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The rules of attraction

As demand continues to outstrip supply, a strategy for hiring staff is crucial

Apart from obtaining development capital, recruiting effective people is the biggest challenge facing IFA businesses. For most businesses finding and keeping productive advisers, administrators and technical staff is a major constraint to growth. What makes this worse is that we know the reasons for this and that there is no magic answer. So we have to use good practice to minimise the problem as opposed to completely resolving it.

Recruitment is difficult because demand is outstripping supply, and because of the costs involved. Six months before production covers costs is not uncommon, even for advisers with access to mature client banks. This is less of a problem in the self-employed model, particularly if advisers pay a fixed sum to cover their base costs.

To summarise the problem, how can IFAs find people that will fit productively into their business and how can they reduce the costs and risks associated with the process?

The first stage is to recognise that recruitment should be treated like marketing and business development. It requires a long-term approach and should not be given attention simply when someone resigns or the business decides it can do with another paraplanner or administrator.

A structured approach is required to promote the brand of the business. People will have a perception of our business whether we like it or not – and we should influence it because the wrong image can create constraints in the labour market that we may not be aware of. Do you know what potential employees think about your business?

The most successful businesses have a clear strategic plan that includes a recruitment programme, a vision of where they are headed and how they will get there. The objective is to be recognised as an attractive place to work – where people can develop their careers and be well rewarded.

Some practices will promote themselves with announcements about new offices and employees, new developments in the business or particular milestones. This can be supported by networking, simply getting the word out about the business and that it is always interested in talking to really good people.

If you have a clear vision for your business, this acts as a first-stage filter because inevitably some people will be attracted and others repelled by that vision.

At high level, networking and public relations should be ongoing as it puts the business ahead when it comes to recruiting. But there are more specific actions that can reduce the cost and risk of recruitment.

The first is to produce a written recruitment brief. This is critical if agencies are to be used – it makes the business think carefully about the role and type of person it needs, and gives the agency a clear picture that is always better than a hasty phone call or email.

A brief should be prepared whether an agency is used or not. It should cover purpose of job, key accountabilities, success measures, skills, personal characteristics and remuneration.

The second specific action is to develop a thorough recruitment process. There are many approaches that can help inform the final decision. In addition to involving at least two people from the business in the process, formal interviews, role plays, psychometric tests and case studies can all help produce a rounded view of the candidates.

The criteria for selection should be agreed in advance and candidates only discussed in detail when the last one has been seen. This may appear time consuming, but it reduces the risks associated with recruitment and the problems involved if things fail to work out.

Finally, there is an alternative or complementary approach, which is to recruit at the trainee level. The advantages are that people can be moulded to fit with how the business operates and work up through the structure and different job types. For larger practices the ability to offer a career path with examination milestones is a real benefit – which also helps retain people as they become more effective and of greater value to the business.

David Shelton is head of intermediary strategic planning at Clerical Medical

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