By Morey Stettner, Investor’s Business Daily featuring Cecilia T. Williams, CFP®, AIF®, Director of Investment Operations/CCO at Halbert Hargrove

Successful advisors wear many hats. Along with their technical knowledge, marketing skills and business planning, they must hire the right people to grow their firm.

Hiring is more art than science. Advisors who take a disciplined, methodical approach tend to produce the best results.

When recruiting support staff, integrity and work ethic are among the top qualities in standout candidates. Advisors may adopt a “hire for attitude, train for skill” strategy with these newcomers, teaching them compliance protocols and office procedures.

Selecting advisors involves additional layers of scrutiny. The challenge is finding financial planners who exhibit strong communication skills as well as the education, ethics and intelligence to succeed in a complex, demanding role.

Large firms that hire people regularly have processes in place that dictate how to identify promising applicants, conduct job interviews and evaluate the finalists. It’s trickier for advisors with boutique practices who are just starting to ramp up staffing.

At Halbert Hargrove, a Long Beach, Calif.-based wealth advisory firm with eight offices and 42 employees, hiring is a team activity. Candidates may undergo three or four rounds of group interviews.

“We like to involve as many people in the firm as possible,” said Cecilia Williams, Halbert Hargrove’s director of investment operations. She acknowledges that can slow things down, but the benefit of gathering and sharing more internal feedback on a candidate works to everyone’s advantage.

Pose Mix Of Questions In Job Interviews

Like many hiring managers, Williams likes to meet top candidates in a range of settings. This helps her team get to know how the individual behaves outside the work environment.

“We may eat together with no questioning (about the job) or just have a bonding opportunity like a happy hour,” she said. “We want to see candidates be more of themselves.”

Interviewers often focus on judging an applicant’s technical know-how. They may ask candidates to describe elements of a comprehensive financial plan or share their views on investment management trends.

“Key technical questions are important in the first few rounds,” Williams said. “But we also start with behavioral questions” to explore whether the individual works well in teams.

Behavioral questions probe a candidate’s experience. They might begin with “Tell me about a time when … ” or “Can you discuss a situation you faced in which … ?”

If you seek to hire a resilient worker, ask, “Can you talk about a time when you hit a roadblock at work? How did you handle it?” If you want to assess an applicant’s ability to do accurate work, try, “Tell me about any systems you’ve set up in your prior jobs to detect or prevent errors.”

Give candidates wide leeway to trumpet their accomplishments. Allowing them to showcase what they do well can give you a better sense of where they might fit in your organization.

“We ask them to take 10 to 15 minutes to present a past project they’ve worked on so that we can evaluate their background and experience,” Williams said.

Junior advisors might dissect how they analyzed a stock. A newly minted college grad applying for an entry-level position might summarize her senior honors thesis.

Follow A Consistent Process To Hire Winners

Asking candidates to demonstrate their skills offers insight into their work product. Simulations — another useful vetting tool — reveal how individuals act under pressure.

Lisa Kirchenbauer, a certified financial planner in Arlington, Va., has applicants for administrative positions take proofreading and writing tests. For financial planners, she may give them a set period of time, such as one hour, to complete a series of tasks.

Kirchenbauer also uses assessments to vet job candidates. She favors an instrument designed by Kolbe Corp. to assess how someone instinctively takes action.

“If you’re an entry-level financial planner who (scores poorly) on follow through or low on details, we might say we don’t see a great fit for you at our firm,” she said. “Kolbe can be a deal breaker for us.”

As long as they produce satisfactory Kolbe results, Kirchenbauer might have them take other assessments such as StrengthsFinder, MBTI and Emergenetics to determine how they’d mesh with the staff and what strengths they’d bring to the team.

She diligently conducts reference checks. Realizing that references will rarely criticize the subject, Kirchenbauer likes to ask, “What areas might we focus on for professional development?” rather than, “What are their weaknesses?”

Kirchenbauer cites two strategies for finding and keeping great employees. First, she favors a “hire slowly, fire quickly” approach. And she follows a consistent process when filling each position.

“At a lot of firms, the lead advisor doesn’t have a process,” she said. “It’s all about personality and emotions. A thorough process helps you be as objective as possible.”

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