Matt: All right. With me today, I have Cooper Grady who is the Director of Financial Planning at Apollon Wealth Management. Cooper is really involved in setting the firm-wide processes when it comes to financial planning, helping new planners integrate into their firm. I am so excited to hear more about Cooper’s experience going through this with new planners. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Cooper.
Cooper: Happy to be here, Matt. Appreciate you having me on.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to have you here. Before we really dive into the nitty-gritty, why don’t you give us a big high level background of your path in financial planning and how you got to where you are today? Ultimately, why you’re interested in your role as a director of financial planning?
Cooper: Yeah, absolutely. I began my career probably not unlike many others, I began working for an insurance broker dealer as an intern in college. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for out of a career, but I gained a lot of invaluable experience through that. Business development standpoint with prospecting, a lot of cold-calling and learning the benefit of overcoming objections and the importance of law of large numbers, which is really impactful in this career. Also, the power of working with joint partners and leveraging other people’s strengths and weaknesses to become successful. After I graduated college, I decided that living in Illinois was not for me. I transitioned to Charleston, South Carolina and was lucky enough to get partnered up with a fee-based advisor here in Charleston. I began working with him as basically his right hand man, grew into a paraplanner role. Then ultimately over the course of the next three or four years began to work as a lead advisor on his team.
Cooper: After about four or five years working with him, we’ve decided to partner with a couple other advisors in the Charleston, South Carolina area and establish our own RIA. As you mentioned, I now serve as the director of planning there. We have about 600 planning clients and offices at Charleston, Charlotte, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Chicago, Portland, Oregon. We’re starting to spread all over the country. It’s really cool to watch it grow, but I really enjoy my career and got into this with the same reason probably a lot of people listening to this are getting into their career, and it was really to help others. Now, I’m a big believer in financial literacy. I think it’s something that’s really missing in the educational programs that we have in the country. I think that it’s something that makes such a big impact on so many people’s lives. To some of us, it’s very simple to learn, but it’s just not spread enough. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about since I was young. I found that this is the easiest, the best way for me to touch as many people as I possibly can.
Matt: I know when I first got started there were a lot of things to take in. There’s all these softwares, all these ways to do planning. I want to look at it from your side. What are you concerned about or what are the firms that you work with, what are they concerned about when they’re looking to hire a candidate?
Cooper: There’s obviously the requirements of a designation or software experience or a certain background or years of experience under your belt that I think a lot of firms are looking for. Sometimes those just aren’t the right fits for other candidates. I think what’s even more important than that… Where I’m viewing in the current firm that I currently work for is the intangibles that people bring to the table. I’m a big believer in you can teach technical skills to anybody, but you can’t always teach the intangibles. When I’d say going to the market, looking for a job, breaking into the industry, I think that you should embrace and highlight your lack of experience. View it as you’re starting with a clean slate, you have the opportunity to be groomed and trained into what that firm’s ideal employee is. I think that honesty is always the best policy. Lying on any type of interview or resume or not giving the full truth when you’re interviewing is always going to come back to hurt you.
Cooper: I’ve had candidates that I’ve spoken with that have given false information about their experience utilizing a software. It’s always going to come out. The truth is always going to come out so I say embrace your lack of experience. Go in there with confidence. Everything else can be taught on the backend. That’s my opinion on what I think of things. I would also say, if a position is calling for a requirement or a preferred requirement and you don’t meet that, come up with a goal of how are you going to get there. If the position says that they’d prefer to have a CFP professional and you’re not a CFP professional, you should go in there with a cover letter. On your cover letter you should explain when you’re going to complete the CFP coursework, who you’re going to use for your study provider, are you going to self-study maybe. Have an action plan of how you’re going to reach those goals that the employer is looking for, the same time, that’s also demonstrating your willingness to grow and be asset to that firm.
Matt: Sometimes that lack of confidence or lack of experience does make us think, oh, we’re not a good fit and we self-select ourselves out. I really like what you said about having an action plan to get where they want you to be essentially. I would also like to dig a little more into that. Would you say even those with experience when they’re coming into your firm versus having worked at another firm, what are some of the obstacles that they have to overcome where you do have some experience but not necessarily at this firm?
