In part one of this series, I made the case that WE – as current leaders in the financial services industry – are the root cause of our “pipeline problem.” In part two of the series, I outlined the groundwork that we all need to lay, as individuals and leaders within our firms, to start making progress in this area. In this piece, I’m going to give you a detailed plan for how we start to find new talent that you may not have considered before.
Fishing from the Same Pond
As I mentioned in part one of the series, one way we’ve created our own pipeline problem is some general laziness when it comes to hiring people for our teams. The last time you needed to hire, there’s a good chance that you did one or more of these:
- Asked your personal and professional network. (Including your social media network.)
- Posted on industry-specific job boards.
- Tried to recruit from a university CFP®, CFA® or MBA program.
- Hired an industry recruiter.
- Posted the job online. (Then immediately discarded any resume that didn’t have industry experience or pretty obvious parallel experience.)
Julie Ragatz, Ph.D and Vice President of Next Gen and Advisor Development Programs at Carson Group, put it best: “We’re all fishing from the same pond with the same bait.” My goal in this article is to help you expand your thinking so that you can see the potential you may have missed in the past.
Now, before we get too far into this article, I want to be upfront: This takes effort. A lot more effort than we’ve been used to. It takes more effort to find people, to train them and to develop them. And honestly, it takes a real mindset change around compensation, what it takes to be successful in this industry and our role in the bigger picture.
What Do You Really Need in a Role?
If we want to broaden and diversify our talent pipeline, we must be willing to hire people without industry experience. Most skills can be taught; what we need to be looking for, especially when we’re hiring graduates, career-changers or others without industry experience, are character traits.
Some roles really do need experience or certifications. Many roles have job duties that require skill sets we can teach. Our job is to determine what is really required in a role, and what we just want because it would be easier for us. Here are some questions to ask as you’re creating a job description/job ad:
- What are the major responsibilities of the role? Think through a typical day for this role – what will they be doing, and how will you measure success?
- What are must-have skills? I’ll pause to remind you that many things in an advisory firm can be taught within a few weeks or months. If we want to broaden our talent pool, we need to be putting in the work to teach skills (or invest in programs that teach them). Based on what those major responsibilities are, what are must-have skills from day one? What are skills that you need someone to acquire within three months? Six months? One year?
- How many years of related experience are required? Again, the goal here is to bring people in from outside of our industry, so I’m going to challenge you to see “related experience” a bit differently. Much of what makes someone successful is really transferable skills.
- Is a degree required? Why? Sometimes the answer is truly a “yes” – an example would be if you require all advisors to obtain their CFP® designation within a short period of time. Because a degree is a requirement to obtain the CFP® designation, it becomes a requirement of the advisor role. At the same time, keep in mind that there are really smart people who have had financial hardships or family obligations that prevented them completing a degree at a “traditional” age, and they are more than willing to go back to school and complete their degree. It’s a good reason to offer things like educational reimbursement as a benefit. Often, though, we just throw a degree requirement on to the job description because it seems like “what you do.” If you’re going to require a degree, have a good reason for it.
- What character/personality traits are important? Here’s the deal: We need to be willing to hire for entry-level positions and be more open-minded about career-changers. Character traits are what we need to be looking for in our hiring process if we’re bringing new people into our industry.
Here’s What to Look For
This is where I’m going to start offering a few different “tracks,” because we need to be putting in the work to build a pipeline for a few types of roles in our industry: advisor/planner roles, investment analyst/portfolio manager roles and operations roles. There are plenty of other roles, to be sure, but I often find less resistance from firm owners when it comes to hiring from outside of our industry for a role like a marketing professional.
Advisor/planner roles. Ragatz notes that when hiring people outside the industry, there are a few things to look for.
“When I hire, I look for evidence of curiosity, work ethic and coachability,” Ragatz said. “Everything else can be developed. Curiosity is really important – I need people who are genuinely interested in other people and how they think. Curiosity leads to other focused questioning, which leads to understanding, which leads to empathy.”
