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A roadmap for hiring top talent

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Just as advisers are always on the lookout for their next great client, they should also be keeping an eye out for the best and brightest people to join their team.

But how can you know which hires are best for you — and your clients?

You can start by thinking about your current team and the superstars you already have in place.

Then start a list of which traits separate them from the rest of your team. What are the qualities, attributes and temperament of these stars? Why are they so valuable?
Next, sit down with these employees and think about the answers to the below questions. Finally, create a profile and plan for finding the best candidates to fit your firm and its culture.

Where did they come from? Where was the employee working before? Did they work for a competitor, or did they change careers? Were they a less-experienced hire, such as a college recruit or a summer intern?

In other words, what background and experience seems to be the best fit for a successful hire in your firm?

I recently went through this process with a client who was recruiting for an adviser position. He determined the most successful adviser hire was a career changer — specifically, someone who had been a CPA. The successful hire had a CPA background, plus they had successfully completed the CFP exam prior to joining the firm.

How did they get here? How did your star employees come into contact with the firm (e.g., job posting, recruiter, employee or client’s referral)? This helps you determine the best sources for generating candidates.

Which websites and social media sites do they most frequently visit? This will help you to determine where to target candidates online.

Why did they come here? What attracted them most to the company and/or to the role? This will help you to identify how best to position the firm and job openings to candidates.

What are their values? Which characteristics and traits do they have in common? What are two or three core values or beliefs that they all share?

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The last two questions get to the most important part of the criteria for making a great hire. By determining the qualities and attributes of your most successful hires, you will be able to screen for what is not trainable — values, work ethic and attitude.

A new hire can learn the industry and the responsibilities of the position over time as they gain experience in the role. However, it is very difficult to train someone how to be trustworthy, dependable and ethical.

I recommend identifying the core competencies for each role in the firm and your firm-wide core competencies to ensure you are getting the right DNA match for a successful hire.

Firm-wide core competencies are a firm's main strengths or strategic advantages. These can include the combination of pooled knowledge and technical capacities that allow an advisory to be competitive.

I like to think of organization-wide competencies as what makes up the firm culture. Ask what are the values and characteristics of the people who fit well within the firm? What are the attributes that they all have in common?

The following are examples of firm-wide core competencies:

  • High standards: Expects personal performance and team performance to be nothing short of the best.
  • Work ethic: Possesses a strong willingness to work hard — and sometimes long — hours to get the job done. Has a track record of working hard.
  • Integrity and honesty: Does not cut corners ethically. Earns trust and maintains confidences. Does what is right, not just what is politically expedient. Speaks plainly and truthfully.
  • Follows through on commitments: Lives up to verbal and written commitments, regardless of personal cost.
  • Understands teamwork: Reaches out to peers and cooperates with their manager to establish an overall collaborative working relationship.
  • Displays enthusiasm: Exhibits passion and excitement over work. Has a can-do attitude.
  • Entrepreneurial attitude: Demonstrates ability to work successfully in a small company environment.

Role-specific core competencies are the strengths or attributes that employees need to carry out their work effectively. Here are some:

  • Organization and planning: Plans, organizes, schedules and budgets in an efficient and productive manner. Focuses on key priorities.
  • Analytical skills: Able to structure and process qualitative or quantitative data and draw insightful conclusions. Exhibits a probing mind and achieves penetrating insights.
  • Intelligence: Learns quickly. Demonstrates ability to quickly and proficiently understand and absorb new information.
  • Attention to detail: Does not let important details slip through the cracks or derail a project or process.
  • Persistence: Demonstrates tenacity and willingness to go the distance to get something done.
  • Communication: Speaks and writes clearly and articulately without being overly verbose or talkative. Maintains this standard in all forms of written communication, including email.
  • Listening skills: Lets others speak and seeks to understand their viewpoints.
  • Flexibility/adaptability: Adjusts quickly to changing priorities and conditions. Copes effectively with complexity and change.

Once you have established the strengths and characteristics of your most successful employees, you can create interview questions to screen for what you cannot train them to do.

I suggest using behavioral-based interview questions. The theory behind behavioral interviewing is that “the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation.”

This method of structuring the interview questions will help you begin to see if there is a real match with the job and, most important, the culture of your firm. For instance, the following questions to ask your star employees help probe deeper into following through on commitments, teamwork, having a high sense of urgency and displaying a fit with the role:

  • Tell me about time you agreed to do something for a client when you weren’t sure you would have the time. What was the situation, why did you tell them you would help them and what was the outcome?
  • How do you keep coworkers, your manager and clients updated and reassured that you will get done what is needed by the determined deadline?
  • What from your past professional or personal experiences indicates you will have success in the role of an adviser?
  • What hobbies and/or activities are you involved in outside of work? This helps to determine how the candidate balances their work and personal life, and if their work ethic is a match with the environment of your firm.

To ensure you are hiring candidates who match your ideal employee profile, you can use personality assessments to get beyond the resume and predict how an employee will perform in the role.

Third-party assessment tools such as Kolbe, DISC and StrengthsFinder are useful indicators of how well-suited a candidate is for the job in question. Many advisers use a financial planning case study or a mock client meeting to gauge a candidate’s technical proficiency and skill at managing client relationships.

Ultimately, having a strong interview process will ensure the highest level of success in selecting a new employee. Profiling your top talent and then using those criteria to define qualified candidates means you will maximize the fit between the person, the job and your organization.

By precisely defining your ideal employee, you will create the standard by which you compare all job applicants. This ideal employee profile is critical in sustaining the culture you have worked so hard to create, and it is also vital to the ideal client experience.

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