For years now, it’s been getting more difficult and expensive to find and train good advisor professionals. At our firm, we see this as a consequence of an industry growing up — as the industry matures, it becomes more challenging to find, train and retain the right people.

Some firms have found recruiting to be so daunting that it’s an impediment to growth. To compete effectively, growing firms now need a higher caliber program than they did in the past.

Of course, the best way to stay ahead of your staffing demand is to fuel it with highly motivated and superbly trained young professionals. But if you’re thinking about hiring junior associates this year, how can you improve your chances of success with new entrants to your firm?

At my firm, Savant Capital Management, we created a disciplined and streamlined process to identify, select and develop new advisors. The program primarily targets recent college graduates, but we can also use it to select someone new to wealth management with previous work experience. Here’s how it works.


Initially, we targeted three universities near our home office, where we know a number of staff. Over the past decade, we’ve had interns working with us from each of those universities.

We leverage our relationships at these schools so that staff and interns help identify and promote potential candidates. We also participate in university career fairs and host “get to know Savant” sponsored events. 

Next, we screen and select candidates. We use a checklist of required attributes such as motivation and aptitude, as well as compatibility with our company’s performance-based culture — and a validated sales assessment tool developed for us by an industrial psychologist.

We also require candidates to prepare a paper about why they feel they are a fit for this program and the industry.


After the initial screenings, we interview them, covering four main areas:

  • Job knowledge: We ask what they think a financial advisor does, what challenges they might face, what responsibilities they want to attain over time, and what technical skills they possess that could make them successful.
  • Motivation: What has contributed to their success so far, and why they chose the major they did? We also want to know what expectations they have of the firm — and why Savant?
  • Intellectual ability: We focus on high-performing students, so we’ll ask why they have a high GPA. What do they read? And what can they bring to the firm?
  • Interpersonal skills: This can be tricky to learn in an interview. In addition to asking what activities they were involved in, we ask them to describe team efforts — identify some wins and losses, and explain what they did about the latter. Also, what qualities are they looking for in a supervisor? What do they regard as their outstanding qualities?

Finally, we have candidates take a comprehensive psychometric test, which helps highlight how they communicate and what their inherent skills and behavior traits are.
This is critical to our job placement — we don’t want to train someone and then try to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole.


Once selected, participants enter a paid training period. They must complete several educational requirements, enrolling in the CFP program and participating in Savant Academy internal training sessions.

When they successfully complete the CFP exam, the firm reimburses them for the associated costs.

As part of all new hires’ training and personal development, the first year to 18 months on the job will include rotations through each operating department: 12 to 24 weeks, on average, in investment research; 24 weeks in planning and taxes; 12 weeks in client services; and eight weeks on our data team. The rotation period varies based on aptitude and availability for meaningful assignments.

All new hires are also assigned a mentor — a regular Savant employee who has been trained in mentoring, coaching and providing feedback. Each mentor follows the participant throughout their training and development.


We believe that every firm faces critical challenges associated with hiring new college graduates:

Gen Y’s values are different. The generation graduating college now is not nearly as motivated by money as were boomers — who include the executives currently running many firms. New graduates won’t respond to the same hiring tactics you’ve used for Gen X, either. Recruiting, training and motivating these folks has to be different.

Firms need higher levels of sophistication. Firms must ramp up faster to remain competitive, so they need staff to be productive more quickly. That means key investments in acquisition, training and development for the best and brightest talent.

Jobs and organizations are evolving. It’s clear that as companies get bigger, jobs become more specialized. If your firm is growing and wants to be scalable, your staff must specialize, as well — or you will quickly become inefficient. Meanwhile, firm structures are evolving based on changing business models — requiring flexibility on the part of your entire organization (not to mention the entire industry).

Young professionals expect more than job security and fair compensation; they want an enjoyable work experience. They want to feel part of something more significant than just their work — hence the need for teamwork and seeing the value of their contribution, early and often. They want a connection to their workplace and the world at large, and a mentor to guide them. Successful managers build relationships with their staff and make mentoring and deep listening part of their skill sets.

We encourage Gen Y team members to come up with ideas for better, more efficient or more cost-effective operations, then make those contributions highly visible — giving them immediate impact. Praise for contributions helps team members feel they are part of the big picture.

Our programs offer junior staff specific metrics on education, experience and professional training; the goal is to advance them to senior advisor. We want our young advisors to work toward an expected professional standard with little uncertainty — something that provides substantial “retention glue.” No one has left our firm because there was “no future” or they “didn’t know how to advance.”

Also, juniors are not stuck with one senior advisor for life. There’s no silo-building by seniors, or career stagnation for juniors — which could occur if an advisor built his or her own insular team. Because juniors know they will work with more than one senior, there’s no potential resentment from getting “stuck” or working with someone they don’t enjoy.


Our staffing strategy represents an evolution. Many advisors with little hiring experience often envision the new hire taking on responsibilities the senior advisor had been handling. That might work for the first one or two new people, but that’s about it. 

These firms miss a fundamental fact: With growth, organizational structure must evolve to remain competitive. Jobs will change, whether you plan for them or not. Moreover, to change your business or revenue model, you may need to change your organization.

Evolving your overall business structure and finding, hiring and retaining young advisors isn’t rocket science, but it is hard work. Plan for where you want to be, get professionals to help you with your hiring, then train, nurture and tend to your business “family.” That kind of strategy will enhance their careers and support your firm’s growth and profitability.

Glenn G. Kautt, CFP, EA, AIFA, is a Financial Planning columnist and vice chairman of Savant Capital Management, based in Rockford, Ill.

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