Jun 28 '18

Diving Headfirst Into the (Applicant) Pool

We’ve boiled down our latest research about attraction and retention strategies for credit unions from our Center for the War for Talent.

Holly Fearing

Hello everyone and welcome to the Filene Fill-In. I'm Holly Fearing with Filene. The Filene Fill-In is the podcast where we fill you in on what's been going on here at Filene's home base and out and about in the financial services world. Here's what we've got for you today. We've boiled down our latest research about attraction and retention from our Center for the War for Talent. Our new report is called Diving Headfirst into the Applicant Pool, How Employee Attraction Impacts Employee Retention by Filene fellow Sekou Bermiss at the University of Texas-Austin. If you're short on time, but keen on multitasking, this is what you'll want to listen to before diving head first into the report yourself, lots of diving going on here. Hope everyone knows how to swim. Okay, first we talk with someone on the front lines of the work of attracting and retaining top talent at credit unions. Betsy Sommers, senior vice president at Season's Federal Credit Union in Middletown, Connecticut shares fascinating details on the job market in her state and the trend of outward migration, which impacts their efforts to fill positions. Betsy also talks about how they take a lot of time to make sure people are a good fit for their credit union and how that positively affects their pool of candidates going forward. I'm certain your credit union will relate and you'll want to hear Betsy's advice on what you might do to improve recruiting efforts. Much of which her credit union is embarking on now as well. Then, because we can never get enough of him, we've got G Hoff dropping the knowledge on us. Stay till the end to hear George break down those key insights and what they might mean for your credit unions attraction and retention strategies. One sneak peek insight, just say no to creepy recruiters, but first here's Betsy.

Betsy Sommers

(02:01): So we are in Connecticut and Connecticut has a slightly higher unemployment rate than the rest of the country. The first four months of the year, we hovered right around 4.5%. So, about a half a percent above the rest of the country. It's challenging because we have a lot of outward migration, particularly in the well-educated youngish population and so the job market for skilled, well-educated, people is tighter than I believe other places in the country. A lot of the outward migration has been because of our tax levels and the cost of living and the cost of real estate, so people have been fleeing elsewhere. The state also is running with a $3.5 billion deficit. So it's not puppies and kittens and unicorns here.

George Hofheimer

(03:01): So is that a relatively recent phenomenon as it relates to the economic situation in the job market?

Betsy Sommers

(03:08): The outward migration has been going on since about 2005 and so it's not necessarily new. Our budget deficit certainly is getting worse and the cost of living in Connecticut has always been high compared to other parts of the country. It's interesting though, that the outward migration seems to be much more in the news as of late. I'm seeing it much more, there's much more discussion about it. Part of that could be that we are going to have a new governor this year and so the economics of the state is much more in the spotlight.

George Hofheimer

(03:52): So when you think about all of that context, what makes it hard or easy to recruit for roles at Season's Federal Credit Union today?

Betsy Sommers

(04:03): So we have a recruiting and employment strategy. We spend a lot of time making sure that people are wired properly for the credit union, because we are not for everybody and that's okay. And we believe pretty strongly that when you mix in someone new's DNA with the existing DNA, it can be absolutely amazing or it can be not so amazing. And we only have 52 full-time equivalent so one additional person does make a big difference in the scope of our employment. We hire for typically entry level positions and do our very best to promote from within for anything beyond the entry level. So there have been very few positions over, I would say the past five years where we've gone to market for somebody at the middle management or higher level. So we have typically a decent size pool of candidates, but we spend a lot of time once we found somebody that we think is appropriate for the institution. It's not uncommon for somebody to have a phone interview and then come back two or three times for an entry level position, for an interview.

George Hofheimer

(05:28): So when you think about the research that, that we're just releasing right now, one of the insights for the data that was collected was that the timing of hiring mattered in terms of long-term turnover potential, either higher turnover, lower turnover, during different times of the years. So just kind of curious to hear your reactions to those insights from one credit union and curious to know if that dynamic holds true for your specific institution and or do you, do you track that kind of data?

