At 15, Dan Murphy took a job in an auto body shop. For nearly a decade, he worked as a mechanic with no long-term career plan. Within a few years, he was married with two kids. That’s when he realized, “I don’t want to be a mechanic for the rest of my life.”

Ambitious by nature, Murphy attended technical school to enhance his knowledge of auto body repair. He also qualified for specialized training to fix Toyota and BMW vehicles.

But at 23, Murphy made a life-changing decision to reinvent himself as a financial planner. In high school, he had enjoyed a stock-picking game that a teacher used to familiarize students with the stock market. After receiving an inheritance at 18, he liked researching how to invest it.

“I made a commitment,” said Murphy, now an independent adviser in Shoreview, Minn. “I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do at all costs.’”

Murphy spent the next four years learning about personal finance and sharpening his sales skills. To improve his resume, he quit mechanic work and took a sales management job at a tool retailer.

Meanwhile, he listened to motivational speaker Zig Ziglar’s audiotapes to learn how to think and act like a top salesperson. “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want,” Ziglar declared. Murphy loved that.

Yet despite his positive attitude, Murphy hit roadblocks. At one large investment firm, the hiring manager heard Murphy’s story, chuckled and showed him the door. He applied for a few other financial planning jobs to no avail. “I spent four years hoping and praying for one person to give me a chance,” Murphy said. “And when someone did, it completely changed my life.”

His entry into the business unfolded in stages. In his initial interview at an Ameriprise Financial field office, the interviewer asked, “How many people do you know with $50,000 to invest?” and “How many people do you know with $5,000 a month to invest?”

“I don’t have any high-net-worth friends,” Murphy replied.

The Ameriprise interviewer suggested he apply to the company’s call center that served lower-net-worth clients. During that interview, Murphy was asked experiential questions such as, “Tell me about a time you managed a portfolio.”

“I wasn’t able to answer those questions because I didn’t have those experiences,” Murphy said. “But before I left, I got honest. I said, ‘Look, I don’t have the background you want. But I’m the kind of person you want. If you’re looking for someone who will outwork everyone else, that’s me.’”

He got the job. It paid $30,000 a year plus commission.

For the next six years, Murphy fielded customer calls and helped address their financial concerns. Eventually, he moved to an independent broker-dealer and then joined an RIA firm. He’s currently in the process of launching his own firm, Greater Good Financial, from which he donates 20% of all revenue to nonprofits.

“It’s my way of saying, ‘I’m not in it for the money,’” he said. “I hope to build trust that way. And I’m picking charities that give others an opportunity to invest in themselves, like I was looking for in those four years of trying to get into the industry.”  

While Murphy has earned two professional designations (Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor), he’d ideally like to add the most recognizable one: Certified Financial Planner. But he can’t because the CFP Board requires a bachelor’s degree or higher to bestow the designation.

“I have occasionally lost [a prospect] who asks if I’m a CFP,” he said. “I say no because I don’t have a college degree. I understand the need for a box to fit people into. But I’d modify the CFP rules to make them more experience-based.”

During his early years at Ameriprise, Murphy saw many young advisers flame out. As freshly minted college grads, they figured they’d learn the ropes and earn $80,000 or more. 

“I saw so many of them fail,” Murphy said. “They had finance degrees and some had MBAs. But it’s a tough business. It’s a lot of stress. And it’s really a sales job. It takes people skills to succeed.”

More: Do you really need a financial adviser? Take this six-question test to find out.

Plus: It’s no fun haggling with your insurance company over a claim. Here’s how advisers negotiate their way to bigger payouts

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