How to Hire When Everyone Has a Job

Jul 1, 2019

Today’s unemployment rate is at its lowest point in decades, so how is your bank supposed to attract talent fresh out of college or from another industry? The good news is that community banks have tools that they can use to recruit the next generation of bankers.

These days, with the United States boasting roughly full employment, it can be tough for any business to attract talent. But experts say community banks in any market can recruit the employees they need and turn this challenge into an opportunity to enhance their internal culture, boost their reputation and diversify their workforce.

How to attract millennials and Gen Z

There are a few key factors that can make your community bank more competitive to Generation Z, which is just entering the workplace, and millennials, many of whom currently hold management-level positions or soon will.

Sure, competitive salaries and benefits are important, but to really gain the attention of younger candidates, community banks need to have the right culture, says Ben Varquez, a partner at Whistle Work, an employer branding and recruitment consulting firm in New York City, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles.

Millennials and Gen Z want to work for employers “whose mission matches their values,” he says. “For millennials in particular, they remember when the economy collapsed in 2008, and to them, banks are still sort of the evil empire in the room. Community banks have an advantage, because they can distance themselves from the more integral players that caused the collapse of the economy. But at the same time, community banks still need to sell their value and mission to young people.”

Another factor is technology. Gen Z are digital natives. They’ve never known a time without the internet, when information “was not readily available at their fingertips,” Varquez says. Many members of this generation want to work at technology-centric companies that are innovative, and they want to do work “untethered.” In other words, they’re looking for flexibility. The more that community banks offer digital technologies to both customers and employees, including digital onboarding and training processes, the more attractive they’ll be to Gen Z.

These cohorts are also ambitious. Both Gen Z and millennials want clear development paths to obtain higher earning potential, Varquez says. They want to work for a stable company, a place they feel can secure “growing with.”

“They also look for diversity and a multidimensional workforce, not just diversity of ethnicity and race, but also diversity of experience and backgrounds, and diversity of thought,” Varquez adds.

What do Gen Z and millennials want most from their employer? “Just listening to them is the most important thing,” he says.

Recruitment strategies for banks in smaller markets

Trying to find the necessary talent in small towns and rural areas can be tough, so more banks are now recruiting from larger metropolitan areas, says Jeanne Branthover, a managing partner at DHR International, based in Chicago.

“I am very successful recruiting out of big cities, particularly people starting families who don’t want to raise their kids there,” she says. “As part of this, banks need to research the attributes of their local community and put together a package on how to sell their community in their recruitment efforts.”

When recruiting locally in a small market, community banks should foster a reputation for being the employer that people want to work for and create a “buzz” within the community about their workplace culture, Branthover says. On social media, banks should post good things that happen to employees, and they should consider letting employees organize things like softball teams, which can demonstrate camaraderie to others in the community. To young people, good company culture also means offering career development, leadership and mentoring programs.

“It’s all about being willing to spend money on training your employees,” Branthover says. “Young people want succession plans discussed at every level, not only telling them what their next job is going to be, but also letting the person above them know what their next job is going to be.”

Banks in smaller markets are also recruiting people from other sectors, such as the retail and hospitality industries, whose workers have been trained to focus on good customer service, Branthover says. “They are also training existing employees in new skill sets to put them in different roles,” she says. “Banks don’t always have job candidates available for every job, so it’s more about, ‘How can we keep employees by retraining them?’”

Strategies for banks in competitive metropolitan areas

The recruitment challenges can be vastly different in extremely competitive banking markets, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area. Many corporations have chosen to relocate there because of its business-friendly nature, robust economy and lack of state income tax, according to Susan Fishlock, a managing director and partner who handles the banking practice of Kaye/Bassman International Corp. in Plano, Texas.

Fishlock places executives, senior- and mid-level individuals in the commercial banking arena from time to time. “I recently received a call from a senior-level individual from one of the big banks who expressed interest in looking at opportunities at a smaller organization,” she says. “The candidate has been with his bank for almost 20 years. He is very well-liked within the bank, is not a job hopper and makes a very nice income. He told me he wanted to make a move for quality-of-life issues, and he is willing to take less in compensation for the right fit.”

Fishlock’s community bank clients prefer candidates who have been trained at larger banks, particularly those who have been through a formal credit training program.

“I place a number of experienced commercial lenders, and my bank clients require those candidates to be well-trained in credit and have a portfolio of clients or significant contacts in the market so they can hit the ground running,” she adds.

In this competitive market, banks are developing more defined career paths to attract junior candidates, Fishlock says. Some community banks have created additional roles as stepping stones to higher roles. For example, some banks are adding more portfolio manager positions.

“This might be the next logical step for a senior credit analyst, which eventually could lead to a lending role,” she says. “We are also seeing new positions created for those individuals whoprefer to stay on the credit side, aspiring to one day become a senior credit officer or chief credit officer for a bank.”

Banks also have had to “come to grips” with some of the rising compensation packages in the market because of supply and demand, she says. This is true not only for base salaries, but for overall compensation packages as well.

“Many banks have revamped their bonus programs,” Fishlock says. “For instance, in the past, junior-level analysts at a number of banks were not eligible for an annual bonus, but now they are.”

Some community banks also offer signing bonuses, first-year guaranteed bonuses and partial tuition reimbursement for candidates pursuing an MBA, she says. Community banks are also evaluating their benefit programs, like medical and 401(k) plans, to enhance their competitive edge. 

Work, play, learn and care

“Community banks view themselves as having a more intimate and family-oriented environment, and potential candidates, like moms with young children, are drawn to this,” Fishlock says. “This may include flextime or the ability to work at home when the need arises. Other benefits include life insurance and long-term disability at no cost.”

Candidates are attracted to banks with great cultures, she adds. In addition to providing a good working environment, some banks offer opportunities to participate in a variety of community projects or mission trips to developing countries. “This is particularly attractive to many younger candidates, particularly millennials, an idealistic and altruistic generation who are passionate about social causes that benefit the social good,” Fishlock says.

Getting known as one of the best places to work for in your community is another great way to compete for talent in a low-unemployment environment.

WSFS Bank, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., has been one of the top five employers in its market for 13 years in a row. The $12.2 billion-asset community bank is also one of just 40 workplaces in the entire country to win the 2019 Gallup Great Workplace Award.

WSFS Bank’s employees like working there so much, they often encourage their friends and family to apply for a job. Employee referrals account for 30% of candidate interviews, says Peggy H. Eddens, the bank’s executive vice president and chief associate and customer experience officer.

WSFS Bank offers competitive compensation and benefits packages. It makes sure employees have clear career paths and can turn a good idea into a passion project that spurs innovation. And WSFS gives staff paid time off to volunteer for their favorite cause or participate in the bank’s annual Take Your Children to the Community Day, a community service day.

Most importantly, says Eddens, WSFS maintains a culture that shows the bank not only cares about its customers but its employees, too. “It’s something that we work at and have fun doing every day, making sure we have an environment here that is inviting, challenging, rewarding and fulfilling,” she adds.

Employees seem to agree. WSFS Bank recently published a book, A Really Good Life: Work. Play. Learn. Care., containing thoughts from appreciative customers and employees.

An employee named John wrote, “I learned very quickly that everyone is like a big family here. I cannot thank everyone enough for giving me this opportunity to grow as an individual and to be part of something much bigger than myself.”