Betsy Sommers

(5:59) So I took a quick look at our information and I looked at the date of hire and people who are still around and voluntary and involuntary terminations and I don't see any significance in specific times of the year for hire and somebody's longevity or success at the credit union. That is not based in any sort of statistical analysis at this point, though. That's just anecdotal.

George Hofheimer

(06:27): Yeah and you know, I think one of the features of the research was that we were just analyzing one specific credit unions data and those relationships may or may not hold true for others. So we're in the research mode and kind of testing out these hypotheses. So it's interesting to hear that that didn't necessarily hold true for you. Kind of looking at another point as it relates to the research. One of the things we talk about in the study is this concept between larger and smaller applicant pools and hiring outcomes. And, you know, one of the insights was, you know, actually having a larger applicant pool in certain circumstances is not necessarily a good thing. Kind of reflecting on your experience at Season's Federal Credit Union. What are your insights on whether that matters or doesn't matter in your recruiting efforts?

Betsy Sommers

(07:15): It's interesting because when we have a much larger recruiting pool, there's a great possibility that we're going to pass somebody over that we might otherwise want to talk to if the pool was smaller. And the other possibility with a large pool for us is once we've reached a place where we have, let's say three or four great candidates, and we still have people in the pool that we haven't had an opportunity to talk to. Once we get to a place where we feel like we have a good small pool of applicants that we're likely to choose from, we kind of let the rest fall away. And so I suspect that there's a lot of talent out there that we don't have the opportunity to talk to them, or don't choose to talk to because we stop once we have what we feel is an adequate number of people to make the smaller decision from.

George Hofheimer

(08:10): Do you have any stories of people that were not taken from that larger applicant pool and then came back to you or is that largely a mystery as to where those, those folks eventually landed?

Betsy Sommers

(08:20): You know, it's interesting. I don't have any specific stories, but what I can tell you is that we have had many experiences where we'll recruit, we'll end up with a pool of, let's say 150 or 175 people applying for an entry-level position and we'll hire, and let's say it's for a teller or one of our virtual specialists and 6, 7, 8 months later, before we start recruiting again and freshen up that pool, we'll look at the existing pool and we have actually had success, even though in theory, you would think that pool was maybe stale because it had been awhile. We'll have success kind of going back in and looking again and reaching out to people that we didn't reach out to the first time either because we thought we had a great small pool or we just didn't get to them before we hired people.

George Hofheimer

(09:16): Interesting. So, you know, the purpose of why we do these research projects is not to just publish a paper and hopefully people find it interesting. The purpose of these is to take the insights and try and do something with it. So in relation to that notion, what is the, after reading through the paper, what's one thing that you consider doing as a result of this research?

Betsy Sommers

(09:41): Well, actually there's a couple of things that I'm interested in doing. I really do want to take a look and do some statistical analysis on when people are hired and how long they stay. The size of the pool and how long they stay and whether or not they're successful. The other piece of it is I believe, and based on the research, really want to take a look at whether or not we are working hard enough to sell ourselves to the people that we're trying to recruit. We have a brand, but I'm not sure that our recruitment brand for the credit union is strong enough. So to really take a look at how we are presenting ourselves and how we are presenting the position and whether or not we are getting the best pool of applicants, we can, based on the information that we're sharing about ourselves.

George Hofheimer

(10:31): Great. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that and I'm curious to know Betsy though, if you had any other final comments or closing thoughts as it relates to this project.

Betsy Sommers

(10:40): You know, I think it's really interesting when I was reading through all of the data, it really makes me want to take a look at whether or not what we're experiencing is similar or not, to what the research data was indicating, because it's really nothing that we've quantified. And so to have the opportunity to look at things, kind of through a different filter mathematically and see if the trends are the same or different, I think is going to be quite interesting.

George Hofheimer

(11:10): Great. Well, thanks for sharing your time, Betsy, and your expertise and experience on this. I really do appreciate you weighing in, on diving into the applicant pool attraction and retention by Sekou Bermiss.

