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13 tips for hiring NextGen talent

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So you want to hire young planning talent.

It's a timely goal as the planning industry continues to struggle with a severe lack of qualified younger recruits, at the same time that many young planners complain they can't find work.

Two experts held forth on that subject for a recent Financial Planning webinar and offered their top strategies for connecting with Millennials and hiring them to boost your firm's productivity and ensure its legacy.

Nine of the 24 employees at JNBA Financial Advisors in Minneapolis came out of the firm's highly developed internship program, says the firm's president, Kim Brown, who explained how the program evolved over the past decade. Today JNBA is composed of more Millennials than older planners: just three Baby Boomers, eight Gen X-ers and 13 Millennials.

Caleb Brown, who cofounded New Planner Recruiting with well-known industry consultant [and Financial Planning columnist] Michael Kitces, broke down the mini boot-camp his firm puts young planners through before introducing them to their clients. He also described the basic "table stakes" required to effectively compete in the race to hire the best talent.

The experts – who are not related to each other – offered the following 13 tips:

1. Work with younger clients.

"If you don't want to work with younger clients, that's fine," Caleb Brown says, "but you may not be able to attract younger talent.

2. "Assemble your "table stakes."

To compete for top young planning talent requires that every firm possess a minimum number of attributes, Caleb Brown says (and Kim Brown largely agrees).

Those attributes are:

     a. Solid revenue growth. Most candidates want to work at firms that are growing by 10% to 20% annually.

     b. Salary plus incentive compensation for young full-time planners, and compensation for interns.

     c. Salary not dependent on bringing in new clients, at least not initially.

     d. The chance to work with existing clientele, even if only in introductory roles that require less experience.

     e. A clear career path the young hires can see and follow.

     f. Mentorship and training work with experienced planners.

3. Give younger planners a voice.

"They have high expectations as it relates to having a voice in your firm," Kim Brown says.

4. Update your website and your technology.

"Whenever I'm screening a firm owner to see if I want to work with them or not, I can tell in about five minutes," Caleb Brown says, adding that he asks, "Are you investing in getting [your planners] the best technology? … Are you using 2007 software?"

If so, he says, update everything and, by all means, drop that static, brochure-style website that will turn off tech-savvy young planners, he says.

5. Empower young planners.

"Is this an employee-centric culture or is this old-school?" Caleb Brown says he asks himself while he's deciding if he should or should not work with a firm. "What I mean about this is, 'Are you making people take days off to go to doctor's appointments? … Is it a micromanagement situation? Are you hovering over these people or are you empowering them?' "

6.Run an internship program.

Over the past 11 years, more than 30 interns from around the county have worked at JNBA as part of the firm's internship program, Kim Brown says. Even the future director of JNBA's financial planning began as an intern, she adds.

JNBA begins taking applications for its program in February and runs the program throughout the summer and puts one full-time employee in charge of it.

7. Keep your expectations high.

Although JNBA devotes a large amount of time to training its interns, it also expects a lot in return.

"We actually have high expectations of them," Kim Brown says. "Everybody in the firm puts down projects that they would love to see interns do next summer. … We had one [intern] working solely on robo advising, trying to determine if that's something we want to get into."

"Definitely we get value from our interns," she says. "We are way more productive in the summer with our interns here."

8. Build your legacy.

JNBA began thinking of building an internship program about a decade ago when it came time to consider where the firm would be after Brown and her husband, whose mother founded the firm, were no longer in charge, she says.

"We have clients who have been with us for 36 years, since the door opened. Attrition is taking them away," she says. "We needed to set up our firm to take care of their entire family, as their family became multigenerational and grew, so that was really the impetus for looking at the next generation."

9. Partner with a local university.

JNBA helped fund a financial planning laboratory at its own office, in partnership with the University of Minnesota at Duluth and main sponsor TD Ameritrade. The firm then helped the university launch its first financial planning major.

Many planners around the country become adjunct professors at local colleges, both to help develop future planners for the industry at large, but also to ensure they get first crack at top young planners when they graduate, Caleb Brown says.

10. Test them.

Young planners and recent graduates make any number of claims on their resumes that Caleb Brown set out to verify.

"Whenever a candidate contacts me and wants to be presented to one of my clients, we have a six-day screening process that they have to go through," he says. "All of the time I see this: 'Proficient in Excel. Have used MoneyGuidePro.' OK, that's great. We're going to make you prove that … It's basically a little mini-internship. It doesn’t cost them anything. There's a mini-CFP exam. They have to do a retirement projection in a financial planning program."

11. Recognize the two types of top young planners.

Some will do excellent work, but only after you've given them minute directions, somewhat akin to students performing well after being told precisely what is expected of them on a test at school, Caleb Brown says. Others are self-starters and need less spoon-feeding.

Though both can be top performers, the latter hire is the preferable one and worth the preparation to create an environment that will attract her or him, he says.

12. Expect them to change you too.

"Frankly [Millennials] are a really smart generation," Kim Brown says. "I can't tell you how much having this younger staff has changed our firm, our outlook, our ability to service clients, at a much more sophisticated, higher level and I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the industry."

13. Commit to them.

"I do think that firms have to understand that it's a commitment to come in and raise a new generation," Kim Brown says.

For more of their discussion, you can hear a recording of the entire webinar here.

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