When I first joined Ensemble, I was incredibly intimidated to be working so closely with three extremely knowledgeable and experienced consultants. I was completely unfamiliar with the financial advisory industry and thought it would be months before I said anything useful at team meetings. However, I quickly realized that whenever client questions about human capital came up, no one seemed quite as eager to jump in as they were when discussions about financial benchmarking or equity and valuations came up. Here was my opportunity to fill a gap. And it was a good opportunity, since professional service firms’ biggest expenses are people after all. 

I spent some free time during the first few months at Ensemble reading books and articles, watching TED Talks and listening to podcasts about recruiting and retaining people. My manager quickly realized that this was not only an area I was interested in but also one that I had a baseline level understanding of. In the past several months, he has given me opportunities to work with clients on human capital strategies, partly because he’s interested in my professional development but also because I was the logical choice—the only one on staff trying to develop expertise in this area.

Almost all firms struggle with producing high-quality marketing content. Advisory firms are no exception. Blog posts are a chore for partners and lead advisors. Short videos are also effective marketing tools, but few bosses want to take the time producing them. That’s another way we young professionals can stand out and fill the gap. While developing content is hard, we offer invaluable skills if we can go through the process of researching and developing our own thoughts on a topic and boiling down those thoughts into a blog post or video.

Advisory firms also benefit from having certain young employees become “super users” of their latest software and communication methods. For example, if a firm uses Tamarac for performance reporting, it could be a worthy investment of time for a younger professional to become the firm’s resident expert on the application. Other tools like Slack are slowly but surely establishing themselves in our fairly conservative industry. This is a golden opportunity for our more tech adventurous generation. If your firm chooses to pursue any strategic projects related to software, you would likely be asked to play a significant role. You may even be asked to drive that initiative.

Lesson 3: Treat your senior colleagues the way they treat clients.

Every professional services firm has two different modes: a client mode and an internal mode. The expectations of communication, professionalism and even preparedness often vary between the two. Often the same partners that answer every client call immediately take five months to write performance reviews for their subordinates. While this is something that we quickly observe as young professionals, we should actively try to avoid adopting the behavior.

We also shouldn’t act differently when clients are around. Maybe we might dress up a bit more, but our behavior should be the same regardless of their presence. One of the best ways to prove to your bosses that you are ready to play a larger role in your firm’s client relationships is to show them that you’re already acting like a relationship manager. It’s just that the relationships you’re managing at this stage are those with your managers and colleagues.

Providing Client Level Value

Advisory firms are always striving to add value for their clients and blow them away with the level of service they provide. In the same manner, we should strive to add value for our managers and colleagues and blow them away too. This means that when we’re given an assignment with specific instructions, but also think there might be a better way of completing it, we do it both ways to give our managers options. It also means we should communicate with our managers frequently and answer their inquiries thoroughly as soon as we can.

Personally, my goal is to answer every e-mail within 1.5 hours if it’s sent during the workday or by 10 a.m. the next day if it’s sent after 5 p.m. It might be worth outlining expectations about these response times with your managers if you’re unsure about whether they’re happy with your current system.