Adviser's Consultant: Hiring the best employees requires teamwork

Sabrina Lowell of Mosaic Financial Partners describes how to avoid a bad hire

Sep 17, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

By Liz Skinner

It take a village to bring together the best people to staff an advisory firm, said Sabrina Lowell, financial adviser and chief operating officer of Mosaic Financial Partners.

Building her firm's roster from seven when she arrived in 2002 to today's 19 has required everyone at the firm to be on the lookout for the industry's best talent.

Whether they are at local Financial Planning Association conferences or networking events in San Francisco, at national meetings across the country, or even while attending certified financial planner classes, employees are asked to scout for those who seem engaged and vibrant.

“We want the ones who sit in the front row and ask lots of questions,” Ms. Lowell said. “Hiring the best requires networking and always having your eyes open.”

About a quarter of Mosaic Financial Partners' hires come through an existing employee's net of professionals they know from another company or may have been mentoring, she said.

The firm posts its available positions to job boards of the FPA and the one more recently created by the CFP Board of Standards.

Mosaic Financial Partners hasn't had much success hiring people from posts on craigslist. She describes its usefulness as “hit or miss.”

All prospects complete a 15-minute ProScan personality profile that's created for each position Mosaic Financial Partners is looking to fill positions with the type of person who's been successful in the role in the past. Only candidates matching up to at least 80% the profile will be asked in for an interview, she said.

(More: Forget personality tests, Edward Jones uses job simulation to assess potential hires)

Candidates asked in for a second round of interviews will talk with about five more people from different areas within the firm and those employees rate the prospect's skills and demeanor.

Finding professionals who have five to 10 years of experience, who will be able to hit the ground running after being trained on the firm's particular procedures, is Ms. Lowell's greatest challenge. And it seems to keep getting more difficult.

“There's a dearth of those particular candidates,” she said. “Then there's the cultural fit, too.”

The firm is particularly careful to make sure they hire the right person because it's expensive and time-consuming to bring employees up to speed. She estimates it takes up to nine months, including a three-month intensive training program, before employees are fully productive.

Additionally, the firm is headquartered in California, which has stringent worker protections that can make it a challenge for employers to fire people.

That hasn't been an issue at Mosaic Financial Partners because its retention rates are high, with a large portion of its staff having been at the firm for a decade or more and 40% having been there for between two and five years.

(More: Adviser's Consultant: What it takes to retain women advisers)

Tip Sheet

• Try to get to know job candidates in some sort of social setting, if possible. If the firm is heading to a ball game after work or going to dinner, ask the candidate to come, too. It's a great way to test the cultural fit, which is tough to evaluate if someone is a particularly good interviewer.

• In addition to checking references, ask other former employers or even third-party vendors who may have worked with a candidate about their experiences dealing with the person.

• Have a formal intake and training process in place that provides good direction and sets expectations for the new hire, otherwise, the process can quickly fall apart and the “great hire” never really come to fruition. Nobody ever forgets their first day, so make it good.

• Using personality tests can help identify the types of people who will be the best fit for particular positions. These tests can help dodge the human tendency to hire people who are just like yourself.

• Even when firms aren't hiring, the owners and professionals involved with the hiring process should agree to host informational interviews on a regular basis because they can turn up potential candidates for future openings or even warrant the creation of a new position.

• Recruiters can shorten the process by cutting out some of the early legwork and initial due diligence, but professionals at the firm must do the vetting process to make sure the technical experience and the cultural fit is a match.

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