What a top creative agency exec has to say about hiring top talent at financial firms

The market for talent has become super competitive. Top firms not only have to fight against their direct competitors for elite people but also against firms like Facebook and Google, which seem to have their tentacles into most creative and technology businesses today.

“Everyone is in the content business and wants to be makers,” Katherine Moncrief, evp, director of talent at creative agency Deutsch said at the Tradestreaming Money Conference in November. “The recruiting business is tough.”

Financial firms remaking themselves into technology-led businesses need to attract top performers. Moncrief suggests starting by appointing someone entirely focused on attracting and retaining the best people. HR people tend to focus more on rules and regulations, while recruiters, typically commission-based, have their eyes set on the opportunity of scoring a monetary prize.

“I’m a talent specialist. All I do is worry about bringing the right people in and making them successful in our company,” she said.

Here are some tips that companies in the financial industry can learn from creative firms when competing for top talent.

Best straight about the opportunity

Know the job you’re recruiting for and don’t sugarcoat pitching it. Know the job description. Be completely honest and most of all, listen to what the candidate wants, so you don’t get someone into a role they didn’t want. “Many times interviewers at Deutsch end up talking about themselves and our company rather than listening,” Moncrief admitted. “That’s a big no-no.”

Look in unlikely places for talent

Think out of the box when you’re recruiting for a specific role. Deutsch won Microsoft’s business about five years ago. Because the technology giant had a retail problem, Moncrief didn’t start looking for a tech person to lead the new project. “We found the person who came up with Burger King’s hit Whopper Freakout campaign,” she said. “He thought the tech business sounded boring, but I told him that I thought he would enjoy it. He left, thought about it some more, and took the job. Years later, he’s still working with tech clients.”

Shepherd new hires

Deutsch likes to say that it isn’t the bank or the country. It also isn’t a company where new hires are thrust into sink-or-swim roles. Fresh employees are assigned to a mentor, providing ongoing oversight. This feedback loop is especially important if the employee isn’t performing. Deutsch will provide feedback in written form and give the employee 30 days to improve.

Find the best home for a hire

According to Moncrief, the lack of professional development is the number one reason people leave a job. Making someone feel that she’s growing in her field is a great way to retain them. Move her around if she’s able to contribute elsewhere. It may cause some short-term disruption but you’ll probably get more out of her in a role she wants to be doing.

Make your house a home

25 percent of Deutsch staff has left the firm at some point, only to return at a later time. These boomerang employees come back to the firm because they feel like they’ve done some of the best work in their careers there. That’s by design — Moncrief and her team have created an environment people want to come back to. It also helps with retention. The average time creative types spend at Deutsch is six years, compared to about one year elsewhere.

Pay for professional development

Investing in top talent should pay dividends. Deutsch gives each employee access to online learning community, Lynda.com. That way, an employee can decide to learn new skills, like coding or graphic design, on his own schedule. Top performers are rewarded with trips to SXSW, Cannes, or other festivals, presenting their learnings and experiences to the rest of the company upon their return.

There’s also an admittedly silly-sounding suggestion box. Employees can provide constructive feedback anonymously. Deutsch’s chief creative officer responds to every suggestion. “Most of the time, it’s about little things, like snacks,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s about bigger things like crying over the election.” Giving people a say makes them more loyal to the team.

Bonding time

Getting employees spending time together helps to foster the feeling of being part of a team on a wider mission. But it also has another effect: it creates good natured competitiveness that encourages team members to constantly up their game.

Deutsch’s office layout is set up for collaboration. Office walls and doors are all glass, which adds to the feeling of openness and transparency. There’s also a section where employees can grab a snack with their colleagues that’s off-limits to meetings during certain parts of the day.

Raise the next generation

Lastly, internship programs that actually work are really important in creating a pipeline of young talent. Deutsch has a technology program where interested students can submit a two minute piece about why they would like an internship at the agency. Winners get a real budget and a blue-sky project to build something.

“Last year, with a $10,000 budget, students created a way to buy mobile minutes when you’re traveling abroad,” Moncrief said. “They designed it and coded it — it worked. They felt invested in our company and we invested in them. Some of them eventually joined us and the word of mouth marketing that resulted was very valuable.”

Whether you have a ping pong table or corporate kickball games isn’t really the point. Modern financial firms would do well to learn from other industries about developing a stimulating work culture that employees don’t want to leave.