Betsy Sommers

(11:22): Awesome, thank you.

Holly Fearing

(11:26): All right, so George, you were just talking with Betsy Sommers at Season's Federal Credit Union about the latest research from the War for Talent, Diving into the Applicant Pool: Attraction and Retention by Sekou Bermiss. She shared a lot of interesting insights from her experience at her credit union specifically, but I wanted to get some insights from you on what the research is about in general.

George Hofheimer

(11:55): Generally it's about how can credit unions or other organizations increase the odds that they have the right applicants applying for the right jobs. And to do that, we wanted to collect data and research to figure out how one institution is doing it, because that's kind of the theme of the research that we're looking at in the War for Talent is to use data, to make decisions around attraction, retention and hiring decisions in credit unions. So that's really what it was about and it was kind of a brief foray into that first part of the hiring decision, and that is getting qualified applicants to actually apply for jobs.

Holly Fearing

(12:32): And did you learn any interesting or unexpected insights from that first round of research?

George Hofheimer

(12:40): Yeah, you know, I mean, I think the data set that we're looking at in this research is fairly limited. It's only one institution, but within that institution, it's a lot of data and we found some really interesting findings that are maybe unique to that institution. Maybe they're generalizable to the credit union system, but you know, some of the key insights is that data does matter and just in that little exercise for that one institution, we're able to pull out some really interesting insights that that credit union can actually use, in terms of how they try and attract people just in terms of seasonality, large versus small hiring pool or applicant pools and that kind of stuff. When my thinking is that a lot of credit unions probably don't do that yet. So as we continue this course of research and we hope to utilize data more in the HR and more for talent areas.

Holly Fearing

(13:31): Yeah, we saw that reflected in what Betsy shared around the timing of hires. It looked like that wasn't necessarily data that they looked at for trends, even though they probably have that data available to them. I found that really interesting in this research that the timing of the hire matters for retention. What did the research say about why that was?

George Hofheimer

(13:55): It's kind of inconclusive at this point and this may be the case of just looking at this particular institution, which was in a fairly competitive job market in the West Coast. So a different dynamic at different macro situation in which they're operating in, so not sure what the data means from a generalizable perspective, but from this individual credit unions perspective, there was some indicators that it really does matter when you do hire and that could have to do with the local economy. If there is the influence of specific industries that have kind of seasonal factors. All of those types of things are questions that I think a lot of people aren't asking. So that's the first course of the research.

Holly Fearing

(14:38): Another insight, not surprising, was that organizations with higher reputations had higher quality applicants, again, not surprising, but what did the research point out about that that might be helpful for credit unions to know?

George Hofheimer

(14:53): Yeah, so the high reputation it's not surprising. You know, if people have an understanding that this XYZ company or XYZ credit union has a good reputation in their market, they're going to think about them. They're going to be in the consideration set when they're looking for a job. Reality is, is that most credit unions probably have a good reputation, but in pretty much every market where credit unions operate, there are organizations that probably have a lot more dollars to spend to promote themselves, from a public perspective. And as a result, they just may have a better perception in the minds of job seekers. So within the research, we provide lots of ideas about how they can kind of leverage what may be perceived as a weakness in that not as many people know what the reputation is for the credit union, into something positive. So we provide specific tactical ideas for credit unions, with quote unquote, low perception within their market and it's just very tactical types of ideas, but ones that I think can have an impact in terms of increasing the awareness of the credit union in their marketplace.

Holly Fearing

(16:03): So you're talking about just lack of awareness, maybe because of the size of the organization?

