these kinds of soft skills, professors say.

College programs are placing a greater emphasis on these skills.

“We demand that they master the knowledge that’s required to work, but also, they have to be able to function in a dynamic workplace,” says Terry McCullough, professor and co-ordinator of the financial services programs at George Brown College in Toronto. “You have to be able to sell, you have to be able to stand up and talk to people, you have to be able to ask for referrals.”

It’s particularly important for insurance advisors to cultivate their soft skills, since life insurance products can be a tougher sell, according to Albanese.

“You’re selling a promise,” he says. “Unfortunately, the tragedy has to happen before any benefits get paid out, so it becomes a much harder sell for most people.”

Insurance advisors must also develop the ability to empathize with people and help them through emotional situations, Albanese adds.

> Get experience

One of the best ways to build soft skills is through work experience. Recruiters at BMO Nesbitt Burns urge individuals at the beginning of their careers to work for a few years outside of the investment advice business before beginning to build a book of business.

“If you have just come out of school, you haven’t had the opportunity as of yet to build those professional networks that could really help to ensure success in an investment advisory role,” says Elizabeth Hermant Mayer, recruitment partner, investment advisors, BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto.

Karen Hartley, senior vice president of recruitment and intake at BMO Financial Group, recommends getting experience in a role where you can develop relationship management skills, such as sales or accounting.

“There are other types of roles out there in the marketplace that really do lend themselves to having that strong relationship development capability,” Hartley says.

If you’re eager to work as an advisor right away, consider getting experience through an internship or co-op program. At Nova Scotia Community College’s School of Business, for example, students studying investment management and financial planning must complete a six-week work placement. Many students partner with a senior advisor, which leads to invaluable experience, and in some cases, full-time employment.

“If the advisor sees the fit, then voila – a marriage is born,” says Barbara Powers, co-ordinator of investment management at the School of Business in Dartmouth. “Students get a lot of job offers from the work term.”

This is the second in a three-part series on young advisors. Tomorrow: Advice from the veterans.