Lawson Hardwick: How Mortgage Lenders Can Attract and Retain Top Talent

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PERSON OF THE WEEK: In this current job market, it’s getting harder for mortgage lenders to find high-quality workers with experience in the industry. This is a critical issue for an industry that is striving to improve the customer experience.

Plus, the fact that mortgage lenders are increasingly automating their processes means that there is increased scrutiny with regard to the quality of human-to-human interactions – both externally and internally. For this reason, lenders need the best people possible.

Making hiring all the more challenging is the misperception that the mortgage industry is shrinking due to slow purchase volume and increased automation leading to the elimination of jobs.

As such, there is now fierce competition among mortgage lenders to attract and retain the best talent. To learn more about the strategies that lenders are using to accomplish this, MortgageOrb recently interviewed Lawson Hardwick, vice president of onboarding and expansion for Churchill Mortgage.

Q: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that the unemployment rate is at 3.5%. With such a low unemployment rate, it is a candidate’s market. How can mortgage lenders stand out against competition to hire top talent?

Hardwick: The best way to stand out depends on the role. For example, in a sales-focused role, we need to think about how we support them in their local market. How do we support them operationally? What tools are we providing them in order to make their job easier and enable them to provide the highest value possible to their customers and referral partners?

If the role is an operational or support role then we need to make sure that we are providing them with training on systems and process so they can make an impact out of the gate. Do we provide support around them to allow new hires to make mistakes and learn from them without damaging relationships in the process? 

There may not be one single way to stand out to a potential hire, but being flexible in how you onboard based on the needs of the individuals you are aiming to hire is a good place to start. Ultimately, it is about honesty. If you are honest about what potential employees and new hires can expect, then you can resolve issues in a productive manner. No one likes to feel like they have had the rug pulled out from under their feet or that they were promised a result that the company is unable to deliver. Telling the truth is imperative to make a good first impression. 

Lastly, always lead with company culture. That is easy to say, but it’s often much harder to execute. If there is not a real culture match, then the rest of the employee relationship isn’t going to work. At Churchill, we have had to make plenty of tough decisions about passing on great talent – but if you don’t make that tough decision then you start to erode the very thing that attracts people to your company the most. 

Q: Recognized as a “Top Workplace” by The Tennessean for its seventh consecutive year, Churchill Mortgage knows how to create a strong work environment. What should mortgage professionals look for in a prospective place of employment?

Hardwick: In our industry specifically, people need to think about more than just the next 12 months. It is no secret that there is major change coming our way in the next few years. There are many different opinions on the speed at which these changes will occur, but the fact that the new decade will bring them is hardly up for debate. 

When a candidate is looking at a potential new work home, they often start by looking at the leadership of the organization. There are plenty of companies doing well in the current market environment, but fewer that have clarity on their vision for the next five-to-seven years. If the leadership team doesn’t have clarity on the steps they need to take to not only be in business in the future, but to excel in the continuously shifting marketplace, then the candidate will likely end up in the same position that caused them to make a move in the first place. 

We often say around our office, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” Compensation is only one factor that a candidate should consider when looking for a new place of employment. The quality and character of the leadership will have a much greater impact on an employee’s long-term success than a few extra basis points or dollars in pay structure. 

Q: With 49% of companies updating onboarding processes, what are some onboarding best practices mortgage companies can put into practice?

Hardwick: Unfortunately, this is an area that the industry has not always done well at in the past. The common practice tends to involve some amount of time sitting next to another person doing the same role and learning on the fly from there. The reality is that if that’s all the lender is providing, then it is setting people up for frustration and failure. 

Over the past 12 to 18 months, we have been intentional about creating a designated team to handle onboarding at a corporate level. Creating a systematized process for new employees to go through allows us to provide clarity up-front about what they can expect in their first 30, 60, 90 days and through the duration of their first year. Of course, not every person is the same, but if a lender has a solid framework to plug an employee into, then the minor adjustments made along the way are much easier to handle. 

Also, there are plenty of situations where one of our branches or regions will want to handle one or more aspects of the onboarding process locally, which can also be helpful. However, it is still important to provide some communication and touch points from the home office. For example, we have a dedicated person on our corporate onboarding team who acts as a liaison for all new hires to help ensure that we are doing a good job of not only the nuts and bolts of onboarding and training but the cultural immersion, as well. We have rock stars on our team that make my job easy because of their dedication to the process.

Q: Almost one-fourth of staff turnover takes place within their first 45 days of employment. How can a structured onboarding process prevent this?

Hardwick: Honestly, I find that statistic shocking. We haven’t seen that quick of a turnaround before. It underscores the importance of providing clear expectations early on and being honest with new hires. 

Building a good relationship from the start and then dealing with any issues that arise is far easier than trying to build a relationship after issues have come to light – especially with non-salaried positions.

When an employee makes the move to another organization, they are quite literally putting their financial lives in that organization’s hands. Lenders must take that seriously and be personally committed to providing an experience that allows people to excel from the start.

It is inevitable that problems will arise – and occasionally balls will get dropped. How one responds when that happens is what matters, as it creates a deeper level of trust between employees and the organization.

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