Inspired by Julie’s comment, I posed this question on Twitter: “What are qualities you think make people successful in the financial services profession?” I received a LOT of input from industry leaders. Here’s the answers I received, ranked in order of how often they were mentioned:
- Active listening/being a good listener
- Asking good questions
- Putting people first over money
- Understanding the difference between goals and aspirations
- Growth mindset
- Internal locus of control
- Appetite for continual learning
- Clear communication
- Sense of humor
- Knowing your limitations
- Ability to manage client emotions
- Ability to say “I don’t know” with confidence
- Team player
I love this list, because these are things that we can look for in anyone, regardless of their industry experience. If they have these qualities, you can generally teach them the financial planning skills needed to serve clients and be successful in the role.
Investment analyst/portfolio manager roles. There are brilliant minds who prefer the behind-the-scenes work of researching, analyzing and managing the investments that fuel our clients’ financial goals. This is another one of those roles where it’s easy to fall into the trap of requiring extensive industry experience, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you could be attracting tomorrow’s industry superstars.
When hiring for roles that focus on research and analysis, look for people who:
- Love to learn
- Are self-starters
- Have a natural sense of curiosity
- Have an affinity for numbers and research
- Love problem solving
“We don’t see a lot of females in the role and I think it’s because of the high-risk nature of it, but in reality it’s all problem solving and puzzles,” said Jessica Golson, Carson’s VP of Investment Operations and Performance. “It’s been shown that female analysts’ and portfolio managers’ investment returns tend to outperform their male counterparts because of their objectivity and ability to cut losses sooner.”
Operations roles. I get varying levels of pushback when I ask firm owners about hiring for operations roles – and to some extent, it does depend on the responsibilities of the role. Most firm owners are happy to hire those without industry experience to very entry-level roles that are primarily responsible for clerical tasks like answering phones and processing paperwork. But those roles generally have a very low compensation range, which isn’t necessarily livable for a college grad with student loans to repay or a career-changer who is interested in the industry but not in a client-facing advisor or portfolio management role.
As our industry matures and firms grow, we need incredibly smart and skilled people running the operations side of our businesses. We need people who can develop processes, manage workflows in the CRM, manage a team, integrate technology, lead firm projects, oversee client satisfaction, execute trades and more. And we can find people without industry experience who have the capabilities to do these things. The characteristics and personality traits you should look for in an operational role are:
- Asks good questions
- High follow-through
- Strong organizational skills
- Work ethic
- Problem solver
- Time management skills
Lantz Hunt, Chief Operations Officer at Carson Wealth, said he likes to look for people who have historically been high achievers in clubs, sports and academics throughout their schooling. His ideal hire? A swimmer.
“That type of dedication and perseverance says a lot to me,” Hunt said. “I wasn’t a swimmer, but I admire them!”
Expanding Our Thinking Around Who Can Be Successful
You’re willing to hire people without industry experience and put in the work to train and develop them. But where exactly are those “other ponds to fish in?” I went to my team of coaches, who work with hundreds of advisory firm leaders on a monthly basis, and asked the question: “Where are our coaching members finding great people from outside of the industry?”
I want to start by expanding your thinking about who can be successful in the financial services business. Before I give you a couple of lists, I want to give the big caveat: People from ALL educational and work backgrounds can be successful in this industry. These are just a few ideas to start.
If you happen to find a freshly minted graduate from a university CFP® or CFA® program, great! But there are some really incredible young minds who aren’t graduating from those programs because (1) they don’t have one at their university; and/or (2) they’ve never heard of our incredible profession. So here are a few other degree programs that have minted graduates we’ve seen find success in our industry:
- Business, economics, finance, statistics, mathematics. These don’t need too much explanation, but be willing to look in new places for these graduates. (See below for details.)
- Marketing. Often creative and love the psychology of influence, which comes in handy when you need to motivate a client to action.