Cooper: Yeah, I think so. One of the biggest things is every firm is ran differently, right? I think that not necessarily learning a new tool or a software such as eMoney versus MoneyGuidePro or Salesforce versus Redtail. I think the bigger piece is learning how the firm operates from systems and processes and style of communication standpoint is a significantly larger hurdle to overcome than learning the technical aspects of doing the job. Again, that’s where the intangibles come in that can make an employee invaluable. If you’re resourceful, if you are responsible, if you are timely, those things can take you much further than if you know how to use eMoney like the back of your hand. Those are the employees that can grow within a firm and make a big difference. One of the things that I like to do point out when I’m interviewing people or interviewing myself, is there’s 86,000 CFPs in the country right now.
Cooper: You’re not that special to be a CFP from a technical standpoint. There’s a lot of them out there. You can find other ways to separate yourself and those things can be how resourceful you are, how you have an optimistic attitude. You have the ability to show empathy when you’re having communications with clients. Things like that can really separate you from the other CFPs for the non CFPs out there. It can really propel your career past somebody else.
Matt: Just to flip the script a little bit, let’s take the reverse approach to that question. What are some things that either you or maybe just past employers that you’ve worked with are looking at that are huge red flags when they’re screening candidates? Outside of the obvious ones that you’ve already mentioned about, putting false information on a resume, or inconsistent information throughout the interview process.
Cooper: There’s obviously like we mentioned previously, but there’s some other ones such as not meeting their requirements in applying. I would say the biggest ones though that we see are, if you’re coming to an interview in person, show up early. It is important. We have people that show up late, not being dressed professionally for an interview. Obviously, watching the way that you talk. No slang, don’t use slang, don’t be cursing. You think that should go without saying. I’ve had that in interviews before. I would say the biggest piece for me when I’m interviewing people is the ones that is a red flag are the ones that don’t maintain positivity. No one goes into an interview extremely confident. Everyone’s going to get caught off guard with a question here or there. I think maintaining self-confidence and maintaining positivity, even when you don’t believe the interview is going well or you got stumped on a question goes a long way. Right?
Cooper: I think that most firms are looking to hire someone who’s energetic and can embrace the fact that they might not be perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect employee or the perfect candidate. I think just maintaining optimism and maintaining positivity are the biggest things that you can do. When you completely shut down, when you got stumped on a question and you turn negative, that’s a big red flag to me because that’s a personality flaw or a character trait flaw. That’s not somebody that I want to work with and that’s not somebody that I want necessarily to work with in my firm.
Matt: You said that and I think when people do get stumped, that’s when we tend to embellish our past or say we can do something we might not necessarily be able to do well. What are some really good ways to handle that? You’ve been stumped on a question. What are some good power phrases or good tactics that someone interviewing can use to stay on that confident track in the interview?
Cooper: I think there’s a couple of different ways you can do that. I think one is maintaining, as an interviewer, I think maintaining your own positivity, laugh through it with them. You know that they’re nervous, lighten the mood a little bit. I think that if you can laugh together about the fact that maybe you couldn’t answer a question extremely timely. Maybe you can try rewording the question to them or go back to a previous question and ask for a little bit of additional elaboration on it. I think that it is very fair to assume that most people coming into an interview are nervous, right? They’re applying for a job. They clearly want and or need a job. I don’t think it’s fair to put them in an uncomfortable position on purpose, and I would say that most interviewers don’t. From the interviewee standpoint, I would say that laugh through it, right?
Cooper: It’s the same thing as if you’re running a race and you fall down, get back up, enjoy it. It’s all part of the process. No one’s perfect. Everyone that is successful has failed a hundred times before they became successful. If you keep that mentality and keep that approach, I think it’s super helpful. I would also say, and I’m sure you’re probably going to ask it later, but one of the other pieces is practice, practice, practice, practice and you won’t get tripped up nearly as much on different questions. Practicing, it automatically create confidence because you’re going to feel prepared going into the interview with questions that likely are going to be asked.
