Recruitment in a tough market

Becca Timmins
Becca Timmins

The challenge of replacing myself!

Last year it became clear (to others before me) that I could no longer do my job.

A couple of years before, I had reduced my working hours at financial planning firm, Emery Little, to give time to another project. I had started my own business, When We Think, alongside my employed role – coaching, training and consulting.

It had worked for everyone for a while. But now Emery Little was getting ready to scale. The role that we needed was no longer something I could fulfil.

That was a tough realisation.

I could have chosen to increase my employed hours again – given up on my other work and gone all in. But two things stopped me.

Firstly, the fulfilment and enjoyment that I get from working with other leaders and organisations. I love seeing the difference I can make and don’t want to give it up.

But I also knew deep down that I don’t have the right skills to be the Head of Operations our business needs for where we want to go. We need someone who is exceptional at things I’m just ok at. That’s not easy to admit. But as a business grows and scales, new skills are needed. I could either face that, or get in the way.

Luckily for me the skills that I have and excel at continue to be needed and my role can evolve into something new. That’s really exciting (now I’ve got my head around it!).

So now, we are recruiting for my replacement. And recruitment is really tough in the Financial Planning sector at the moment. There is real competition to secure the very best people.

I think the challenges lie on three fronts, and I would summarise those as:

  • Understanding who we are, and who we need
  • Getting great candidates through the door
  • My ego – replacing yourself ain’t easy!

So, how are we working to overcome each of these, and how is it going?

Understand who you are, and who you need

Step one was to really understand what skills we need in our Leadership team to get us where we want to go. Then to understand what we are missing (see this blog by Brett Davidson of FP Advance for more on that). This helped us to shape the “skills and experience” part of the profile.

But in many ways, that’s the easy bit.

It’s easy to be seduced by amazing experience on a CV. But we have learned time and time again that a values fit is crucially important in any new hire. And when recruiting for such a key position, it’s absolutely vital. It’s been important then, to build a broader picture of the right kind of person for the business. A really clear candidate profile.

Thankfully we have spent a lot of time and energy in the last few years getting really clear on who we are. Our values and purpose are crystal clear – to us, and to our team. And that doesn’t mean we have words on a wall that we pay lip service to. We have a clear set of values which we use in our decision making, communications, and to drive everything we do. We live and breathe our values across the whole business.

And we’ve found with our most recent recruitment projects, that knowing who we are makes it pretty easy for potential new recruits to know whether we are right for them, and they might be right for us. It also gives us a much more robust way of determining for ourselves whether a new person will be a good fit (as far as that is possible!).

So, we created a profile of our ideal candidate, and sat that within a clear recruitment process.

Win number 1!

Getting great candidates through the door

Recruiting is tough at the moment – how do we get in front of great candidates and get them through the door? “This will cost us a ridiculous amount in recruitment fees, and probably be a complete pain in the arse” we thought. Let’s be honest, we’ve all had painful and expensive experiences of recruiters!

Well there we have been proven wrong. Using the brilliant and innovative approach of recruitment rebellion has been a breath of fresh air. Pay a set fee for them to get to know us and our needs, advertise the role, and screen CVs. Then pay them a little more to undertake screening interviews!

The best, most effective, least painful recruitment partnership I have ever been party to. So that’s been great.

But then there’s the attractiveness of a role. And that is about so much more than salary. This HBR article by Tim Minahan “What your future employees want most” considers that in more detail.

He cites the top three things that employees are looking for as:

Flexible working options

“88% of knowledge workers say that when searching for a new position, they will look for one that offers complete flexibility in their hours and location.”

Reimagining how productivity is measured

“Forward-thinking companies … will design people-centric experiences that give employees the space they need to unlock their full potential and deliver transformative results”.

Employees want to work with a diverse team

“Employees want to work for a company that prioritises diversity.”

So, how are we doing against those factors?

Flexible working options

The pandemic gave us all a pretty brutal test of our business continuity plans. And we were lucky – our team transformed pretty seamlessly from in person to remote. So much so, that we continue to offer genuine flexibility to our whole team. Of course we come together physically – as a whole team, smaller groups and one to one. There is huge value in that. But when we do, it is always for a specific purpose, on which everyone is really clear.

