"It's a people business." It's one of the oldest clichés around, but in our business, it certainly has some truth to it.

While technology has changed significantly, and products and markets have become far more complex, the success of a bank investment program ultimately rests on the shoulders of its people.

After 17 years of recruiting in the financial institutions channel, I've worked with hundreds of banks and credit unions, helping them find, hire and retain quality people. The most important thing I try to convey to my clients-and for that matter, anyone looking to hire-is that hiring success is directly related to the time and thought that you put into it. Focus, preparation, effort and attention to detail pay off in hiring.

But along with many hiring success stories, I've seen programs and managers repeatedly make the same costly mistakes, losing top prospects or hiring the wrong people. And not only does this cause you to lose production, it also reflects directly on the program and the hiring manager-and not in a good way.

The following is a list of the common mistakes that bank programs make in their hiring practices. Everyone of these mistakes can be avoided by having a well-thought-out hiring plan and methodology.

Too many bank managers lose out on qualified candidates hoping that Ms. Perfect will walk through the door. Sure, it would be great to have a $500,000 producer who has a spotless U4, demonstrates great cross-selling skills, always has her paperwork in complete order, has a master's degree in economics, is knowledgeable about technology and speaks Mandarin.

But it's not necessary. Program managers need to separate "must have" from "nice to have." When a solid candidate is available, you need to pull the trigger.

Nothing kills the relationship you're trying to build with candidates faster than poor communications. If you're serious about a candidate, he wants to know. If not, tell him (nicely) that he's no longer being considered. If you tell a candidate you'll get back to him by a specific time, do it. Lack of communication is usually interpreted as lack of interest on the program's part. Even if you're still interviewing other candidates and there is really nothing new to tell a candidate, keep him informed and let him know you're still interested. Silence may be golden, but when it comes to candidates, it's deadly.

HR can do a great job. But sometimes they can also miss the mark. Sourcing and hiring experienced FAs may not be something they fully understand. It's easy to give them a job description and key words to look for, but it's another matter for them to understand team fit, or personality, or relationship-building ability. Even if HR is just doing preliminary screening, it's smart for every program manager to stay in close contact with HR to make sure you are both on the same page.

It happens all the time. Someone else needs to do an interview but is on vacation, or paperwork is lost and a job offer gets delayed. From first interview to offer (or letting a candidate know she is no longer being considered), shouldn't take more than 30 days.

Anything longer and candidates will begin to question your commitment to fill the position or your ability to make decisions. No one expects instant decisions, but dragging out the process will cause good candidates to look for other opportunities elsewhere.

If your position description says something like "a solid producer with prior bank experience" you're in trouble. When filling a position you need to drill down to the specific skills, expertise, personality type, product knowledge and relationship-building skills you need. Working with small businesses? Want to focus on fee products? Want to bring in "new blood" to help motivate a weaker producer? Then these are important aspects you need to uncover during the interview process. You may not find all you're looking for in one candidate, but at least you'll know whether they bring the skills that are most important to you.

Simply put, fit matters. Every firm has a culture and a way of doing things. From highly entrepreneurial to totally bureaucratic. From casual to formal. To succeed, FAs need to be comfortable with the overall program, their manager, their team, their responsibilities and their fit in the organization. An FA who doesn't fit in will feel like an outsider and will, sooner or later, find a way out.

Want to destroy a new FA's attitude about his new job? That's easy, make him feel as if he had been mislead. Or, even better, don't. Don't promise 20 referrals a week, and deliver only 2. Don't say he will cover three branches with $500 million in deposits, but give him one branch with half that. When you bring on a new FA you've made a verbal commitment with that FA about the support you'll deliver. Don't break that commitment. It's always better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

Good FAs don't grow on trees. And they don't come cheap. Solid producers aren't naive-they know their worth. Yes, programs need to consider how much of a book is transferable. But trying to save a few dollars, or cut FA payout a percent or two can be very shortsighted. Top talent commands top compensation; they're worth it.

Okay, so the hire is on board, now you can go back to your daily routine. Not so fast. Every new FA has a steep learning curve-your products, processes and just getting familiar with a totally new environment. From having business cards on time, to phones and computers installed, it's the program's responsibility to help the new FA get comfortable and up to speed as fast as possible. Don't underestimate the importance of a well-designed on-boarding plan.

It's only natural. You like other people who remind you of you. It's one of the pillars of building good rapport. But in our business, there are many styles, personality types and attitudes that can be very successful. Program mangers need to get "beyond the mirror" and be open to people who may be different. Always keeping in mind your culture and how a candidate will fit, it's good to add diversity to the existing team. It opens eyes (and minds) to new ways of doing things, and helps keep teams motivated.

Paul A. Werlin is president of Human Capital Resources Inc.

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