When Julia Connell, a former chief financial officer at a regional hospital, came to work as a planner for Rob Hoxton's fee-only firm in Shepherdstown, W. Va., she appeared to be overqualified. According to conventional wisdom, new hires with skills, education, experience or abilities that significantly exceed job requirements will get bored and leave when they can. Nonetheless, Connell thrived. Three years later, she is a shareholder of the firm and managing many of its clients.
In the current economic environment, there are plenty of would-be employees who may seem too good for the job, meaning a lot of downsized talent is available. "Over the last couple of years nobody was hiring," says Caleb Brown, a certified financial planner and partner at New Planner Recruiting in Tallahassee, Fla. "They are like crazy now, especially in the Northeast. There are multiple offers for top talent."
With a bit of savvy management, both you and the employee can reap rewards. Top talent can provide fresh thinking and take on more complex work than current staff. At the same time, your new hire can fulfill personal ambitions - a career change or chance to mentor others. Financial planning has long attracted career changers who develop experience with life transitions. As the workforce ages and people work longer, you may find that experienced employees are readily available.
To keep these employees, it's especially important to provide challenges and flexibility. Overqualified employees become unhappy and more likely to quit only if they don't feel "empowered," says Berrin Erdogan, an associate professor of management at Portland State University and co-author of a recent study on the subject in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
The key to success is to thoroughly explore their motivations for applying for the job and, after you've made your hire, establish a clear path for your new employee. "Provide reasons to stay as soon as the new hire sits in his or her seat - an accelerated career path, new responsibilities and personal recognition are a few examples," says Grosse Pointe, Mich.-based Sam Levine, a recruiter in the financial industry at the Buttonwood Group, an MRINetwork affiliate. Levine's firm favors the highest qualified candidates and adapts positions to take advantage of their abilities. "That can open up new possibilities that weren't envisioned when the job was originally fashioned," he said.
Connell was willing to take a significant pay cut to join the firm because she was interested in working one-on-one using her skills to help families, Hoxton says. "She was really motivated and, in 18 months, had clients of her own." Connell is now a CFP, and also has an M.B.A. and a master of science in financial planning. "She is probably the most talented financial planner I've met," Hoxton adds.
Other experienced candidates are interested in mentoring, says Patrick Sweeney, president of Princeton, N.J.-based human resource consulting firm Caliper. The trick is ensuring that they are not solely giving, but also receiving. "If you speak to top performers, they say they want to be with other people who are as motivated as they are," he says.
FLEXIBILITY AND CHALLENGES
"In 30 years, I've never had someone tell me they were bored," says Rapid City, S.D., CFP Rick Kahler, who once hired a woman with a master's degree in public administration from Yale as his administrative assistant. One reason he's succeeded with overqualified candidates: "I give them greater flexibility than the normal employer. I tend to allow people to take vacations when they want, work the hours they want," he says.
Part-time hours can attract superb retirees. One of Hoxton's clients, Roy Henderson, had retired after working as a manager at GE. He was looking for additional activity and asked Hoxton if he could be an unpaid intern. Hoxton took him on, and six months later hired him as a part-time analyst, where he used his business and engineering experience to lead the firm's strategic planning process and serve as an analyst on the firm's investment committee.
"Working part-time gave him the flexibility and the chance to do interesting work," Hoxton says. Henderson stayed for five years before retiring.
OFFER FINANCIAL INCENTIVES
Bonuses along with opportunities to grow will attract and retain overqualified staff, says Mitch Kauffman of Kauffman Wealth Services in Pasadena, Calif. He hired someone with 10 years experience in financial services, including a stint at Morgan Stanley, as office manager. "Out of 200 applicants, she had the very best combination of technical and interpersonal skills," Kauffman says. In addition to her salary, she is eligible for a quarterly bonus.
Incentives can be very important for mid-career changers. "They sometimes find they must take a significant pay cut initially, so they look for a compensation plan that allows them to rebuild their income," Hoxton says.
Money matters, of course, but it's not always the top priority. Although Kahler has always offered bonuses, he says flexibility and culture trump incentives. Also key is professional development.
"I encourage people to set their success goals," Kauffman says. "What criteria will they use to look back and decide whether it was a good year? I'll do everything I can to support their goals and guide them to coincide with team goals."
"Overqualified hires can be resistant to a different way of doing things, especially if they were in a managerial role thereby creating unnecessary friction in the workplace," Levine says. For example, when Walter Pardo, founder of Wealth Financial Partners in Short Hills, N.J., hired a man with master's degrees in math and physics to sell bonds, "he would second-guess the whole defined sales process, marketing process and the operational process. He could complicate a Post-it note," Pardo recalls.
A bored employee can also be poisonous. "Their feelings about the position may deteriorate, potentially having a negative effect on those they work with and morale overall," says Joel Capperella, a vice president at Yoh, a Philadelphia staffing firm providing technical talent. Your firm may be a pit stop while they keep looking for work. Short-term hires are expensive because you'll spend more time hiring and lose your investment in training. The science whiz who worked for Pardo as a bond salesman left after four months to get his Ph.D.
If your new employee is older, it's a good idea to explore how long they might stay if they're happy in the position and perhaps have a plan for a successor. "You may only get their services for a few years," Hoxton notes. That concern has inspired him to start looking for younger overqualified hires.
"I have a 28-year-old CPA joining us soon. She worked for eight months at a large accounting firm, but was willing to take a pay cut because she is really fired up about financial planning," he says.
Nonetheless, there often is no substitute for life experience. "A planner with 20 years in the profession can bring more to client engagement than a planner just out of college," Kahler says. "Younger planners emphasize their knowledge and older ones their experience. What really counts is the planner's wisdom, and that is not a guaranteed by-product of knowledge or experience."
The bottom line is that "good people are never a liability," says Bob Fragasso of Fragasso Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh. "Every position and its duties should be dynamic."
When a college-educated marketer applied for a clerical job in his marketing department, Fragasso "morphed the position into a marketing assistant." The woman eventually took on managerial duties and became assistant director of marketing.
Sheryl Nance-Nash, a freelance writer in Long Beach, N.Y., has written for The New York Times and Money magazine.