Just as in any other industry, financial planning firm owners take on a certain degree of risk when hiring professional staff. For firms that are looking to hire, a quality intern program is a great way to try out potential employees before they sign on the dotted line for a permanent position. In addition to ‘test driving’ future employees, having interns is a good business practice because an extra set of hands to complete work and an additional set of eyes with a fresh perspective is helpful for firms. Additionally for sole practitioners, having an intern can help solidify, in the eyes of clients and colleagues, that you truly have a business versus a practice.
On the other hand, especially for larger firms, interns can be a motivational tool you may have never thought of. Remember interns are set out to prove themselves to you so it’s not uncommon for an intern’s efforts and work accomplishments to surpass some of your tenured employees. An added bonus is that you can typically pay interns less than your full time employees. Since summer is just beginning and many firms have or will be bringing on interns, here are some key elements to a successful intern program:
- Strategic Planning – the firm must plan out what they want an intern to do beforehand. Trying to figure it all out on the fly is going to waste a lot of people’s time and is probably the number one reason I get the excuse of “it took too much time and/or it just wasn’t worth it to have an intern” from firm owners who tell me why they have no intern program.
- 100% buy in – the professional staff all need to agree on having an intern. I can recall a new planner calling me after their internship to let me know that when they showed up for their first day, half of the office did not know who they were or why they were there. Furthermore, when I did an internship (a long time ago) I remember staff members telling me that they weren’t my boss so they couldn’t tell me what to do. Argh! Staff was obviously on a different page than the firm owner.
- Replication – firms should strive to create efficiencies and scalability so internships can be offered year after year, have multiple interns, remote interns, etc. There is no better way to help train the future of the industry and improve your business all at the same time than having interns.
- Mentoring – the best internships are created when the intern can closely observe you and have the freedom and flexibility to add value to your firm. After a few weeks into my internship, I had the privilege to attend my intern sponsor’s country club for dinner and golf outings, his home for meals with his family, office shopping trips to Costco, industry study group meetings as well as other after hours/out of the office outings. It was during these precious moments that I learned what being a successful financial planner and business owner was all about.
From an intern’s perspective a successful internship means he/she was exposed to all aspects of an advisory firm with some reasonable depth. More specifically they got to see firsthand what it is like to service high net worth clients, the amount of work it takes to prepare for client meetings, and the skills necessary to successfully guide sophisticated, sometimes demanding clients, towards their goals in client meetings.
From the firm owners’ perspective, there are several ways to define a successful internship. In the short run, it simply means that their investment of time and money paid off because they were able to work fewer hours over the summer – allowing them to spend more time with their family while the intern was contributing to task completion. More strategically though, firm owners are able to see with great clarity the intern’s work ethic, character, personality, and financial planning skills to help determine how well the intern might fit long term within the firm.
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