Dawn Wotapka
Dawn Wotapka Sep 25, 2019

Digital transformation, dependable talent: How to recruit A-list staff to win in a tech world

When it comes to filling banking jobs at a time when the national unemployment rate is under 4 percent—less than half of what it hit during the bleak financial crisis—E.J. Kritz suggests playing chicken. Literally. Deep fried, in fact.

As in: Check out Chick-fil-A.

That’s right. Banks might try to achieve or at least project the appearance of high-tech savvy. But that only pits them against the lavish perks and pay offered by tech titans such as Facebook and Google. Oh, did we mention? It’s also the tightest job market in a half century and even tighter if you count the number of applicants who boast skills in areas such as data analytics and AI.

But fear not, bankers. And while you’re at it, Kritz says, head to that chicken restaurant. But why? To satisfy your hunger, of course—if what you mean is the insatiable need to learn best practices for spotting, holding and nurturing talent.

“You’re talking about a brand that teaches 17-year-old kids from all over the country to say ‘Yes ma’am,’ ‘Yes sir’ and ‘My pleasure,’” says Kritz, director of training with ath Power Consulting, which provides employee training and strategic consulting to banks and credit unions. “They've got some great people that should be working at banks.”

Banks know they must change: They’re working to become more customer-centric as they roll out new technologies that integrate physical and digital presences. It’s about winning an on-the-go consumer who, unlike in the past, doesn’t dress up to meet the all-important community banker.

Thus a very unfair stereotype persists, but it’s there and banks need to do a better job dispelling it. Employees fresh out of college—many of whom grew up in the chaos of the Great Recession—envision an uber-stuffy environment dominated by suits, ties, deafening silence in the cubicles and CEO Worthington Bigbucks sitting behind an oak desk with lion-clawed feet and a surface area the size of a tennis court. 

In other words, attracting, hiring and retaining the right change agents for digital transformation clearly connects to image transformation, and much more. Here are four actionable ideas that drive to the heart of what it takes to win the high-tech talent race in 2019.

Sell the financial services field

No one has to sell the tech sector with its nap rooms, free food, and yes, beanbag chairs. But banking needs talking up as a career choice. “Ninety percent of [banking] executives started their career as a teller and that’s pretty cool,” Kritz said. “There’s just not a lot of businesses left where you can do that.”

As a countermeasure to another unfair stereotype—that in banking, it’s only about greed and shareholder value—be sure to sell the future and personal impact, said Jeff Skipper, chief executive of Jeff Skipper Consulting, a Canadian company that works with Fortune 500 companies and non-profits to define and accelerate strategic change. “They are not joining the bank as it is today, but as it will be tomorrow, and they have an opportunity to influence what that looks like.”

For many millennials and young adults in Gen Z, that means having a ready answer for your bank’s commitment to social impact and responsible investing. A vivid example comes by way of the recent United Nations summit. On Sept. 21, Citigroup and Barclays were among the 130 banks that joined a “responsible banking” framework to fight climate change and shift their loan books away from fossil fuels.

Rethink recruiting

As Kritz figured out, think outside the box when looking for candidates—and don’t shove them into a box, either. Just because someone lacks banking experience doesn’t mean you should exclude them. And while some banks poach hires from each other, don’t be afraid to look beyond to the digital world. Because in the meantime, they’re looking at you and your customer base.

“No matter how big or established your company is, there’s a group of young, talented people sitting in beanbag chairs somewhere in Silicon Valley somewhere working on ways to steal your customers,” says Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of  business development for Messina Staffing. “Most of them started as digital enterprises, so they’re working more efficiently and effectively than you. If you don’t find a way to keep up with them—or hire them—you’re going to fall behind in the 21st century.”

To find these people, look beyond the classic resume and hiring sites. “If you want to hire people who understand the digital world, you have to look where they live—in the digital world,” she points out.

The tech world lives, thrives and succeeds on its willingness to take chances with potential superstars who break the mold—and may not even have a college degree. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is among those who has said publicly, and repeatedly, that his company looks for fire, a great work ethic, perseverance, loyalty and a growth mindset: “These are qualities that you don't necessarily pick up from a degree ... [and] have a tendency to be completely overlooked when people are sifting through resumes or LinkedIn profiles.”

Spot change agents

Given the industry’s pace of change, work to spot talent that can both live with and guide the digital transformation. If that isn’t in your job requirements, change it now, Mullarkey says. “New hires must understand how to thrive in the digital world,” she said. “If you’re undergoing a digital transformation, the last thing you want to do is bring someone onboard who is going to be holding you back from embracing new ideas.”

To help you spot the right people, Douglas Rickart, vice president with the Robert Half Financial Services staffing firm in Minneapolis, suggests you ask open-ended questions, such as:

  • How did you respond the last time your company introduced a new level of technology?
  • How did you respond on a day-to-day basis when your current work responsibilities expanded? Where were your challenges and what did you learn from that challenge?
  • Where was a mistake that happened during a technology implementation that you may have made and what did you learn from it?

Casey Alseika, an executive recruiter focused on finance positions for the WatsonBarron Group, suggests presenting a real-word project to a candidate. Then ask the candidate to walk you through how he or she would solve the problem. “Through back-and-forth dialogue and asking good questions to uncover their technical knowledge, you can make an accurate assessment,” he says.

Close the Door

Once you find a great candidate, move. Now. Time is of the essence, so present an offer right away. “We are in the strongest, most competitive job market we have experienced in most of our lifetimes, “says Alseika. “Candidates are receiving multiple offers.”  

That means you need to “close the door” quickly, Rickart said. “The hiring decision needs to be quick,” he stresses.

After all, after investing so much time and effort to find a great candidate, you don’t want to lose him or her due to slowness on your part. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a number and wait—and nobody wants that. Just ask the register person at the local Chick-fil-A.

For more content relating to digital transformation, register for our week-long digital event, BAI Deep Dive, taking place all week long.

Dawn Wotapka is a communicator who lives for a great story, no matter how it is told. An Army brat who graduated from NC State University and NYU, Dawn covered the housing crash and public companies for The Wall Street Journal. She enjoys running, overnight oats and business books.

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