George Hofheimer

(16:10): Yeah, I mean, you can look at it for example, where we live in Madison, Wisconsin, the biggest employer outside of the state and the university is Epic, right? And Epic is a big technology firm that's involved in healthcare records and pretty much everyone here has an awareness that Epic exists. What their reputation is, I'm not quite sure, but it's definitely within the consideration set of young, talented, and not, not young talented people as well within this marketplace, but we also have a lot of great credit unions here. And unless you're a member of that credit union, you're probably not going to have an opinion either way, whether, you know, Summit Credit Union, for example, or UW Credit Union, or maybe even some of the smaller credit unions like Madison Credit Union or Heartland Credit Union, whether they have a good, bad or indifferent reputation. So, examples like that are, I think ones that, that are very realistic in a lot of places around the country, even though these credit unions do have very good reputations, they do good in the community. They are year in and year out, probably voted best employers, but the large majority of the population probably isn't aware of them as an employment choice. So those are the types of opportunities that credit unions have to increase their applicant pool.

Holly Fearing

(17:24): I've been seeing in the news recently more and more credit unions being listed as best workplaces in their state. Is that something that, obviously never a bad thing to be, but is that what you're saying is it would be helpful for getting that higher reputation out there?

George Hofheimer

(17:42): Yeah, I mean, I think it just helps. It's almost like any other kind of marketing that you would do. In order for you to attract someone to your product, to your service, or in this case, a job vacancy, you just need to be within the consideration set in people's minds that this organization actually exists and there's something that resonates with me, with this organization. So yeah, I think the outcome of some of those activities are that credit unions are getting more and more involved in some of these, best places to work, or great places to work types of activities. And what they're finding is when they actually go through these objective measures that they do pretty well.

Holly Fearing

(18:23): Yeah and that reminds me of another thing that was in the research, I found really interesting around selling the brand through the job posting itself. I hadn't really thought about how the job posting is written, could be a key indicator to an applicant around the culture of the organization. What did the research say about that?

George Hofheimer

(18:44): You know, it's mostly secondary research that's been done in other industries, but you know, basically it's much like selling a product or service. So I think we've all seen job descriptions and maybe we can reflect on our own personal organization. Some of the job description, the way that they're written or described doesn't necessarily scream out, you know, come work with us. It seems to be more of a templatized type of approach. So, kind of having that almost brand recognition of the organization, not just from their products and services perspective, but from their human resources perspective is a real opportunity to kind of shift perceptions in the applicant pool and there's a lot of creative ways to do that, you know, just in terms of, you know, use of digital technology, like videos to show what the workplace looks like, evidence that this is a workplace that conforms to these types of values. Whether that may or may not be attractive to people and then just a more deliberate approach to writing of job descriptions. Rather than it being kind of a standard templatized approach, being a little bit more prosey and creative in the writing.

Holly Fearing

(19:56): Yeah, just today I saw somebody posting on LinkedIn that there was a line in a job description that they read, they knew that was instantly a place they wanted to work. So I do know that it's, it definitely can have a strong impact on applicants.

George Hofheimer

(20:11): Yeah, and in a previous study that we did with this War for Talent Center, had to do with looking at the issues around talent, and one of the key things that we brought out in the research was that one of the key indicators, whether someone will actually apply for a job, is the behavior of the recruiter. So if you think about it, that was kind of a surprising finding was that, oh, I didn't really think about the recruiter being a key cog in that discussion, but if you think about it, it's the person that the applicant interacts with initially. And if you get a creepy feeling, you may get a creepy feeling about the organization, or if they don't necessarily comport to the values of what the organization stands for, it may be a little bit misleading, but if it's someone that is excited about the organization, excited about the job, excited about the applicant, you can see how that would activate people to say, I want to be part of this organization.

Holly Fearing

(21:03): So no creepy recruiters, you're saying?

George Hofheimer

(21:05): I think that that is the conclusion for all of this. Yeah, no creepy recruiters.

Holly Fearing

(21:13): That's probably a good rule in general. So I also wanted to ask about, because this research is cleverly titled, or maybe the title will change, but right now it's cleverly titled, Diving Head First into the Applicant Pool, and you looked at some of the implications of larger versus smaller applicant pools. What did the research say about that?

