Schwab IMPACT panel: Cultural fit is critical when advisory firms hire young talent

Cultural fit and an eagerness to learn are crucial factors in hiring and developing young talent into the future leaders of an advisory firm, said panelists at the Schwab IMPACT 2016 conference in San Diego on Tuesday.

Peggy Ruhlin, CEO of Budros, Ruhlin & Roe, said her firm is looking for a next generation of leaders who want to invest in a career and are not just looking for a job.

Ensuring that a candidate fits a firm's culture is especially important for client-facing roles, Ruhlin said. Such employees need to act as an “exemplar” of the culture, show empathy, listen well and “be a really nice person,” she said.

“Fresh talent” also offers the advantage of not having ingrained professional habits that might not be compatible with a firm's culture, even though those habits worked at a previous job, Ruhlin said. That sets the stage for the new employees to “learn our way and master that,” she said.

Xandra Burnette, chief operating officer of Signature Family Wealth Advisors, said her firm develops scenarios and asks applicants how they have addressed such scenarios in the past. In doing so, the interviewers are seeking not hypothetical solutions but evidence of the person's thought process, decision outcomes and lessons learned, she said. This also shows applicants what they can expect if they are hired at the firm, she said.

Kyle Demshki, associate adviser at Joel Isaacson & Co. and a former Charles Schwab intern, discussed the process of interviewing for and getting started at his current firm. He had no experience in areas including tax or estate planning, but demonstrated his eagerness to learn, he said.

“It was a steep learning curve for the first year and a half,” but a manageable one, he said. “I'm still learning.”

Demshki encouraged young people looking to start their careers to also show such an eagerness to absorb knowledge and to find firms that will focus on developing them.

Young job seekers also should study a firm's culture before interviewing to determine whether it would be a good fit for them, said Brad Losson, a Charles Schwab vice president and national managing director of the Schwab Advisor Services and relationship management team.

Demshki also emphasized the importance of finding a firm that is a good cultural fit rather than just telling interviewers what they want to hear.

Losson also said that a new employee might join a firm with the goal of ultimately becoming a planner, but then “branch out” into a different area of the firm such as marketing or business development.

“Once you're in, there's all these different avenues you can find within advisory firms and within the industry itself,” he said.

Burnette said “being agile is very important” and agreed that employees sometimes find better opportunities to flourish when they change departments within a firm.