Tips for hiring millennials

Everyone has an opinion on recruiting millennials.

At Northwestern Mutual, we're firmly focused on maintaining a robust millennial talent pipeline. One-third of our field force consists of millennials and the average age of our financial advisors is a decade younger than the industry median. While we can't claim the proverbial silver bullet for millennial recruiting, the following learnings have served us well over the last several years.

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One size does not fit all

In our opinion, the most important thing to know about millennials is that they're not all the same. Successful recruiting often means sidestepping the stereotypes and finding those millennials whose personal qualities are the best mutual fit with your firm's culture and business model. That's not as easy as it sounds. Some companies have reacted by molding their recruiting initiatives around prevailing millennial rhetoric, potentially compromising their corporate identity in the process. For example, if your firm is known for high-touch client relations, transitioning to all virtual meetings because you think that's what millennials prefer is likely not the best strategy. Instead, focus on identifying candidates who are comfortable with face-to-face interaction or consider a hybrid approach that incorporates some virtual options into the mix, while preserving the core corporate value proposition.

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The best recruits

Our experience shows that that the best recruits are recent college graduates with internship experience as they are more likely to stay than career/job changers. To cultivate interest early, we supplement our internship with a College Unit Director (CUD) program. This initiative involves a series of on-campus activities designed to increase awareness for both Northwestern Mutual and the industry overall. The latter portion is critical as lack of knowledge about this career and misperceptions around their qualifications are the top hurdles to engaging millennials. This is understandable considering financial advisor is not a "traditional" profession and it's easy to see how students who may not have a complete handle on their own finances would feel skeptical about counseling others.

One approach to scaling these barriers is partnering with campus organizations such as investment clubs or business fraternities whose members are predisposed to the financial planning message. Moreover, with the face of the field force and client base transforming, diversity is not only vital to millennial recruiting efforts, it's a metric of brand reputation. As such, minority, women's and military organizations and events should be a key component of a sustained millennials recruiting strategy. Leverage conventional channels (and yes, social media is considered conventional these days) in more dynamic ways, i.e., a mobile-friendly YouTube ad attached to a relevant video.

How do you get their attention

Once you identify where your target is, how do you get their attention?

This is where some of the overarching intel on this generation could be useful: 1) They're financially mature beyond their years. 2) They're entrepreneurial and interested in rapid advancement. 3) They yearn to make a positive impact. 4) They place a premium on personal and professional development.

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Emphasize any financial and educational assistance your firm may provide with attaining professional accreditations (CLU, CFP, etc.), work-life balance initiatives, and formalized mentorship programs.

How do you keep them?

Millennials are a challenge because they're comfortable job-hopping more frequently than their predecessors in pursuit of professionally and personally rewarding work experiences. The median employee tenure for workers age 25- 34 is just 3.2 years -- or roughly 40 percent shorter than the median for all employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The quickest way to improve retention is to offer an opportunity that's hard to leave — one where there is flexibility, ongoing feedback, clear expectations, and a concrete trajectory towards growth and rewards.

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Ideally, however, the best way to test a car is to drive it. A quality internship program could deliver substantial retention dividends. Northwestern Mutual's program has proven especially effective with millennials, doubling the number of conversions during the last five years. Working alongside tenured professionals, interns get a firsthand look at what a financial advisor career entails, while simultaneously enabling us to assess if a recruit is a good fit and has the support system to manage the potential financial fluctuations in the early stages. This transparency reduces attrition as interns who transition to full-time do so knowing that this is a career they'll enjoy.

Commentary by Steve Mannebach, VP of field growth and development at Northwestern Mutual, where he is responsible for growing and strengthening the company's exclusive field force including recruiting, college marketing, retention, and professional development.

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