This may be hard to believe, but I can usually gauge whether a financial planning job applicant will make a good employee within the first five minutes of the first telephone interview. It’s not that I’m clairvoyant: rather, how a professional job candidate presents himself verbally speaks volumes about his training, experience, and maturity level.
It’s not that young planners can’t acquire a professional demeanor over time, but it’s the hardest thing to teach, and takes the longest to learn. As I tell my clients, it’s far better that your employees learn it on someone else’s nickel.
One of the most difficult tasks in the area of human capital management for independent advisors is screening and interviewing potential employees. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise: most advisors have little training or experience in hiring. Yet hiring the right people into the right jobs is also probably the most important part of people management. As we’re seeing in the NFL every Sunday this fall, it’s hard to have a winning team with subpar personnel. Here are some tips to ensure that your firm hits the field with an all-star roster.
First, the reason I can make accurate good employee/not-so-good employee assessments in the first interview is that I’ve prescreened candidates’ r?(C)sum?(C)s beforehand: I already know they look good on paper, so how they present themselves is only the final piece of the puzzle. Now, before you start with the “I-screen-r?(C)sum?(C)s-too” point, let me acknowledge that you probably do. But here’s the inside scoop: weeding out r?(C)sum?(C)s on the basis of typos, misspellings, and questionable formatting is just an unforced error. I think most advisors do this because they just don’t know what else they should be looking for. That is, unless you’re hiring a proofreader, secretary, or graphic designer. If instead you’re hiring a professional advisor, look first at her qualifications in and experience for the job you are trying to fill, and the job she can grow into. Only then, if she’s borderline, or you’re just not sure, should you consider the quality of the r?(C)sum?(C) itself. But to start there, is just, well, a rookie mistake.
Once you’ve screened the r?(C)sum?(C)s, you can conduct the first interview, which is by far the most important one. The first impression a candidate makes on you is exactly the same as the first impression they’ll make on your clients; any and all subsequent interviews will carry the baggage of this initial meeting. I prefer to conduct the first interview on the phone: it helps me disregard the specifics of a potential employee’s appearance so I can focus on the professional demeanor (you’d be surprised how many owner/advisors want to screen candidates on sex, race, or age–all of which are irrelevant, and most likely illegal). Sure, you can probably tell someone’s sex or race on the phone, but it’s far easier to ignore. Instead, focus on how they present themselves: Are they confident, well-spoken, polite, and attentive? Describing professionalism is hard to do: but it’s usually pretty obvious when someone has it, and when they don’t–in the first five minutes.
You also want to use that first interview to explore more deeply a candidate’s experience, qualifications, and perhaps most important, why they want the job you’re offering. Looking good on paper is, well, good, but r?(C)sum?(C)s can also be deceiving, while creative writing can cover up important issues and/or omissions. Be sure to ask what was covered in a planner’s education program, and what kind of hands-on experience they got. Delve deep into their work experience; what they really did, day-to-day; what their responsibilities were; how they related to their boss and co-workers; and what they liked and didn’t like. Try to look beyond their writing and canned answers to determine whether their goals and preferences truly match with the job and the opportunity that your firm offers.
Ask These Questions
Here are eight questions I ask on the first interview to get behind the job candidate and get a feeling for the real person. They can be asked in random order depending on the candidate’s responses to previous questions:
Question 1: Tell us a little bit about yourself. We’re looking for a brief overview of the r?(C)sum?(C), background experiences related to professional work, and future goals. Pay attention to those things prospects feel are important enough to mention, and unimportant enough to omit. Both are clues to how a candidate thinks about their profession and their job: what they are looking for and what will make them happy, and successful. Also note how they talk about their past accomplishments: Do they feel good about what they did, or are they apologetic? Do they admit their mistakes, or do they make excuses for them? No one is perfect, but winners constantly strive to learn from their failures and use them to get better.