Matt: what are some key things that we as the interviewee could be doing to prepare for the interview? Obviously, there’s the job description and we should know what the heck we’re applying for. But what are some other things that we can research or practice techniques that you’ve seen work really well for people in the past that we can help arm ourselves with going into that first interview?
Cooper: I think it’s imperative that you’re doing your due diligence on the firm and that you’re coming to the interview with questions. The things you should be researching are not necessarily just the position, but you should be researching the firm’s philosophy. What’s their philosophy on financial planning? What’s their philosophy on how they service their investments? Do they have an active investment strategy or a passive investment strategy? Knowing how they run their business is important. Understanding their mission statement. Understanding what their core values are. Understanding the backgrounds of their executive leadership team. Those are all very important. You can go through LinkedIn, you can look at the company’s website, read news articles, listen to podcasts.
Cooper: There’s a ton of different resources out there. You can even go as far as looking at the ADV of the firm to get a better understanding of their assets under management. How do they charge fees? You want to arm yourself as much as you possibly can before you go into that interview because one, not only does that add to your confidence but two, that creates a level of engagement to the person interviewing you. They know that you’re committed to this, they know that you’re genuinely interested and that you’ve done your due diligence and that makes you stand out as a candidate.
Matt: Yeah, certainly and the ADV is a really good place to start. There’s ton of information on there. I think too, having questions, it gives you time to think about it and maybe you read something on the ADV and you’re not really 100% sure. Do you think it’s a good idea to just straight up ask them like what does this mean? How does this impact my role or my future within the firm?
Cooper: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I think, again, it totally depends on the position you’re interviewing for and how you ask the question. I think that asking the question shows a level of vulnerability that I think is healthy in any type of relationship. Because I think one of the most important things to be a successful employee is knowing when to raise your hand and ask for help and knowing how to leverage those around you, right? If you know your own limitations, that to me means that you’re going to be a good coworker of mine because I know that if you don’t know the answer to something or you don’t know how to do something, rather than go with the flow and make it up along the way and maybe get it wrong, you’re not afraid to ask for help and ask somebody how to help solve the problem or come up with a solution. I am totally on board with somebody asking questions like that.
Matt: The question asking goes beyond just topics of financial planning, right? What are some other questions that new planners should be asking in the interview to help identify that, hey, this is actually a good fit for me? Because I think sometimes a lot of people, myself included, we go into interviews trying to appease to what we’re interviewing to. How should we be interviewing the employer ourselves as an interviewee?
Cooper: I’m glad you brought that up. That’s one of the best points that either of us can make I think is doing your research on the firm and learning about the firm is great. We’re trying to land the position. You should also be doing so from the standpoint of making sure that this position is the right fit for you. I think that’s a very important piece and a lot of people forget that or don’t think about that. The hiring process is two-way street. As a candidate, you should be doing this process trying to determine if this company or this position is the right fit for you and your career aspirations. I think that’s just easily forgotten by most people. Questions around firm culture is extremely important, management style. What’s the feedback structure of the company? What types of resources or investments are being dedicated toward this department to set this department up for success?
Cooper: What’s the onboarding and training process look like? I think those are all good open-ended questions that are more in a firm or a macro level rather than just the day-to-day operations of that role. Because again, you need to be looking for positions that are a good fit for you, not necessarily just a good fit from the firm’s standpoint. Not only are you lucky to be in the position to be interviewing for that, but you need to view it through the lens that the employer is lucky that you’re sitting there in that chair willing to hear them out at why you should work for them.
Matt: I was a recruiter in college. I was God awful at it. Definitely not one of my strengths. I’ve learned a lot from that experience, but in the eyes of a recruiter, can you just shed some light on how difficult the recruiting process is from your side? How the process unfolds, and ultimately, how you identify who you want to be there? And the further along the process you get, the more that’s amplified.
Cooper: I’d say there’s a lot to unpack there. The overarching thing can go one of two ways. I think there’s two pieces to it. Again, back on the viewing it as you’re lucky to be there and the employer is lucky to have you there. The interviewing process from a recruiter standpoint, as you mentioned, is tough. The job market right now is hot. People are looking to leave jobs at record highs right now. What we’re doing from a hiring standpoint and a recruiting standpoint, we have to create job listings in a way that lays out what the requirements are or the preferred requirements are without eliminating people that may not fit the ideal mold immediately from applying. The first step in almost any hiring process is the job listing, right? We have a job listing typed up. We have requirements. We have qualifications. What we’re doing is we’re getting resumes and cover letters in return for that.
