“Think like a millennial to recruit a millennial.”

This simple statement by Sara Luther, Managing Partner of Lucas Group, is incredibly insightful and captures the essence of target marketing in, really, any market. I would only add one element. We need to not only think like millennials to recruit or sell to them, we need to put our thinking into action.

Millennials, of course, is another catchy phrase for Gen Y; you know those people you see around that are roughly between the ages of 18 and 35. Maybe you’re even one of them.

The scary truth is we actually don’t see enough of them around us in financial services. It’s really at crisis proportions according to a recent article in Financial Planning magazine. In her article, “Six things to Know About Recruiting Gen Y,” Kayan Lim reveals from a recent Pershing study that “The financial industry will need to add a total of 237,000 new advisors across all business models in the coming decade just to meet market demand.” I’m no math genius but that translates to 23,700 recruits a year just to sustain a market-stable distribution force.

You may say, “Well they’re out there (nearly 80 million strong) and we keep hearing they are looking for work so let’s go get them!”

The problem is that only 7% of college graduates (yes, that may be just a niche within the millennial category but still relevant) have expressed an interest in financial services! Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the Pershing survey found that only one quarter are “familiar or very familiar” with the profession. Hmmm. There’s a branding problem here and we have some work to do!

Myths aside, what we know generally speaking about millennials is they’re not too much different than the rest of us, other than a few points that may make their generation more attractive to employers than other generational categories before them: they are highly likely to be technologically savvy; social media and 24/7 connectedness matters to them; they’re family focused; they’re not afraid to work hard to achieve their dreams; and they want to feel what they do really matters. Sounds like a good foundation for a second interview, eh?

So let’s figure out how we can get beyond knowing them–and thinking like them–to actually attracting them to our industry and, more to the point, your amazing firm.

Some of the techniques that Douglas Reiss, Director of Talent Acquisition for The Bulfinch Group in Needham, MA, has incorporated into their approach are mostly technologically driven. “We are always looking for professionals with 3 – 5 years of experience or more, a ton of drive, and signs of coachability,” Reiss says. “Many of the approximately 400 people we see a year are millennials, even if they may be at the higher end of the generational bracket. As a result, we’ve started integrating more technology into our recruiting practices. Social media is very important. We train agents how to effectively network on LinkedIn.com because LinkedIn and our agency-level Facebook page are both at the core of our marketing and recruiting strategies. What’s more, our parent company, Guardian, has invested in research on Gen Y and other markets and is about to release an iPad app for presenting the career that we’re excited about. We also have a proprietary comprehensive financial management tool called ‘Living Balance Sheet’ that is of special interest to Gen Yers and is now in app form.” Reiss goes on to say that as far as coaching goes, face-to-face time will always be very important but hires are encouraged to complete programs on a “blended learning platform” that can be accessed 24/7; “from the couch at home while the kids are bopping around,” as Reiss knows from personal experience. Finally, The Bulfinch Group is in the early stages of piloting a new program that will allow leadership and new hires to share a variety of video to help the financial representatives feel more comfortable with presenting new material. These techniques seem to be working as The Bulfinch Group hired 14 professionals last year, six of whom are millenials.

These are all terrific innovations but firms that may not be as technologically driven as The Bulfinch Group can still take steps to attract millennials. We need to convince them–with authenticity, always–that financial services really could be the career of their dreams and they should look twice. To really convince them though, we need to demonstrate why it’s not only a good career choice it could be an awesome career choice.

Our grass-roots effort starts with listing the facts (as they relate to the particular culture of the firm, of course):

  • Jobs are not outsourced.
  • There is no ceiling in what one can earn.
  • The field is growing, it’s designed for professionals with an entrepreneurial drive and there are various directions where one can specialize.
  • Typically, the harder and smarter one works, the more money one can earn.
  • Once they complete the training requirements, their time is basically their own.
  • The career positively impacts lives/families/businesses/communities.
  • Team work is very important but one can also excel at their own pace or seek their own space.

That said, enter the more challenging part.

We need to study our surroundings and our culture–at the corporate level and the local level–to see what must change if we are to attract desirable young professionals. If we do this well, our short term and long-term recruiting problems are solved.

Here are 5 retooling recommendations to appeal to more Gen Yers:

  1. Knowing they like access to 24/7 information and training, have we, like The Bulfinch Group, invested in high quality platforms like the Hoopis Performance Network or Richard Weylman’s Online University, or maybe a comprehensive knowledge platform built within our own companies? Are we encouraging best practices when it comes to helping our hires truly benefit from this material?
  2. How are we compensating our new hires? Is the current program working for us or against us? Is more incentive needed to help people in certain stages of their development? If so, what would make it really attractive and be a smart investment for the company/firm as well?
  3. How have we effectively branded our business model and to which groups? In other words, what’s our succinct “story” and are we really delivering unique value in our markets? Is this a compelling story for someone to hear on the street? Have we sufficiently sold it to our own team? Doug Reiss talks often about “The Bulfinch Experience.” His firm not only demonstrates this experience with every interaction, they follow up to find out how the “Experience” was received.
  4. What needs to change about our physical environment? Is it fresh and inviting or is it stale and basically…functional? Do we encourage diverse personalities and cultures or do we expect people to conform to a general mold of what we expect a financial services professional should be?
  5. Whom do we pair with our new hires for training or mentorship and how up-to-date is their messaging and their tools? Are they still using concepts and training modules from back-in-the-day when they may have been trained or have they broken out of the routine to engage people with more customized and contemporary approaches/concepts/examples?

Once you feel like these tool are sharp, to keep them continually sharp, be sure to build lots of channels for constructive feedback into your culture. Gen Yer’s like lots of feedback. Give them the good and the bad as long as it’s specific and relevant. Ask for it too.

After you’ve recruited Gen Yers, they will lead you to more Gen Yers that you will begin to sell to and—behold!–the freshness and continuous innovation of your firm will start to lead its own charge. For ideas on sourcing more Gen Yers, visit The Gallagher Group’s website or contact our firm.

Author and satirist PJ O’Rourke recently said “we are looking at the first generation who can be who we want to be.” By “generation,” O’Rourke was loosely talking about Gen X and Gen Yer’s. Funny, Gen Y has known this to be true actually longer than we in preceding categories have. In fact, it’s really all they know. Beware of what you hear from the media; for the majority who do not lean on excuses, this is not an age laced with limitations for them. It is a time for them to make their mark! You can help them by embracing all they have to offer and letting them know it’s okay to take their career dreams—and, along with them, your firm– to greater heights!

Trisha Gallagher Boisvert is the principal of The Gallagher Group, a consulting firm based in the Boston area that creates intelligent marketing, recruiting and branding strategies for financial services companies. Trisha can be reached at trisha@thegallaghergroup.net on LinkedIn.com or at “The Gallagher Group” on Facebook.