And no mandate for certain days each week in the office, means we are attractive to work for, and have a much wider geographic range from which to source great people. It really helps.

Space to unlock potential and deliver transformative results

I could wax lyrical on this one for hours, and as my new role develops it will be a key area of focus for me.

And we already have a track record of people growing and developing right through the business. Our current Financial Planning Director started as a junior Administrator. I began as a Paraplanner. The business is full of stories like that. Our culture supports people to find their own way, supporting them to grow and develop to achieve their potential.

There is loads more to work on in this area, but a focus on outcomes rather than outputs is a key mindset shift that we are working very hard on.


This is a word that can be highly emotive, in different ways for different people.

Are we as diverse as we might like to be? No. We are working on it and know we can definitely do better.

What we also work very hard on though, is cultivating a sense of belonging in our team. We do our best to ensure that everyone feels valued for their unique abilities, talents and perspectives, feels able to contribute their thinking, and is able to say what they really think, about anything.

Not always easy- but vital for high quality thinking as well as for people to feel genuinely valued.

The Thinking Environment™ has given us the “How” to achieve that.

Brene Brown sums it up brilliantly:

“Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging. Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world.”

And what about money?

Well of course we need to pay competitively. But working hard in these other areas mean that a clear remuneration structure and decent benefits package becomes no more than a hygiene factor.

Add in the fact that all of our leadership team, especially the CEO have been publicly vocal about our culture – people are getting to know who we are and what we stand for.

Within 2 weeks of the first advert being posted, we have 10 strong potential candidates.

Win number 2!

Ego – replacing yourself ain’t easy!

And the final challenge? My ego. And honestly not in the “no-one’s ever going to be good enough to replace me” sense.

My challenge has been getting past the feeling that needing to replace me meant that I had failed.

Despite a really supportive team around me who were super reassuring, and ongoing coaching support, it took me about 5 months to fully get past that one.

Last week in fact, I was finally able to shift my own internal story, through the wonderful process that is a Thinking Session™ and creation of an incisive question. I was finally able to articulate that I was assuming “if someone else can succeed in this role it will mean that I failed”.

By holding this assumption up to the light, I managed to show myself that it was not true, replacing it with the far more liberating (and true!) alternative that “I have set them up for success”.

It was a real goosebumps moment for me.

And I expect this sort of internal narrative is pretty common. When we realise that we’re not being as effective as we could be any more (perhaps we’re spreading ourselves too thin, or our skills just aren’t a match for what our business needs for the next phase of development) it’s all too easy to hold on to an internal story, fuelled by shame, that makes us feel like a failure.

Those internal narratives, usually based on untrue assumptions, can be incredibly limiting for us and for our businesses. In the case of recruitment, they could also end up setting a new recruit up for failure.

As I have shifted my own untrue assumption I’ve seen how I have felt more grounded in reality, and been able to think more clearly. Losing my own hang ups has taken a while, but persisting was important.

It’s good for the business, and whoever we appoint. And it definitely lowers my blood pressure!

Win number 3!

So, I think that working on these three areas can be revolutionary in many ways, and definitely when it comes to recruitment:

Understanding who you are, and who you need

  • Get clear on who you are as a business, and make sure you can communicate it clearly
  • Build a super clear candidate profile, based on skills AND culture

Getting great candidates through the door

  • Work in genuine partnership with a great recruiter, who really takes the time to understand who you are and what you need!
  • Make sure your offering is genuinely attractive in WAY more than just the financials

Ego – deliberately work to challenge your hang ups

Engage with a great coach to help you

Actively identify and challenge your own assumptions

Recruitment is tough, and none of these are a silver bullet. But all are achievable with a bit of perseverance, and the difference is well worth it!

I work with leaders and teams to help them see and achieve their potential, through workshops, consultancy and coaching. If you would like to have a chat about how I might be able to help you, please click here or drop me a line, I would love to hear from you.

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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