Cooper: Sometimes it’s a more detailed application that we’re getting. At the end of the day, we have to base who we’re going to move forward with in the next step of the process just based on those documents alone. It’s not realistic to assume that we can go through an interview process with every candidate that applies for a position. You have to find a way to separate yourself prior to getting to the phone interview stage, whether it’s in your cover letter or your resume. The process is very different I would say for every firm. From my standpoint, what we do is that we post our position and then the position then gets reviewed by a “gatekeeper.” When an HR is reviewing that for keywords, key phrases, personality traits that pop out in the cover letter from the writing skill highlights on the resume, things like that that will pique to the interest of our firm and what our values are and where we’re looking to grow the department or the position. Then from there, our HR is doing the initial interview. They’re asking some very targeted basic questions to narrow the candidate pool. Again, prior to it getting to the point that you’re meeting with one of the direct managers or direct team mate of who the position would be working with.
Matt: I think what I really took away from what you just said is up until a certain point it is just about your resume, right? Like until you get in front of someone who is the gatekeeper, you do have to have a quality resume to get you to that point. Now let’s shift focus a little bit more to the actual interview process itself. If you could just describe each step of the traditional, like phone interview, in person interview, et cetera, and what you’re looking for at each stage, I think that’d be really helpful for our listeners.
Cooper: At the first interview stage, which you’re right, it’s usually a phone interview. What we’re looking for is we’re looking for someone who is obviously prompt. If you’re directed to call, that you’re calling right on time, and you’re answering if you’re not the one calling on the first call. Believe it or not, we have a lot of candidates that don’t do that. Same goes if it’s a Zoom meeting or a Skype meeting or a video interview. Figure out the technology beforehand. That’s one piece of advice I’ll give. It does not look good when you are 15 minutes late because you couldn’t figure out how to log into Zoom and you had never tried it before. The first interview is really about asking clarification questions on resumes and cover letters and then trying to get a little bit of a piece of personality from the candidate. Asking some communication style or management style questions. I think this is a really, really good opportunity for the candidate to…
Cooper: If you don’t feel confident about your resume and maybe you don’t all have the qualifications, this is an opportunity to impress them with some of your goals and aspirations and your action plans. Also, to give off that level of energy, right? Show a little bit that you’ve done some due diligence and research on the firm and why you’re a super excited to meet the CCO because of his background. He had company X, Y, and Z and you listened to the podcast that the CEO did with so and so a few weeks ago and you’re really inspired by their philosophy on this. It’s a really good example to drop some clues in there to the gatekeeper that you’ve done your research, you know what you’re talking about. You might not have these three boxes checked in the requirements column, but you more than make up for that in your passion and energy.
Matt: What that allows you to do, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it allows you to in essence, control the interview to where you want it to go, right? Versus being on the defense and answering all the questions they’re asking you.
Cooper: 100%. When you’re doing the gatekeeper interview, and again, quotes on that, I refer to that as basically the interview before you get to an interview with the direct team or direct manager who you might be working with. At that stage, the questions that you’re usually going to be asked are very high level and generic. Those are the strengths and the weaknesses questions. Maybe some specific questions around a tool that is used at the firm, like a planning software or something like that, but you’re not going to be drilled with targeted questions related to your technical abilities at that point. You’re 100% right. You can steer that interview somewhere that you want to drive to and somewhere that gives you confidence when you’re talking about it. If you have a background in, I don’t know, maybe you’re a biostatistician and you have a background in understanding and analyzing data and that’s something you’re very passionate about. You can steer the conversation towards your ability to have strong attention to detail. That’s your opportunity there to convey what you bring to the table before they have the ability to direct that.
Matt: Yeah. Cooper, would you say too, a lot of these things we can prime ourselves for success for just by putting quick, nerdy facts or prior work experience about things that we are really comfortable talking about versus trying to impress someone with something we might not be super confident in?
