SUMMARY: Most independent advisors reach a point where they have to hire team members to keep growing and avoid burnout, usually when they realize that they are spending too much time on tasks that aren’t their core service. By getting buy-in from your existing team and by asking the right questions of candidates, you can build a culture in which your team thrives — and your practice grows.
Advisors launching their own firms must solve numerous new challenges — and one of the most important puzzles is how to maximize their time. At a certain point, one advisor can no longer do it all. As their client load grows, they risk burning out, slipping on the quality of service to their clients, or making otherwise avoidable mistakes.
I recently had my friend and former associate Eddy Ricci, CFP(R) on the Model FA podcast to
talk about how advisors can build their teams. Eddy is a co-founder of The Pontem Group, a consulting and search firm founded in New York City. He is also a founding partner of Lead-Advisor, LLC (lead-advisor.com) which provides resources to specifically help the wealth management industry with talent acquisition and career development.
Eddy is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to helping advisors acquire talent for their firms. In this podcast episode, we talked about how advisors can tell when you should start hiring staff and what that recruitment process should look like. In this article, I wanted to highlight some of the key points Eddy and I discussed.
Determining when to recruit more team members can be challenging, because the answer depends on your personal abilities and the current systems and processes deployed in your business. However, there are a few signs that advisors can use as an indicator of staffing needs.
One sign that it’s time to hire is when you’re spending a noticeable amount of time on tasks that aren’t your core services as an advisor. In most cases, these are administrative tasks (like scheduling prospect or client meetings, business accounting, or coordinating the details of a seminar or client event).
Another way to tell is to look at your effective hourly rate compared to the hours you work. If you notice that you’re working more hours but the amount you’re earning across all of your work hours (not just the billable ones) is decreasing, it could be a sign you may not be using your time as effectively as possible.
And if that is the case, you might want to begin recruiting additional staff for your firm.
If you’re running an independent advisory firm, then you probably are running it pretty lean. If you already have one or more team members, it is a good idea to get buy-in from them first.
If you don’t, you risk making a suboptimal hiring decision because you misjudged the needs of the firm or the timing of the decision.
Start by calling a meeting with your staff members and sharing with them what you have been thinking. Then, ask them how additional team members could help your current team become more efficient and more effective. Find out what they do and don’t enjoy doing, where the bottlenecks are, and what your team thrives on. That way, you can find people who have a better chance of fitting in with the existing team, using their strengths in a way that’s rewarding to them, and empowering everyone to do their best every day.
By framing the search in terms of how it helps your people, they’ll be more willing to share their opinions — and you’ll end up hiring someone who is a better fit for your firm’s team and culture.
Speaking of culture, it’s a good idea to ask your employees to describe what it’s like to work at the firm. That might give you a better idea of how to select new staff members.
Next, you need to create a description of the role, including a broad overview of it and all the responsibilities that the individual will perform. Make sure to include compensation details, too, even if it’s just a range based on the candidate’s experience. If you have never created a role description before, job boards are often a good start. However, don’t just copy and paste from someone else’s job description; make it your own, and ensure that it is sufficiently comprehensive (while also being clear).
Along with the role description, create a 2- to 3-page onboarding plan for how you’ll train the new employee and integrate them into your practice. Make a clear note of who will be training the new employee on the various aspects of their job — and be sure to share it with the team to avoid surprises. Your plan should include all the things that the employee will learn, as well as the expectations for what should be accomplished within the first few months of being with your firm.
Doing this groundwork ahead of time will improve the hiring process, and your candidates will appreciate the professional, structured approach you have taken to position them for success. It can also help set a positive tone for the new employee and make them eager to work for you.
Now, it’s time to begin interviewing.
For the first interview, it’s a good idea to give the candidate a simple assessment based on the role. For example, if you’re hiring a client service advisor, you might have them write a sample email to a fictitious client. If you’re hiring a portfolio manager, you might give them a sample portfolio and ask them to share their thoughts. You can think of it as a test-drive of the person’s professional capabilities and skills.
If they do well on this assessment, bring them in for a second interview.
