Hiring process, while rigorous, leads to success

JMG Financial Group has developed an intense interviewing process that some prospective employees find too grueling to complete

Jun 3, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

By Liz Skinner

JMG Financial Group Ltd. has developed an intense interviewing process that some prospective employees find too grueling to complete. But it works so well that the employees of the advisory firm stick around, on average, for more than 13 years.

JMG Financial's chief operating officer, Yonhee Gordon, is responsible for hiring and career development. She has been at the firm for 28 years, having started right out of college at 21. She devotes considerable time to the hiring process to make sure applicants know what to expect if they earn a position with the firm.

“The first interview is a series of assessments that take three to five hours,” Ms. Gordon said. “They test on a little part of each task that the employee would do here on a daily basis, to give me an idea of how the applicant processes information and solves problems.”

(See also: Quantifying the best practices of advisory firms)

The tests typically ask the applicant to look at mock pay stubs and estimate a person's salary and projected deductions, check their ability to create a spreadsheet using Excel, and ask them planning questions based on a set of client facts.

Ms. Gordon isn't just looking for right answers on the tests. She's hunting for people who are “excited about learning and still have the energy at the end of the day to talk about it and discuss their methodology.”

Those who succeed with the assessments return for interviews with senior staff members, informal “interviewing” over lunch, and finally a round of behavioral and thinking-style evaluations all aimed at identifying those who are a good fit for the close-knit firm.

The 30-year-old advisory business nearly exclusively hires young college graduates to fill administrative and planning openings at the firm. Of JMG Financial's 15 advisers, eight advanced from entry level positions and now work with clients. A sixteenth adviser at the firm only does business development.

“I like to mold them,” Ms. Gordon said of her penchant for hiring and training advisers instead of bringing in experienced professionals from other firms.

PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

JMG Financial's stringent hiring process and low employee turnover helped the Oak Brook, Ill.-based firm earn an InvestmentNews 2013 Best Practices Award as a top innovator for personnel management. The firm also favors rewarding employees with high salaries over incentive pay.

About 75% of the firm's revenue comes from assets under management, while the rest comes from fees for comprehensive financial planning, Ms. Gordon said.

Twice a year, Ms. Gordon reviews employees at JMG Financial, which has offices in Oak Brook and downtown Chicago. She makes a point of discussing what each employee hopes to achieve at the firm.

“It's really important for all the employees at every level to understand what's expected of them and for management to hear what their goals are,” Ms. Gordon said. “It helps make sure we're on the same page.”

(See also: Adviser collaborates with rivals to build brand)

In addition to holding on to its employees, JMG Financial also is known for client retention. Fewer than 10 clients a year leave the firm, and those typically die, or move and want to engage a local adviser, Ms. Gordon said. About 95% of the firm's new clients each year come through referrals.

“Our employees see the value of our work and the personal service we provide to our clients,” Ms. Gordon said. “As management, we believe it's important to provide that to our employees.”

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