Cooper: 100%, yes. I’m sure everyone knows from your experience talking to people no matter what the topic is, you can gain somebody’s level of confidence pretty quickly. The most important thing to me when I’m interviewing somebody is addressing and acknowledging their level of confidence. If you immediately get sucked into a topic that you’re not confident talking about and comfortable talking about, it’s going to be seen by the interviewer. Not necessarily that that’s a bad thing, but if you can steer the direction of the conversation into something that you’re genuinely passionate and confident talking about and find a way to make it relatable to the position, that’s the ideal spot to be.
Matt: A lot of times we overthink this, it can be something as simple as I just moved from the Midwest to the South. Right? You and I would connect on that very well. I think we could both talk about how we enjoy these mild winters. Am I right?
Cooper: Absolutely right.
Matt: Yeah. All right. I want to shift gears a little bit. Going back to something that you said right at the beginning where every firm is different, right? In how we use softwares, what our planning philosophies are. Let’s say we’ve prepared, we’ve gone through the interview process, and now we actually have to go start this job. As a director of financial planning I’m sure you see a lot of processes working well and not working well. What should new planners be thinking about when they arrive on that first day of their new role after they’ve interviewed for it?
Cooper: That’s a good question. I can tell you that for me and what I believe the successful people in my firm do is they arrive early. They are energized. They prepared. What I mean by that is they’ve taken some time the night before or the morning of, and they’ve built out some type of checklist or agenda of items that they want to make sure are tackled during the day. Creating that list of priorities is to me, extremely important in making sure one, things get done. Two, that things get done in an order that they need to get done. I would also say that one other thing that I think is, I mentioned it earlier, but the big piece is leveraging the tools around you. I think that on your first day on the job, you need to be in a position to know that you need to go around and introduce yourself to everybody else in the office.
Cooper: I think that leveraging the resources around you is such an underutilized tool in the workplace. When you think about it, theoretically, everybody else in the office is on the same team as you. We’re all on the same ship going in the same direction, working towards the same common goal. Everyone knows that they have strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask others for help. I think as long as you go into the day energized and excited and have an open mind, knowing that there are going to be tasks that you get assigned to you that you may not know how to do, and you’re going to fail, you’re going to mess up. But as long as you know that and you’re willing to ask for help, then you’re going to be successful.
Matt: That’s really no different than a client comes in with a super complicated tax question and we go call our accountant friend after the meeting. Right?
Cooper: Of course, I am a big believer in, if you don’t know, always admit that you don’t know and be the guy that comes back with the right answer. You will look better in your coworkers, your managers, your client’s eyes every time if you say, you know what, I’m not sure. I’ll get the answer and I’ll get back to you versus giving some wrong or bad or incorrect advice.
Matt: These new planners listening, how can they set themselves up for success rather than digging a hole right out of the gate? What are some don’t do this tips for day one of this new job?
Cooper: I think it can easily be explained in thinking of the inverse, right? I think don’t come in with overconfidence. I think you have to be confident in yourself, but you have to know your limitations. Kind of what we were just talking about. You’re going to get things asked to you or assigned to you that you don’t know how to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. All right. I’ve worked with people who take on too much, and even if they know how to do it, there’s just too much on their plate to do. You need to know when to ask for help. You need to know how to delegate things. I think that taking on too much is one of the biggest downfalls that people have. I also think just having open and honest communication. Don’t be afraid to talk to your coworkers, whether it’s someone below you or beneath you in the hierarchy. Again, everyone should be there working towards the same common goal and everyone should be open and willing to help. Sometimes you might get the feeling that somebody else doesn’t want to help. But I would say don’t be afraid of that. Be vulnerable and ask for help.
Matt: Yeah, would you say too that that’s a good tip regardless of how much experience you have? Because I’m sure you’ve seen people come into the firm who have done things essentially the same thing, just very different ways. It’s still good to come in with a curious mindset on day one.
Cooper: Absolutely. I myself have only been doing this for eight or nine years. I work with advisors that have been in the financial planning industry for 40, 50 years that are in their 60, 70s and they’d still come to me with questions. Right? There’s a level of respect that I think you gain when you say, you know what? I don’t know this. I want to leverage your specialty. I know that you know this. Can you teach me? All that’s doing is adding another arrow in your quiver to make you a better employee and a better financial advisor as well.
