Editor's note: this piece originally appeared in the October edition of MReport.
In a highly cyclical industry known for having a high turnover rate, finding the right fit between lenders and loan officers has never been easy. Few loan officers end their careers with the same lender they started with, and even the biggest lenders struggle to keep talented people. Throw a pandemic into the mix and these challenges suddenly become magnified.
As difficult as the current environment has been, I’ve found there are still better ways for lenders to recruit talented loan officers. And for loan officers looking for the right home, there are new ways to uncover the type of place where they really belong. All that’s needed is a little creativity—and a sharp focus on the things that matter.
How the Pandemic Has Changed Recruiting
As a recruiter, I’m not looking to recruit just anyone—I’m looking to recruit someone I can build a connection with. After all, we all connect with other people that we know, like, and trust, and if you can’t develop that relationship quickly, it may never happen.
For this reason, I typically ask personal, high-trust questions first. Where did they grow up? What are their hobbies? What are they passionate about? The goal is to find a connection in my own life.
Under normal circumstances, of course, this getting-to-know-each-other process happens in person. There is no better way to get to know someone than being able to pick up the vibe that takes place when two people can look each other in the eye and see where the other person is coming from. This usually involves a day spent in our offices and meeting our different department heads in their offices and over lunch. This way, a recruit gets a real “feel” for how we do things—and vice versa.
Obviously, social distancing has made this practice impossible, and not having that in-person connection is a real challenge. In the current environment, many lenders are now recruiting by telephone, but it’s difficult to get to know someone and pick up their signals by voice alone. However, there are ways to overcome this obstacle.
When the pandemic started, we quickly transitioned our recruiting interviews to Zoom meetings. On the surface, this too seems less than ideal, because you’re still missing the cues and nuances that take place during face-to-face interactions. But under the right circumstances, we have found Zoom meetings can be just as effective as our in-person efforts.
Making this work takes a little creativity, of course. For example, prior to a Zoom meeting with a prospective recruit, we will send out a GrubHub gift certificate so the candidate can enjoy a nice, virtual lunch with me that’s delivered to them while we get to know each other. We also get our department heads involved with “virtual site visits” by scheduling Zoom calls with candidates during team happy hours so they can get to know our people better.
It’s still important for lenders and loan officers to ask plenty of good, probing questions during the recruiting process. With the limitations of social distancing, there’s a real need to go even deeper with these questions to find out if there’s a great fit.
That said, the fact that we’re all experiencing a new sort of reality together during the pandemic, as well as spending more time at home, gives both parties a chance to find out a lot about each other. Interviewing candidates by Zoom can actually be kind of fun, since they are typically at home with their spouses and family. Sometimes, I’ll even end up “interviewing” a spouse, who may tell me all the great reasons why we should bring on their partner.
Why Culture Is More Important Than Ever
Let’s face it, most lenders have good product offerings and good pricing—most of the time, we’re all in the same ballpark in these areas. The real differentiator is culture, which is reflected in a company’s shared values, how people within the company treat each other, and how people feel about coming to work each day.
Culture often isn’t easy to explain or convey; for recruits, it is usually something you pick up on after spending some time with a lender. This too can be very difficult in the age of COVID-19. From the lender’s point of view, however, there are still ways that culture can be demonstrated, even during virtual meetings.
For instance, something we are very proud of is our IMPAKT initiative. This is an internal campaign we operate to remind every person in the Cherry Creek community that being of service to each other is just as important as the work we do. The goal is to build on our culture by reaching out to everybody in our 70 branches. IMPAKT is an acronym that stands for how we are “Intentional” in our communication, “Meaningful” and “Positive” with our words and actions towards each other, “Accountable” for our responsibilities and doing our work with the highest standards, and “Kind” in every interaction, because we’re all in this “Together.”
I realize this all sounds very nice, but how do we put these values into action? Well, we created a team of 25 “ambassadors” within Cherry Creek who, every month, nominate someone within our company who is going through a difficult time and another person who deserves recognition for going above and beyond expectations. Our goal is to make sure no one feels isolated during the pandemic and to find additional ways to connect and show kindness to one another. Just recently, for instance, we gave a gift to one of our processors in Arizona who was going through a tough time and needed a lot of love sent her way.
We also demonstrate our culture by putting out videos on LinkedIn that show candidates or anyone who wants to know more about the company the things that are important to us. For example, one of our messages is centered around how our first priority is always our people, and then our borrowers. We know our customers are best served when our people are healthy and happy.
Part of a company’s culture includes the efforts they make to improve people’s lives beyond serving their mortgage needs. For example, our employees have been involved in a number of charitable activities, such as bringing masks, food, and other items to people experiencing homelessness as well as foster parents in the areas we serve.
One last word about culture—it’s not something that companies can fake. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, how can you ask people to join you?
What Tools Do Loan Officers Have to Excel?
While making sure our people feel valued and continually improving our company culture are important, loan officers do need very specific things in order to grow their business. Technology and fast closing times are two tools that every loan officer needs to succeed, especially during the current lending climate. If you don’t have direct lending capabilities or your technology does not allow you to get to the closing table on time, that’s a real problem.
The best lenders out there have very sophisticated loan origination technologies that can keep pace with the extraordinary number of changes happening in our industry with rates, product guidelines, and new regulations. These changes need to be made in a heartbeat, especially during periods of high volume. When a recruit asks me about our ability to close loans, I’ll provide numbers during our Zoom call that show how we’re able to close loans within 30 days and what our processors and underwriters do to make it happen.
Another aspect of technology that has become critical while we’re all social distancing is the ability to provide video conferencing and mobile access to loan status information, hybrid closings, and, where possible, full eClosings with remote notarizations. Especially at times of great uncertainty—which is the new normal in the current lending environment—it’s critical that lenders miss no deadlines and are able to stand by their closing dates while keeping their employees and their customers safe and healthy throughout the entire transaction.
Lenders that plan and have the right tools in place will find that recruiting during a pandemic doesn’t have to be as hard as it looks. In our case, we haven’t seen any drop-off in our recruiting efforts since March—in fact, we are hiring more talented loan officers than ever, and we’re on pace to achieve record loan volume this year, too.
Ultimately, how well a company recruits during the pandemic gives those looking for a new place to call home a key reason why a lender might be a great fit. Which at the end of the day is what it’s all about.