From the April 2006 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

Fitting In

Hiring the right candidate at the right time for exactly the position that needs filling can be the most important way to make your firm grow and succeed.. But it's not easy. In fact, even if you do everything right, you still may not end up with the right person. However, if you follow the proper process, you will greatly enhance your chances of bringing on and keeping good people.

First Step: A Plan

Too often, despite the fact that we advocate the value of planning for others, we fail to plan for ourselves and our own companies. As in all planning, the single most important step in the hiring process--and one that you cannot afford to overlook-- is the first: clearly defining your need.

Your business plan (you do have one, don't you?) should be the starting point for understanding your firm's course of progress. A key part of the plan is identifying what you want your company to look like five or 10 years from now and determining the steps needed to get there. If hiring a new employee is called for, then let's get started.

You must clearly understand what this new person will be doing. Start by listing all the tasks your organization does now. Next, list the tasks that aren't being done, but should be. Once you have a full list, try to determine how much time each task takes--or should take. Where are the bottlenecks or problem areas? For each of the listed items, determine what's being done well and done by someone who is happy doing it. The job of your new employee should be the other tasks--those that aren't being done well or that are making the employee assigned to them unhappy.

If this list is too long, and you can't hire two or three people, then you'll need to prioritize the problem tasks and assign the most important ones to the new person.

All else being equal, if you can manage with your current employees and not hire someone new, that's probably preferable. Even before you begin developing the new job description, you'll want to consider whether or not you can re-arrange the job assignments of your current employees, trading away the tasks they don't enjoy and/or are not best suited to for assignments they find more interesting and that fit their skill sets. If that's not possible, or you still have unclaimed tasks, it's probably time to hire someone new.

Can You Afford it?

How do you decide whether or not you can afford to hire a new person? Most advisors will tell you that hiring a new employee allowed them to be more productive and focus more on revenue-producing activities. The cost of the new employee is typically insignificant compared to the increase in revenues that comes as a result of being freed up. So, the real question to ask yourself is this: If you bring on a new employee, and they perform the tasks you've listed, what other activities would you (or your current employees) be able to accomplish that you are unable to do now? If those jobs were completed, what would be the likely impact on new revenues or perhaps, lower costs? You may find, as I have, that in this way, new hires pay for themselves.

If the new employee can relieve you or a valued employee from doing things that you really dislike, the improvement in the quality of all your lives may make it worthwhile in any case.

Job Description

So you've decided to hire someone. You've also figured out what they are going to do. The next task is writing a job description. Describe the tasks so that anyone would be able to understand what is expected. You'll be giving this to each candidate you consider for the job. They hand you a resume; you give them a job description.

Include in the job description who they will report to and the range of pay you'll offer, depending on qualifications. (The best available source of information for what people in the financial planning profession are paid is the Moss Adams survey from the FPA. Use it with some caution though, since the data base from which it draws its conclusions is fairly narrow.)

Also describe the skills, experience, credentials, work traits, characteristics and physical abilities required to do the job. Do you want a self-starter or someone who takes directions well? How much leeway will you allow in how they do their work? What kind of energy level is necessary to do these tasks well?

Too many employers hire a person simply because they like them. But hiring someone just because they share similar views and have a compatible personality is a big mistake! Look instead for people who have the skills and aptitudes that currently may not be present in your firm. That's why it is important to spend so much time determining the tasks and identifying what to the firm needs. Your ultimate goal is to hire someone who can do the assigned tasks well and who likes to do them.

Help Wanted

With job description in hand, you are now ready to get the word out. Most sophisticated job-seekers these days, including virtually all computer-literate potential hires, search online for job opportunities and only secondarily, if at all, in newspapers. Do you expect that your new employee will come out of your local community or will you need to do a national search? Talk to people who have recently started a new job, and ask them where they looked for openings. Their answers will likely lead you to the best advertising options in your community.

One of the attractions of online job postings is that length is not an issue. You can copy and paste in your entire job description rather than make up something new. This improves the chance that you'll get resumes from people who meet your qualifications.

Of course, for higher level positions, it may be necessary to use a "head hunter."

Initial Screening

Enlist a friend or contract with someone with human resources experience to do the initial resume screening. It will save you time and, in all likelihood, help you sort out better candidates. When "the possibles" have been identified from their r?sum?s, ask the intermediary to conduct a quick five to 15-minute phone interview, further screening the candidates based on desired qualities and characteristics. Once the the field has been narrowed this much, your HR liaison can effectively check the provided references.

When you are down to three to five candidates (always keep at least two; otherwise it's hard to have a reasonable basis for evaluation), use a standardized test as the next step. These assessments provide unbiased but accurate insight into the candidate's work style--information it's difficult to get any other way. While a test should not be the only tool used, it adds significantly to what you get from reading a resume and talking to the candidate. We use a combination: the Kolbe Test, (www.Kolbe.com) and the Omnia Profile (www.omniagroup.com). While each tests for different characteristics, together they provide insightful perspectives on your candidates. Other standardized tests include the Myers Briggs (www.cpp.com/products/mbti/index.asp) and DISC (www.discprofile.com). The results may help you further narrow the number of candidates and/or help you better prepare to discuss the attributes uncovered.

If you have not already done so, have each candidate fill out and sign a job application form. This gives you a written statement from each candidate that his or her resume is accurate and complete; it also gives you permission to check references and background.

Interviews

If you have employees, involve them in both the initial design of the job description and the interview process. They probably know what is needed even better than you do-- and if you want a happy work environment, they will need to like working with the new person. If possible, have several people participate in the interview process; it's best if you prepare them ahead of time, giving them questions to ask and pointers about what to look for.

How someone treats the lowest level employee is a good indicator of who they are, so consider involving that person in the process. For instance, let your receptionist know the candidate is coming in; have the receptionist try to involve the person in conversation and get his or her impressions afterwards.

During the interview, try to help each candidate relax. You want to see them as they are going to behave normally. Consider taking them out for lunch or coffee. If they are going to be in a marketing role, take them to dinner so that you can assess their social skills and etiquette. Some good ones can be found at www.careercc.com/interv3.shtml#Area_1. or http://interview.monster.com. The Omnia Profile provides specific questions based upon the applicant's test results. Since your objective is more insight about the candidate, plan on spending no more than 20 percent of the interview time talking yourself. Listen and observe the rest of the time. Keep the list of qualities you've determined as key to job success in front of you and evaluate the candidate on that basis. Don't let your emotions get in the way of making a good decision. At the same time, trust your instincts in combination with the other information you've gathered.

Sealing the Deal

Once you've finally settled on someone, do a background check (credit report, police records, driving records, resume verification, etc). Plenty of services are available to help with this. You'll also need to send a letter that extends the offer and confirms the job duties, compensation, conditions of employment and a start date. Include a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement within your offer letter or as an accompanying document. Be sure to have the person sign the agreement before their first day on the job.

A good employee can make your life--and your business --enormously better. It's worth spending the time and thought to get it right.

Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, is the president of Mosaic Financial Partners, Inc. in the San Francisco area. He is also the co-author of Creating an Investment Policy Statement and a founder of www.IPSAdvisorPro.com.

Reprints Discuss this story
This is where the comments go.