Finding keepersPaul DonohueTop mortgage originators
This article originally appeared in The EDGE newsletter
published by Argent Mortgage Company. It has been reprinted here
with the permission of The EDGE newsletter.
Your company's success hinges on hiring and keeping the best
loan originators. Yet for many business owners and managers charged
with finding new hires, predicting a person's capacity to perform
remains a great mystery. Hiring is largely a guessing game in which
interviewers make assumptions based on how candidates conduct
themselves during the interview process, and when yet another new
employee fails to live up to expectations—which may or may
not be specifically spelled out—turnover can affect a
company's reputation, office morale and ultimately, the bottom
In the mortgage industry—in fact, in most
industries—customers make use of a company's services because
they value their interaction with the human beings who make up that
company's staff. But how do you discover the real human being
during the hiring process, especially when candidates can be good
interviews and interviewers (even the best of us) can be swayed by
It's all about the right skills
Making great hiring decisions comes from accurately assessing a
candidate's talents and understanding that some skills have more
importance than others. Specifically, the talents of an employee
can be grouped into three sets of skills:
1. Job skills: Knowledge of lending
laws/practices and understanding of loan products and qualification
2. Sales skills: Ability to ask questions and
discover a customer's needs.
3. Personal skills: Innate talents and capacities,
including personal values, resiliency, self-starting capacity,
accountability and results orientation.
In a typical hiring interview, we gather clear information about
job skills and sales skills with questions about job experience
(where they've worked, for how long and in what capacity) and
success rates (how much they brought in for the company). But it's
the last one—personal skills—that ultimately becomes
the indicator of whether or not that person will thrive as part of
Job skills and sales skills are teachable, whereas personal
skills are less so—it's hard to change an employee's
personality. It's also hard to uncover a candidate's personal
skills in an interview. Yet not understanding those personal skills
is the biggest mistake you can make, because personal skills have a
multiplier effect on performance.
The sales performance quotient (see Figure One) highlights the
relationship between those capacities that are found above the
surface (job skills and sales skills) and those that lie below
Figure One: Sales Performance Quotient
(Job Skills + Sales Skills) x Personal Skills = Performance
Rate each of your candidates on a scale of 1-10 for each skill
set. Then use this formula to predict performance. You'll see that
the personal skills score has the greatest impact on
You can employ someone with little or no mortgage industry
experience and a minor amount of sales experience, and if that
person has highly developed personal skills, he can become a
champion originator with or without formal training. On the other
hand, you may hire a person with experience in the mortgage field
who knows the business and has good selling skills (and whose
résumé looks perfect), but if this person has poorly
developed personal skills, no amount of training will catapult them
to high levels of performance. Once again, personal skills are the
multipliers of performance.
Well-honed personal skills are built on a solid set of ethics,
interpersonal finesse and good judgment. Unfortunately, these are
attributes that can be effectively hidden during the interview
process, especially when a job seeker is a good interview. During
typical interviews, candidates will not tell you what you need to
learn about them; they only tell you what they want you to
Reveal the champions
Determining who will turn out to be a champion and who will fail
does not have to be a guessing game. There is an easily learned art
to this process, and with a little practice, you can increase your
success rate and consistently uncover the hidden qualities of
candidates well before they sign on the dotted line. The key to
your success will be to look past the exterior of a person and
accurately capture the essence of his capacity to perform. Reveal
the personal skills that are the correct fit for your team using
the four-step hiring process outlined below.
Step One—Describe the job
Well before the interview—even before you advertise the
position to be filled—clearly define the position. Answer the
following questions (and make up some of your own):
• What tasks will the employee perform on a day-to-day
• How many hours will the employee spend on the job?
• What will the employee do when no customers are seeking his
• How will the employee work with a client who is having
trouble getting a loan?
• What personal skills have resulted in winning outcomes in
• How will the employee interact with other members of the
staff? (This is key and will lead into Step Two.)
