Will I get a BlackBerry? Will you cover the cost of my cellphone?”

These are the questions recruiters will be asked by today’s applicants in the financial services industry, according to Barry Ferguson, vice president of wealth-management delivery with Qtrade Financial Group in Vancouver. Although these kinds of questions might raise eyebrows among veteran advisors, they define today’s young talent group. “They grew up with cellphones and laptops,” Ferguson says, “and the equipment is synonymous with their ability to do their jobs.”

In many ways, people in their 20s today are not that different from other fresh-faced groups of graduates before them, Ferguson says: “We’re all idealistic when we come out of school.”

Today’s graduates also expect their marks to speak for themselves. That emphasis on good grades, which likely propelled them through their education, can end up hurting them, according to Geoffrey Prince, professor and co-ordinator of the School of Business at Centennial College in Toronto.

“Their preoccupation with competing for marks tends to steer them away from the realistic goal of preparing themselves for the job,” says Prince, who has met with several perplexed students who cannot understand why they didn’t hear back from a recruiter in spite of their 4.0 average and having passed all the industry exams.

They need to understand that soft skills — making a strong first impression, communication, even likability — are all vital for an advisor. 

That’s why the need for practical experience or, at the very least, simulated experience such as the CIFP Case Challenge (see other story on this page), cannot be overstated, Prince says. He expects to see more such initiatives.  

Despite this generation’s “entitled” reputation, the economic downturn has had an impact on this group of recent graduates, according to Ferguson. “In the early 2000s, when life was pretty good, people coming out of school had very high expectations,” he says, “and they were looking to trade off education against income demands.”

Now, the corporate environment and culture are just as important as the work and the salary, Ferguson says.

“That’s truer now than it ever was because job security is no longer a selling point. They are saying, ‘While I work for you, it had better be a great experience’.”