Being the Awkward New Guy
One of the hardest and most frustrating aspects of starting your career as a Support Advisor (or Associate) is the fact that everyone else has relationships with clients except for you. While we’re glad we aren’t in sales roles and don’t have to build our own ‘books’ from scratch, the downside is that we have to begin at the bottom of the food chain and work our way up.
These frustrations only increase when you first get introduced to the firm’s clients and they make it abundantly clear they don’t know or trust you.
Here’s a common occurrence in the early days as a Support Advisor:
Alongside the Senior Advisor, you walk into your first client meeting to get started – what a rush! The Senior Advisor makes small talk and tells a couple jokes about a current event - the client is loving it! Then, you (the newbie), seize the opportunity to crack a couple jokes and build some quick, chummy rapport while the mood is ripe – crickets…
Not only did you completely misread social cues, you may have also just highlighted your youth and immaturity to the most important people. This is officially awkward.
In the digital age, the early jabs come in via email too.
In my very first month on the job, my Senior received an email from one of our clients that read: “who is Bryan and why is he on our emails about my finances?” Then, I had another client tell my Senior, “I’m so glad to hear you hired someone! I’m sure he’s great. But just for the record, YOU are my advisor, not him.”
Ouch. Strike 1 and I haven’t even stepped up to the plate yet.
This is all too common for many of us. We come in with our strong educational backgrounds, high enthusiasm, and intention to become experts and help our new clients, only to be shot down immediately before we can show our stuff.
How to Get Over It
Getting over that hump was tough, and even though I have a little tenure now, it’s something I still deal with. But the question remains, how did I work passed it and how can new associates work to overcome this?
I’ve had trouble articulating this concept for a long time now. But that all changed this morning after the most insightful trip to the grocery store I’ve ever had.
Inspiration at the Deli Counter
Like anyone in their 20’s without kids, I like to take advantage of the occasional lazy Sunday. Every once in a while, though, I wake up early on a weekend and think, “wow, I feel great. I should get some stuff done!” Alas, my morning coffee and errands routine began early this Sunday.
After my coffee run, I headed to the grocery store to beat the crowds and decided that I was going to have simple sandwiches for lunch this week.
I approached the deli counter and browsed the over-complicated meats section, trying to determine my price point. $12.99 for a pound of turkey meat? What is this!?
With an honest look on my face, I innocently asked the sweet lady behind the counter if she had any deals running this week. She briefly glanced over her shoulder, then turned to me and said, “you don’t want me to cut slices of this processed junk. You can get a better deal if you buy the full turkey in the cold section for half the price.” Then, she walked out from behind the deli counter and led me to a refrigerated section with full turkeys in there that were a much better deal than what I was initially asking for. “This is what you want right here,” she said.
Wow. In a matter of seconds, this woman sized up my situation and concerns, then saved me a ton of money. It may seem like a small gesture and a ‘just doing my job’ moment, but to me, the thoughtfulness and care really went a long way.
In my opinion, I now consider this person an Expert in the deli meat selection process and she has my forever trust. Regardless of whether it was the best deal or not, I felt truly taken care of, which is valuable enough in itself.
She had one, seemingly small opportunity to earn my trust, and she earned it in under 1 minute.
Growing into a Captain, One Small Task at a time
After my deli counter experience, I reflected on my own client relationships and how I slowly built client trust over time.
If I really think back, all the trust I built early on with clients came from identifying seemingly small opportunities where I could help, then following through to let them know they could count on me.
Like many others in the Support Advisor role, I had tons of opportunities to summarize confusing paperwork, explain what the overall goal was, then show clients where to sign when they were ready. Paperwork is often considered grunt work in our field, mainly because it has nothing to do with financial planning, but paperwork and operations always seemed to be an easy opportunity to show I could be detail-oriented, while letting me practice explain technical jargon.
Also in Support Advisor role, we typically do a majority of the meeting preparation. Again, this is widely considered grunt work, but it allowed me to draw up the plays before we were even on the field. While preparing for meetings, I’d identify areas that I wanted to present on, then I’d explicitly ask to run that small part of the meeting. If I got the green light from my Senior, I’d rehearse and run through the role plays in my head before the meeting, so I’d deliver my lines with ease and show the client I really knew what I was talking about. Actually, I still do this today.
Whether it was purely an operational conversation or explaining seemingly elementary concepts, those were my early opportunities to show I was more than just a helper; I was their advisor.
The path to building trust has not always been smooth, but it feels great to know some of our most important clients lean on me when they need help the most. Ultimately though, it was the small, consistent wins that helped me grow from less of an unproven sailor to more of a reliable captain.
It’s Human Nature to Trust Slowly
Remember that client I mentioned who wrote me off from the beginning because I was new? I eventually did enough of the little things right to where not only do we have a strong working relationship, I’d consider him a friend. Ironically, he texted me yesterday (a Saturday) when he was in a quick bind and I was glad to help.
The moral of the story is: even your most prized relationships began at Ground Zero. At one point in your life, you and your best friend (or spouse) were complete and total strangers. The things you confide in each other today are completely different than the things you discussed on Day 1.
In the workplace, when you’re hired in your 20’s to be a Support Advisor on someone else’s client, you have to try extra hard to find small areas where you can shine and add value. And when you identify those opportunities, you have to absolutely knock them out of the park.
Although it might hurt our feelings in the early days, it’s important to remember that we’re only human and Mother Nature has taught us to trust slowly.
At first, you may feel like your contributions are minuscule and aren’t getting you anywhere. But if you’re consistently showing you can be counted on by others, you’ll be well on your way to being the one who cracks jokes in meetings and proving that Ground Zero is just the foundation for your exciting, new career.