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Help Wanted

(Originally written for Forum Magazine)

Feeling bogged down by administration work and back-office details? Finding the right assistant can free up your time so that you can concentrate on servicing your clients and building your business.

KIM POULIN tells you how to hire like a pro.

It doesn’t take a new advisor long to learn that it’s hard to survive in this industry without an assistant. Part of the reason is the amount of administration

required for every application you process. And, as we all know, wherever there are mounds of paperwork, service problems are bound to happen. As your client base grows, you spend more time tracking applications and dealing with client concerns and, before you know it, you’ve hit an income ceiling. Today’s top advisors spend over 50 per cent of their time face to face with clients; less productive advisors spend less than 20 per cent. Increasing face time with clients can only be achieved by delegating as many non income-building tasks as you can to an assistant.

It sounds easier than it is. In fact, delegating can be one of the most difficult things for an advisor to learn. After years of working on your own, it can seem unimaginable to relinquish responsibility for any of the multitude of tasks you’ve incorporated into your process — even if you don’t like some of them very much. It can feel almost counterintuitive to bring someone else into your business. For most advisors, freedom, flexibility and independence are the big attractions of their career. Adding to the team creates a new dynamic that might not reflect their vision of what it means to be an entrepreneur. There is, however, great power in delegation. For those who recognize its potential, it often comes down to the raw numbers:

  • If 20 per cent of your time is spent with clients at an average rate of $250 per hour, your annual income will be in the area of $120,000.

  • If 50 per cent of your time is spent with clients, your annual income increases to approximately $240,000.

  • If you spend 80 per cent of your time with clients, your income closes in on $370,000 a year.

Subtract the annual cost of an assistant and you’re still well ahead of the game.


How do you know when it’s time to start thinking about an assistant? When you decide that you’re ready to move to the next level; when you’re ready to go from being an entrepreneur to a business owner; when you’re spending too much time alone in your office and you’d rather be out meeting people; when you’re ready to leverage all the resources at your disposal — including yourself — that’s when you’ll know it’s time to hire an assistant.


You know you’re ready to hire someone, but how do you do it effectively? First, you need to decide whether to outsource the hiring process to an industry specialist or search agency. By engaging a professional hiring firm to bring in a new employee, you’re free to work uninterrupted through what will likely be a well-defined, efficient process. If, on the other hand, you plan to do the hiring yourself, you need a game plan. Avoid the temptation of hiring the first convenient person. Unless this person has related experience, you risk getting bogged down in a learning curve that will do you and your business more harm than good. You should also avoid the lure of hiring someone just like you. Look for complementary skills and unique abilities that will enhance the team. The following process will help you avoid the pain that comes with hiring the wrong person for the job.


Know what you are looking for in an assistant. Be sure the responsibilities of the job are well defined by:

  • the three most critical functions to be performed;

  • the skills needed to perform those functions; and

  • the three main strengths the employee must have.


Some search options cost more than others and some are free. Decide which of the following are within your time frame and budget:

  • word of mouth through staff, colleagues, clients, friends, study groups, wholesalers or national organizations such as Advocis;

  • local college and university career centres;

  • government employment centres;

  • local newspaper advertisements;

  • employment agency firms; and/or

  • online job boards.


When going through the resumes, pay attention to the candidate’s experience and background. Along with courses taken and qualifications, check the grammar and format of the resume itself. Watch for spelling mistakes or typing errors. Choose 10 to 12 of the most likely candidates. Your goal is to conduct a series of interviews that will whittle the list down, eventually revealing the right person for the job. The underlying philosophy of multiple interviews is, if you still like the person as much after the third or fourth meeting as you did after the first, chances are you’ve found the perfect fit.


This is where you cull your list even further. Discuss the most important aspects of the job, asking questions that will help you decide which of the applicants you want to meet with. Once you’ve chosen the six to eight candidates you want to interview, bring them in for the first of two face-to-face interviews.


Book a day specifically for interviews. Plan to spend 45 minutes with each person and allow time between interviews to debrief with your colleagues.

Break the interview into three parts:

1. Data — education, experience and technology

2. Important attributes that aren’t indicated on the resume — organization, accuracy, neatness and loyalty, for example

3. Personality and socialization — getting to know the real person

It’s critical to prepare for each interview. Have the candidate’s resume, a list of questions and the job description in front of you. Be prepared to write down your overall impressions.


Pick your top three candidates. Ask yourself the following questions about each person you interviewed:

  • Does he or she meet my qualifications?

  • Does he or she have the strengths required?

  • Why do I think this would be the right person?


Understand what is important to the candidate when it comes to the work environment. This includes things like compensation, flexibility and benefits. You want to know the candidate’s expectations about what you’re going to provide as an employer. Then you have to decide if it fits your game plan. (See sidebar “Free and low cost

employee-friendly solutions.”) Ask candidates to bring in past performance reviews and references.

If you have a skills test, this is the time to run it.


An adequate reference check should involve calling previous employers and asking questions about:

  • the period of employment and positions held;

  • duties performed and compensation received;

  • the candidate’s strengths;

  • how the candidate responds to change;

  • how the candidate handles stress and relates to peers or superiors;

  • if you could choose to work with the candidate again, would you; and

  • why the candidate left the organization.


Discuss your options with someone whose input you value. Choose your top candidate and begin negotiations.


Balance what you can offer as an employer against the candidate’s flexibility and skills. (See sidebar “What to Pay.”) Be sure to put a formal offer of employment in place.

The offer should include:

  • specific responsibilities of the position;

  • required work hours;

  • negotiated salary;

  • any holidays, vacations, special considerations;

  • any additional expenses you will cover (e.g., training, meetings or seminars)

  • any expectations regarding changes or growth within the job;

  • the work location.

As soon as your candidate accepts, contact those you didn’t hire. Thank them for their time and let them know you appreciate meeting them. Tell them you selected another candidate based on the position and the requirements for the job and wish them success in their employment search.


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