Ten Mistakes Rookie Financial Services Recruiters Should Avoid

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Succeeding as an entry-level recruiter is no easy task. I know because I was one. Stumbling through confusing terminology while asking all the wrong questions, typically to all the wrong people. Mistakes get made – lots of them.

Junior financial services recruiters have a harder time than most. The complexity of the roles, the sophistication of candidates and high demands of clients all invite disaster. So, if you’re thinking about getting into recruiting on Wall Street, or if you just got started, be sure to avoid these common mistakes if you want to survive.

1. Don't pretend you know the industry when you don't

“Most people you deal with on Wall Street can smell BS a mile away,” said Jim Schroeder, executive vice president at DHR International. “You can’t come in and fake it.”

The best way to educate yourself on the industry is by asking candidates questions at every turn, Schroeder said. Have them take you through their day and explain what they do. Ask them questions about industry trends. Candidates are hungry to talk about what they do. Give them rope and pay attention, he said.

Another key is to immerse yourself in the industry by reading everything you can get your hands on. “Get up early and read The Wall Street Journal,” said Schroeder.

2. Don't join a giant recruiting firm from the outset 

If you’re new to the industry, pick a small firm - one that is willing to invest in you, rather than a large firm that may just put you on the phones and make you cold-call clients on day one.

The easiest way to identify quality firms is by their base pay. “Some large low-quality recruitment firms are successful because they hire lots of people on low money and churn through them, often getting rid of more than half of graduates in less than 3 months,” said Chris Apostolou, managing director at London-based Arbitrage Search and Selection. “A really good search firm, on the other hand, will insist you work in research for at least a year before letting you contact clients.”

Another good question to ask a potential employer is the size of the average fee per placement, Apostolou said. “The bigger the better.”

Picking a firm that will give you a wide breath of experience across range of roles, rather than pigeonholing you into one niche, is advisable early in your career, said Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company.

3. Don't be too thin skinned 

Recruiting is a sales job. “Be prepared for a lot of nos,” said Schroeder. “People who take things personally tend to have shorter careers.”

4. Don't be too impatient or too nice to candidates

The shotgun approach – where recruiters send in dozens of resumes hoping one is a match – fails nearly every time when dealing with financial services clients, say veteran recruiters. Clients will begin to tune you out, opening up the possibility that a quality candidate goes unnoticed.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Crowley. You're better off submitting one or two great resumes than flooding a client’s inbox with white noise. “You want to become a filter for your clients,” Crowley said.

This can be tough if you develop a soft spot for some of your candidates who you like personally but who don’t fit the role, said Sara Kalkstein, a recruiter at Wall Street Services. Don’t take: “Yes, I can do the job” at face value. Push them to explain why. “Do not give candidates the benefit of the doubt regarding whether you think that they will be able to do the job,” she said.

5. Don't treat candidates poorly 

In recruiting, time is money.  But that doesn’t mean you should be rude to someone who isn’t a fit for the job in question.

“You should treat every candidate as a prospective client,” said Schroeder. “Younger recruiters just pound phones and forget it’s a people business,” he said.

“Always be polite to people, always take calls and respond to messages,” Apostolou said. Today's candidate is tomorrow's client.


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6. Don't have poor brand recognition 

In financial services, pedigree means a whole lot. Some private equity firms, for example, only hire out of the top 10 or 20 business schools. Wall Street can be incestuous, too, with bankers preferring to work with people who have ties to their former employers.

“Brand recognition – in terms of the names of where a candidate went to school, where they interned – is serious currency in finance,” said Kalkstein. “Heavy-hitting financial firms want to bring on candidates that have been in similar environments: fast-paced, large-scale, structured and team-oriented, yet competitive.”

Personality, culture and fit are key considerations on Wall Street, said Richard Lipstein, managing director at Gilbert Tweed Associates.

7. Don't fail to understand a candidate’s motivation

People who are looking for a new job are doing so for a specific reason – whether it be money, career flexibility or company culture. This may be the most important fact to learn about a candidate, yet some younger recruiters fail to identify a job seeker’s motivation, said Lipstein. “If you don’t know what’s driving them to look, you can’t help them.”

Understanding a candidate’s true motivation can help avoid pitfalls down the road. If all they want is money, and the position is capped at $5k above their base salary, it may be best to concentrate your efforts elsewhere.

8. Don't be afraid of negative responses 

No one wants to hear that their perfect candidate might not work out. But you’ll save time – and money – confronting issues early.

If the commute or a potential background check could be a sticking point, tackle it early rather than waiting until the end of the process. Your clients will thank you.

9. Don't be shy about pushing for referrals 

When you make cold calls, you tend to get cold responses. Good recruiters make warm calls, Schroeder said. When you call a candidate and drop a name that they know, you have a 95% chance someone will call you back, Schroeder said. End every call with: “Who do you know who’s looking?”

10. Don't be lazy

“There’s no substitute for hard work,” said Crowley. “It’s the price of entry.”

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