George Hofheimer

(21:33): I think the assumption is that more is always better in a variety of aspects of business life or just life in general. And some of the insights that we found was that in fact, you know, in certain circumstances, smaller applicant pools might be better, you know, and in that case with the data that we collected, we found that smaller applicant pools may be better during times of low unemployment. So when it's very competitive and there's a low supply of qualified candidates, people already have jobs. You know, the idea is that maybe we should focus in on a smaller pool of applicants rather than trying to get a large pool of individuals during certain times, because, you know, the outcomes show, in the research, that small applicant pools lead to better outcomes in the longterm.

Holly Fearing

(22:16): Interesting. Are there any other key insights that you'd like credit unions to know?

George Hofheimer

(22:22): No, you know, and I mean, I like the word insight, is that, you know, these are not definitive findings. The author, Sekou Bermiss, does a really good job of documenting the research that has been done and there's been a lot of research around this topic of looking at the applicant pool and what it means, in terms of the hiring decision. And those studies were conducted in a variety of industries, in a variety of settings. So there's lots of really good insights that can cause people to reflect on their current practices and what they may do differently in the future. And then it's all supplemented by just one institution's data, over a long timeframe. And the insights from that may just, as I said before, may just be specific to that one institution, or it might create insights to say for another group of credit unions that are reading the research that, geez, we should start collecting this data, we have it. And then maybe we need to analyze it as well. So I think that those are the kind of the key things that credit unions can take away from this.

Holly Fearing

(23:22): Okay and then where are we going from here? Where is Filene going with the War for Talent research and what should credit unions do to come along as they try to continue to improve their HR practices?

George Hofheimer

(23:36): We're just gonna shut it down. We've figured it all out. It's done. Yeah. Credit unions have attracted the best and the brightest, so mission accomplished. I'm just kidding. So we have a variety of research projects that are currently in the field right now. We have one, that's looking at talent from a governance perspective. The recruitment and selection of credit union board members, which is becoming a really important issue as boards continue to age and it's harder and harder to identify a new blood on to the board, so we're looking at that. We're also looking at a research study that looks at the impacts and effects of having internal financial literacy programs for credit union employees as a retention tool, so we're also looking at that. And then, later in the year and September 27th, we are hosting a research and action meeting, which is kind of a nice way for us to make this research real, where we're going to be hosting a day long event at the University of Texas in Austin, at their Executive Education Center and diving into all of these research topics and future ones with our fellow Sekou Bermiss, and then some other people from academia and industry as well that are kind of looking at these topics and issues going forward.

Holly Fearing

(24:51): Awesome. So definitely credit union, HR people, senior leaders, interested in excelling at attraction and retention practices should be thinking about coming to this event.

George Hofheimer

(25:03): Yeah, and we just hosted one last week at Harvard Business School, or earlier this month at Harvard Business School around the topic of open book management practices and, the profile of the people that were there ranged from CEOs to all types of operational folks within the credit union. People with significant responsibilities and the wonderful thing about these events is that you have the opportunity to interact with people that are top in their field. From a research perspective, they don't necessarily have a tremendous amount of expertise within the credit union world, but the insights and ideas that they bring can help activate credit unions to improve their HR practices and their, and the overall war for talent game. So yeah, I would encourage people to come and it's free to attend for Filene members and Austin's fun place to go to, and we'll have some fun there as well.

Holly Fearing

(25:50): Awesome. Well, good work here, George. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. All right. That's it for the Fill-In folks. Thanks again for listening. This episode of the podcast is endorsed by our research team to give Filene members and listeners an opportunity to dive deeper into our latest report on talent, attraction and retention. I want to thank once again, Betsy Sommers for taking the time to share with us here. And of course, thanks to George and our amazing research team at Filene for always keeping our brains looking fine and in good shape. If you liked this episode, please do rate us on Apple Podcasts so more people can find us and make sure you're subscribed to the Filene Fill-In podcast so you can keep up with what's going on at Filene. You'll find us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you want to get in touch about today's show, email me at [email protected], or find us on Twitter at, @Fileneresearch. Until next time. Thanks everyone.