Since your team will be expected to collaborate with this new candidate if they are eventually hired, it’s a good idea to have a meet-and-greet opportunity. This will help cement buy-in from your team, assuming that you have set the stage earlier by getting your team members’ opinions before opening a search. This is especially important if someone on your existing team will be directly responsible for supervising the new hire. You can choose to bring your team members into the formal interview — or invite them to join you and the candidate for lunch.
Every firm handles the interview process differently, but it’s often best to make it a mix of casual meet-and-greet and more formal interview questions. After all, that is the closest approximation of a typical day at work.
If your team is in agreement that you have the right candidate, move on to the final interview. Before the interview, ask the candidate to send you a list of all questions they have regarding your practice and the role. That will provide additional structure to the conversation and help them make an informed decision if and when you offer them the position.
During the final interview, you’ll want to review the role description one last time and answer the questions the candidate has sent over. You can also ask them any follow-up questions you might have based on the few interaction opportunities you have shared so far.
Asking the right questions during interviews helps you determine if the candidate is qualified — and whether they will fit in well with the team and the culture at the firm. Here are a few key questions to include in your interview.
Every decision to accept a position has a mix of drivers. The answer to this question can reveal a lot about the candidate’s past experience, current situation, and motivation. It can also give you a sense for whether your firm and this particular position are likely to be a good fit for the candidate. After all, accurate expectations on both sides are the key to satisfaction, especially in those early weeks.
Two of the most common answers to this question are “culture” and “growth opportunities.”
Those responses may sound good, but if you stop there, you will have learned nothing about the candidate. Both “culture” and “growth” are loaded words that can mean different things to different people. So, this is your chance to “double-click” and invite the candidate to tell you more. You might ask what growth means to them, or how they would know that they are growing, or to describe what kind of culture they have thrived in before.
If you have spent some time ahead of the interview doing your homework and have a good sense for the culture at the firm, you can share how other people have described working here. Your candidate will appreciate the insight, as very few firms can verbalize this accurately (or well).
Ask them what their perfect, custom-fit role would look like. The answer might tell you if your position is close to being a good fit for the interviewee. Dig into the response to tease out their view of their own strengths and the mix of assignments that would help them thrive. Listen also for what they don’t say, and if some of those unmentioned things are a key part of the job description, be sure to bring it up.
This question will show you what they don’t like about the industry and the roles they’ve held in the past. The response can offer insight into the candidate’s alignment with your client niche, service model, client service culture, as well as their overall understanding of how the industry works.
As with any interview, being aware of red flags can save you a lot of time and headache down the line. After all, it is better to avoid making the wrong hire than to navigate your way out of having made a hiring mistake.
A candidate following up with you indicates interest. Additionally, assuming that you’re hiring for any role that involves client or team interactions, a lack of follow-up might imply that they won’t be great about communicating proactively.
Also, listen for their questions. If a candidate is asking basic things that could have been answered with a casual review of your firm’s website, that may be an indicator that they did not take the time to do their homework (or that they might lack attention to detail, another critical component for many of the staff positions in an advisory firm). If the candidate has no questions about the position or the firm, it may be an indicator that they aren’t serious about the move or about finding a long-term fit.
If you have given the candidate an assignment, a missed deadline to turn it in is an obvious red flag.
However, you should also look out for how proactive the candidate is while going about the assignment. Did they ask questions, or did they spin their wheels trying to figure something out? Did they find the right balance between clarifying something with you — and just making assumptions that were clearly stated? Did they turn in the work ahead of schedule? If so, was it quality work? All of these can reflect on the candidate’s ability to do the job.
A candidate being late for an interview is a red flag that fits into the same category.
Job hopping isn’t always a bad thing (after all, few professionals these days take one job and retire from it 40 years later), but it is still a good idea to dig in. Changing jobs frequently may be explained by a poor fit elsewhere or by other circumstances (a family move, for example) — but it could also indicate a lack of willingness to play in the same sandbox for an extended period of time.
On that same note, don’t skimp on calling the references. Too many advisors treat this as an optional step, sometimes even going as far as delegating it to a junior team member. If you are serious about hiring a candidate, invest your time to speak with their past bosses and team members. And don’t settle for surface-level answers; these people hold the key to giving you a preview of what it will be like to work with the candidate.
Do you think it’s time to hire employees for your practice? My team and I can help you figure that out. Schedule your call with me to get started: https://www.modelfa.com/accelerator-call-cf/