With these questions answered, write a specific and measurable
job description. If you choose to advertise, use this as your
Step Two—Define the talent gap
In this step, you will identify the talents of the people you
already have on your team. Ask yourself what you are lacking and
what would complement the existing team; then, create a list of the
attributes that would create a well-rounded staff. For example,
perhaps you have a particularly nurturing loan officer who takes
considerable time with each customer, but who may lack prospecting
skills. In this case, you may want to seek a new hire who
demonstrates a talent for finding customers in undeveloped
Perhaps you'd just like to clone an especially good employee to
give your company the capacity to service more customers. Using a
top performer as a guide, document the talents that make this
person thrive on the job.
In either case, be specific about what talents you seek in a new
hire, keeping in mind these attributes that are key to the mortgage
industry. (See the mortgage industry talents sidebar for attributes
that are key to success in the mortgage industry.)
Step Three—Conduct an evidence-based
You're now prepared to conduct an evidence-based interview in which
you can gain a clearer view of the candidate's personal skills.
1. Keeping the specific job description in
mind, offer the candidate three or four typical situations, one at
a time, that he is likely to encounter (from Step One above). Use
the Evidence Action Result model (or EAR, to remind the interviewer
to listen carefully):
• Evidence: Describe the situation.
• Action: Ask what action he would likely
take in that situation.
• Result: Ask the candidate to describe the
ideal outcome of the actions taken.
2. Now, ask the candidate to describe, using
the EAR model, one or more customer-satisfaction situations from
his work experience. Be aware that the experience may be from
another industry entirely (customer satisfaction is universal).
3. Listen carefully to the candidate's answers
and document examples that demonstrate the personal skills that you
listed in Step Two.
After the interview is over, compare the attributes you revealed
in the candidate to those already present in members of your staff.
Seek to create balance among your team members.
Step Four—Ask the five most important
Finally, considering everything you learned about the candidate,
ask yourself the five most important questions, the answers to
which will lead you toward a final decision.
1. Why would this person be interested in
mortgage loan origination as a career (motives)?
2. Will this person actually perform
3. How will this person perform (behaviors)?
4. Can this person perform (skills)?
5. How effectively will this person deliver in
this position (job match)?
A worthwhile investment
Once you've made a decision and found a person who displays the
qualities you seek, set the stage for retention. Ensure that the
candidate is in agreement about what the job actually entails. Give
a copy of the job description to the new hire to clarify your
expectations and set standards against which you can measure
performance. Identify areas in which the employee needs additional
training, then provide that training and measure progress over
time. Most importantly, when the job is performed above your
expectations, recognize the accomplishments with appropriate
Hiring people who are best suited for a specific job and then
rewarding them for superior performance are the secrets to moving
your organization to new levels of success. Gone are the days of
the easy loan. Only the most effective sales organizations will
survive today. The successful broker can't afford to waste time,
money and resources on loan originators who will not perform.
Invest in a hiring process, like the one outlined previously, that
is objective and evidence-based.
The key is to match the person to the job. When you hire the
very best people who bring the right talents to the job, you have
the potential to create a true sales culture. Once in place, invest
in your people. Give them the best training and the best managers.
One of the rewards of managing people well is the satisfaction of
helping them achieve their potential, and by building an
organization of champion originators, you help raise the level of
performance and professionalism for the entire industry.
Over time, a solid hiring process pays big dividends in turnover
reduction, helping you build a strong team that sells itself
through referrals from satisfied customers. For each champion you
can retain, you avoid the cost of the replacement hire and the
savings goes directly to your bottom line.
Paul Donohue, CRMS is a trainer, speaker and consultant to
the lending industry. Core concepts and ideas for this article have
been contributed by his strategic partner, Bill Brooks, as well as
adapted from his seminar, "Hiring, Managing & Retaining
Champion Loan Officers," and book, "The New Science of Selling and
Persuasion—How Smart Companies and Great Salespeople Sell."
Paul may be contacted at (800) 753-7767 or e-mail email@example.com.