Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - January 24, 2018

The Cultural Interview

I recently enjoyed a pleasant lunch with a couple of friends who worked with me in banking for many, many years. As we usually do, we shared news of colleagues we had encountered at various times in our careers.

Many of these friends and past co-workers had worked at several financial services institutions. And that’s becoming even more common, as full employment makes it easier for credit staff to move from one employer to another.

This multi-employer background can bring a useful breadth of experience into your own institution. That candidate for a credit position that has worked in a couple of different credit environments may have learned some valuable lessons from practicing credit in different systems, markets, and situations.

It is up to you to determine whether that learning has taken place. Not every worker gains as much as they should from these learning opportunities. And, as we say, when it comes to adding a new member to your team, you need to distinguish between an applicant with ten years of experience versus an applicant with one year of experience, repeated ten times.

To start, ask your applicants about some of the cultural differences to be found among their past employers. Are some more sales driven? More cautious in extending credit? More focused in their guidelines on their preferred types of customers? At some institutions, the policy and procedures manuals are true guides to daily credit practices and staff are held accountable for adhering to them. At others, the manuals are not always relevant to actual practice, and exceptions are the norm.

Applicants who cannot make these comparisons may not be very observant of the preferred approaches of their institutions. They don’t pick up on what’s important to their employer’s leadership. Do you really want to hire someone who isn’t going to sense what is important to your leadership and do their work accordingly?

Ask job candidates to give you an example of something they thought a previous employer got right, whether that’s a specific practice, a management approach, an organizational goal, or a guiding principle. Then ask them to share an example of something they thought needed tweaking or correction, something that could have been done better.

Finally, explore their ability to adapt from one institution to the next. Did they find it difficult to learn to do things differently, or to operate in a different credit environment? Did they pretty much do things the same way no matter whom they worked for?

When you introduce a new player to your team, you want someone who will be sensitive to the culture, who will be aware not only of official standards and written guidelines, but of the broader values and goals of the organization, as well as the unwritten rules that are found in any workplace. You want someone who is ready to recognize when strategies or practices change, and who can readily change how they work to advance those strategies.

An applicant who has worked at more than one institution offers an opportunity to add not only valuable experience and perspective, but to bring in someone who will support future changes in how you do your credit business. You can only seize that opportunity by exploring, with the applicant, what they have gained from that past experience. Basic credit skills are only the beginning. With the right candidate, one who learns from experience and adapts to the culture, you can get much more from your new team member.