Six Things Not to Tell a Branch Manager

Conversations between branch managers and prospective hires should not include any of the following gaffes.

As a recruiter, I am often the proverbial fly on the wall, listening and only occasionally guiding conversations between branch managers interviewing prospective hires.

Most interviews are straight forward. But occasionally, one of my candidates will say things that make me want to hit the re-wind button. I can't do that - but I can share their sometimes amusing gaffes with you and say: "Don't ever do this!"

1. "I got my branch manager fired."

The adviser, who was very anxious to leave his firm, informed the branch manager interviewing him that his former branch manager was both stupid and incompetent. And he, the job candidate knew just how to deal with incompetence: He regularly went over the head of the hapless manager and complained to the higher-ups who cut him loose.

And guess what. This producer, the head of a multi-million-dollar team, didn't think much of his current manager either.

The branch manager conducting the interview never said anything about the producer's boasts. Instead, he went through the adviser's complex system of investments and found somethings his firm just couldn't accommodate - even for a high caliber investing team. I wonder why.

2. "We go through sales assistants like crazy. We can't find any that are good enough."

I could just see the red flag flapping in the face of the branch manager taking in this comment: This is a high- maintenance adviser who is impossible to satisfy.

This would mean the new branch manager would constantly be wasting his time managing disputes between the adviser and his sales assistants or would have to always be on the lookout for new ones.

A waste of time. Further, long-term successful producers typically have long-term sales assistants who play critical roles on the teams, often earning overrides on total business.

Once more, no deal.

3. "We're only in it for the money."

No, the financial adviser wasn't riffing on Frank Zappa's spoof of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This otherwise shrewd businessman was telling the prospective branch manager that the only reason he was taking the interview was to get the upfront money.

Now, let's be honest.

Money is a critical factor in these deals. But even if that's your reason for making a change, branch managers still like to think that they have something special to offer, like a flexible investment platform, excellent support and client-oriented service.

Branch managers are unlikely to open their purses if they believe you are just a soldier of fortune ready to switch armies once your contract ends.

4. "You're one of five firms that I'm speaking to."

Branch managers are likely to assume that you are looking at more than one firm. But they won't take you seriously if they think you're just randomly shopping yourself on the Street.

That kind of comment also makes the branch manager less likely to respond to special requests or even to help in the basic due diligence tasks.

They will be loath to provide access to key people if they don't think you're very serious about the firm. And they certainly won't go out of their way to structure a special deal for you when you're not really focused on what makes the firm a particularly good match for you - and vice versa.

Managers will spend their time with more serious prospects.

5. "I can't remember how that ding got on my U4."

A job interview is a bad time for memory loss - especially when it comes to compliance issues. And if you have more than one compliance issue, branch managers are unlikely to believe that you are totally innocent.

When you say everything is someone else's fault, you sound like a whiny adolescent.

Be prepared to fully disclose your history - the good, the bad, the indifferent.

Be a grown-up. Make sure that you can inspire confidence that you've put your problems behind you.

6. "My business is really hard to understand. I'm not sure I can explain it to you."

Many successful advisers built big businesses because they do something unusual. Others feel that they can distinguish themselves only by adapting out-of-the-box models.

But that's no excuse for coming to an interview unprepared to articulate your strategy in plain English. After all, you must be able to sell it to investors.

Hiding behind complexity also raises compliance concerns for branch managers - especially if your current firm won't let you implement your brilliant new idea. When there are too many moving parts, the manager may fear that there's a compliance problem waiting to emerge.

These days, plain vanilla is in; complex is out (no CDOs, please). Branch and regional managers are unlikely to risk their jobs on your hard-to-understand strategies.

Is there anything else you wish you hadn't said in a job interview? Do tell.

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Mark Elzweig is president of Mark Elzweig Company, an executive search consulting firm.

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