Matt: Sometimes I’m sure candidates do not pan out. What do you see as some of those big reasons for why a working relationship doesn’t go as planned or ultimately fails?
Cooper: I think the biggest reason for candidates not working out is poor communication. Whether that’s poor communication on what the job really entails or that’s poor communication on expectations of roles and responsibilities and deadlines. I think that the most frustrated employees I’ve ever spoken with are ones that just feel they have really poor, dishonest communication with their managers. I think that if you breach trust, it can completely ruin a relationship. I think also managing expectations. I think that everyone needs to be on the same page with what the goals are, how do we get there, and what’s our timeframe for getting there, and then holding each other accountable. I think that you can create a lot of animosity if you don’t have good communication and don’t have good managed expectations. That’s when you see employees leaving.
Cooper: Then I would say the third piece that’s really hard to manage from the position that any of us are in is the culture, right? I think that the work culture is something that’s very important to most employees and cultures of firms change all the time. Sometimes you might join a firm thinking the culture is one way because that’s how the interview process seemed to go, but you might find out working there that the culture is just not what you expected or it’s not the right fit for you and what you’re looking for. Those are the three areas I would see that are the reasons why candidates tend to not work out.
Matt: Like you said, sometimes the culture changes or maybe we outgrow the role that we were hired for. How can we start having those conversations early? About when we feel those pain points either about growing within the firm, or it’s just not quite what we thought, and hopefully save the relationship or successfully transition out of that relationship without burning too many bridges.
Cooper: Yeah, that’s a great question. That’s also a tough question. I would say that hopefully we all have relationships with our management that has good, open, honest communication and you feel comfortable addressing your concerns and giving sometimes constructive feedback. I would say if you’re in a firm and you feel as though you’ve outgrown your role or you’re no longer challenged. Maybe you want to transition to a different role or department, I think that the best course of action is to go to whoever your direct supervisor is and talk to them about the way you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. Again, have an action plan. Maybe you’re a paraplanner and you want to become a financial advisor. You want to go out there and you want to find clients on your own. Great.
Cooper: Come to the table with a plan of how you’re going to do that. What’s your transition timeline? What action steps are you going to take to become a successful advisor? I would say, you need to always be honest with yourself though. You need to know your restrictions the best that you can. You need to be open and willing to accept feedback as well. If you’re going to give feedback, you also need to be open to accepting. That’s something I see not always going smoothly with some people is they’re not honest with themselves or they’re not willing to accept critical feedback.
Matt: If there was one overarching, this is the one thing you need to worry about if this is your first job or you’re looking to do a career change into a different firm or coming into financial planning for the first time, what would be the biggest tip of advice you would give for new planners out there?
Cooper: Always remain open-minded and flexible. This industry is ever-changing. Regulations are ever-changing. The approach and philosophy around financial planning is always changing. The models in which we are compensated as advisers is constantly changing. I think that if you’re entering into this industry, you need to be fluid and you need to be able to adapt to change. You need to know that things are going to change. As long as you have that as an expectation, I think that you can be successful. As a career in this industry grows, you also need to grow. This is not the type of career where you can start, learn how to do the job, and then become complacent. You have to keep up with everything from new products rolling out, market volatility, economic changes, tax law changes, regulations. There’s a lot of upkeep to be successful in this industry.
Cooper: I think as long as you’re managing your expectations around how much work is really involved to be successful in this career, then you’re going to be able to be successful in this career fairly easily. I think it’s the people who just see the, maybe the flashiness or the money that’s tossed around in the financial services industry and think that they’re going to walk in here and be able to be in that position easily. Those people that have those false expectations, they’re the ones that fail out. The people that come in here with realistic expectations and have a true passion for what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, those are the ones that ultimately become successful and have very rewarding careers.
Matt: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Cooper. I know I learned a lot. I always enjoy talking to you about what’s going on in your world and hearing all these awesome recruiting tips. Thanks again for joining us.
Cooper: Absolutely. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.