For financial advisors looking to hire support staff, the process is a draining and time-consuming one that many have difficulty managing on top of their day-to-day tasks – and it has also become far more complex.
A big reason for that is the supply of truly qualified candidates on the market for support roles is dwindling, according to George Hartman, president and chief executive officer at Market Logics Inc. in Toronto.
Gone are the days when support staff needed knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel alone, Mr. Hartman says. Today, support staff “have to deal with very sophisticated, often proprietary technology that requires someone with more skill and depth and background.” On top of that, they need basic knowledge of how the financial services industry works. As such, the candidates who possess all of these skills nowadays are “fewer and further between.”
Adds Mr. Hartman: “The competition for them increases, and the cost of acquiring goes up, and so on. There just aren’t enough good people around to meet the rising need and complexity of the role of support staff in an advisory practice.”
This means that it can take a long time for advisors to find candidates who are wholly equipped for support-staff roles. Mr. Hartman, who has coached several advisors through the hiring process in his role as a practice management consultant, says he currently has advisor clients who have been interviewing support-staff candidates for up to a year – to no avail.
The high demand for qualified candidates to fill these roles also means that pay rates are on the rise, and several advisors feel they simply cannot afford support staff. But Mr. Hartman advises against waiting too long to hire people for these roles because the long-term payoff can be greater than what advisors save in handling all of their administrative tasks on their own.
“Almost invariably, when advisors start out in the business, they wear all the hats. They have to take money out of their own pockets to pay someone and, as a consequence, it takes them a long time to get around to doing that,” he says. “And when we ask them afterward, ‘What’s the biggest mistake you made?’ they’ll say, ‘I waited too long to hire someone. I realize I could’ve advanced my business more quickly if I had invested in someone earlier to free me up to go and continue to build the business.’ ”
Advisors who are prepared to hire support staff should start their search by identifying their own skills and, in turn, their incompetencies clearly and truthfully so they can find the candidate whose skills make up for what they lack.
“What do we need to get done?” Mr. Hartman asks, rhetorically. “What can we outsource, delegate to someone else, so that we can focus our time on our core competencies?”
From there, it’s important to use these answers to compose an honest and thorough job posting, says Scott Plaskett, senior financial planner and CEO at Ironshield Financial Planning in Toronto, who has managed the hiring process for several roles at his firm.
In addition to putting clear and precise lists of “musts” into a job posting, Mr. Plaskett often goes as far as inserting lists of attributes that the firm is not looking for in an effort to weed out candidates who may not fit well with the company’s work culture. Being clear, specific and honest with candidates can mean the difference between finding someone who is adequate for the role and someone who is perfect for it.
“Put on there, ‘Here are the things that would really frustrate us if you brought this to the table,’ ” Mr. Plaskett advises. “Just the mere fact that we’re putting that is different from what every different job posting would put. It brings a certain level of creativity, certain level of fun, certain level of honesty … and so, people might go, ‘Okay, that’s kind of cool, I wouldn’t want to work with someone like that either, so it must be that they have a cool culture in the office.’”
To Natalie Hand, partner at Meridia Recruitment Solutions in St. John’s, being clear and honest in a job description is also important for managing candidates’ expectations. Although some applicants may be content to stay in a support role at a firm for years, others may come into the position with the hope of moving up the ladder over time. Being clear about this means weeding out candidates whose goals don’t align with opportunities for growth that a firm can offer realistically.
“[There are] two very different types of candidates who might be interested in those types of roles,” Ms. Hand says. “Present a role as it is. Have good, honest conversations with the candidates. Say, ‘This is the role; that’s the way it’s going to look for the next three to five years;’ or, ‘In three to five years, you might be a manager here.’ You want to present the role properly and accurately.”
Both Ms. Hand and Mr. Plaskett also agree that soft skills, such as a strong attention to detail and an ability to communicate with clients, are a must in support-staff roles.
To identify a candidate’s level of meticulousness, Mr. Plaskett suggests placing a small, very specific request about the formatting of an application far down into a job posting. Not only will those who take the time to read through the description thoroughly and notice formatting requests be more likely to be detail-oriented and passionate about the job available, but the formatting differences will make their applications easier to draw out from the pool of candidates who may be submitting their résumés en masse to several firms at once.
To identify a candidate’s communication skills, Mr. Plaskett and Ms. Hand suggest using psychometric exams, such as one of Kolbe Corp.’s indexes, to assess an applicant’s aptitude and behavioural tendencies in challenging situations.
Ms. Hand also suggests looking for clients with customer-service experience, specifically. Support staff with strong interpersonal skills can do a lot to help a firm retain clients as they’re the first people a client may see when approaching a firm.
“In a role such as this, you want to think about customer service,” she says. “Has anyone ever had or been exposed to client interaction or customer interaction? Usually in a financial-services role, this individual will be client-facing. They’ll be talking to your contacts, so you want to make sure that they’ve done something similar [in the past].”