- Public policy/public affairs. One you probably wouldn’t think of, but these graduates tend to think strategically, are problem solvers and like to build plans to get from where we are now to where we want to be.
- Sociology. They care about people and want to help – one of the key characteristics of a successful financial advisor.
- Communication. We talk about “sales” in our industry, but what is it, really? It’s being able to clearly communicate your value to prospects and motivate clients to take action on a plan you’ve built. Both of these get back to clear communication!
- Education. These graduates have a service heart and love teaching others.
- Psychology. One of the most underrated degree programs for our profession. These graduates tend to want to help people and understand something that it takes a lot of advisors years to understand – humans are not rational creatures!
- Theater. Hang with me here. Theater majors are experts in reading the room and adjusting accordingly. They’ve got confidence. They’re communicators. They’re creative. And it is really hard to make a good living in theater, so many are expecting to do something “more practical” after graduation.
Here’s just a few of the perhaps unexpected backgrounds of career-changers we’ve seen be successful in our industry:
- Retired military. These folks have leadership skills, they’re trained to be confident and calm, they know how to interact with people and they’re organized. They’re team players, and they’re used to following defined systems to make stuff happen. And many of them joined the service at a young age, so they have a lot of career left ahead of them.
- Former professional athletes. This group tends to have work ethic and coachability. They understand it’s the little things that make a big difference, and know that your results come from the work you put in.
- People experienced working for minor league sports teams. We’re not talking about the athletes here, but the people who are working to make the team run (and make money). These folks have to be creative and scrappy to get the job done.
- Educators. Much of being a good advisor gets back to educating your clients. People who have taught often transition well to being an advisor.
- Social workers. This group of professionals cares deeply about people, understands the realities of life and is made up of purpose-driven employees who have demonstrated grit by working in an incredibly demanding environment for not-so-great pay.
- Agriculture. These professionals understand commodities, futures and hedging. If you’re hiring for a certain type of analyst, these folks can be a perfect fit!
Where Do We Find Those People?
The answer is…everywhere! But here are a few ideas to get you started:
Change how you ask your (hopefully expanded, more diverse) network. “Hey, I’m looking for someone to join my team. They don’t need experience in the industry, I just need someone who is naturally curious, wants to help people, has a great work ethic and is coachable. Do you know of anyone like that?”
Keep your eyes open for people who “wow” you in your daily life. The barista at my local coffee shop is always super-friendly and asked for my dogs’ names one week when we went through the drive-thru for “puppuccinos” – the next week, she called them by name when we went by! She has potential. A woman who worked at a café we liked to frequent was always coming up with new ideas and keeping that place running smoothly. She has potential. There’s a guy who trains at my Muay Thai gym who is always personable, is incredibly dedicated and consistent, and leads class when needed. He has potential. There’s great talent potential all around us if we’ll just take the time to see it.
Colleges and universities. To really focus on bringing new perspectives to the industry, recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), women’s colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs).
Reach out to student organizations at your local colleges and universities. The students who are part of these organizations tend to be involved in their community and go the extra mile. You can also participate in career fairs at the small local colleges that might not get any attention from major employers.
Post job openings on your local university and community college job boards. Keep in mind that many really talented people choose community college and local universities because of financial constraints or the need to stay close to family. As mentioned above, be open to different degree programs – how many of us really knew what we wanted to do for the rest of our life when we were picking our college major?
Post the opening on both the major job boards AND local community boards. BE WILLING to take the time to sift through a lot of resumes that might not immediately look like a “fit.”
Work with organizations that support veterans in transitioning to civilian life. As mentioned above, these professionals can have great skills, and we would be lucky to have them on our team.
But Wait…There’s More!
Finding new talent from outside of our industry is only half the work. We need to put in the effort to train them and set them on a path for success.
I understand this can also feel overwhelming, so not to worry! Next up in my “We’re the Pipeline Problem” series is a detailed guide on how to train these great new hires so they’re adding value to your firm as quickly as possible.