Finding Diamonds in the Rough
While in high school, Amy Gregory joined a job-training program. Students who landed a business job got the perk of leaving school early. The Brandon, Fla., native answered an advertisement from a local title company. The interview went well, and she started as a part-time receptionist during her junior year of high school.
“My original goal was to be an attorney,” but I fell in love with the industry,” Gregory said. “From there, I grew and got more experience and the rest is history.”
From the receptionist position, she worked her way through post-closing, processing, closing and management. Now, she’s chief administrative officer/president for the Florida Agency Network.
“Most of us did not plan on becoming title professionals,” Gregory said. “Someone saw something in us and took a chance—or you were born into this title stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to consistently identify persons with the right talents to excel in our profession or find the role best suited for those that are here?”
Bill O’Connell’s path to the industry is fairly similar. Seven years after graduating law school, he stumbled across an ad. Twelve years later, he’s now regional underwriting director for First American Title Insurance Co.
“Either you know someone, or you got here by chance,” O’Connell said. “The key for title company owners and managers is to be able to spot talents in order to get the most from your team. You can build your bench by identifying talents in recruits.”
The title industry has grappled with “attracting the next generation” for several years. This conundrum continues because the industry is relatively small. Most don’t know it exists and the average consumer does not purchase the product very often. Additionally, it’s a field that allows for a lengthy career.
“We don’t do mass media advertising or print advertising,” O’Connell said. “The consumer comes in and sees one person—the one helping them sign the documents. They don’t see all the other people who help get the transaction closed.”
According to the Bureau of Labor, the title and settlement industry employed roughly 120,000 people last year. This includes those at direct operations and people classified as working at abstract and settlement offices. Nationally, there are about 158 million people employed. So, there’s plenty of talent to target.
Another item that affects employment is the seasonal and cyclical nature of the industry. Companies ramp up during peak homebuying months and then trim staff during slow months.
“The industry grows, expands and contracts,” O’Connell said. “After getting let go a couple of times, people move on and find something else.”
With the industry in general continually going through the hiring process, less than half the recruits pan out. That’s because executives only make effective hiring decisions a third of the time, according to Peter Drucker. This happens because most companies don’t make recruitment a priority. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was known to say that “not all coaches can win consistently with talent, but no coach can win without it.”
O’Connell says talent is how title and settlement companies differentiate themselves and outperform the competition. The problem is that most people handling the hiring don’t have time to make it a priority.
“Spend some time thinking about what your company needs,” O’Connell said. “You need to know your expectations and the results from the person filling a position.”
When a recruit doesn’t pan out, managers shouldn’t blame the person because they couldn’t perform. “The onus falls on you because you hired them,” O’Connell said.
When starting the hiring process, it’s important to focus on the talents required to succeed on the job.
“Think about the roles you need filled and understand the type of person needed for this position,” Gregory said. “Don’t confuse knowledge and skills with talent. Knowledge and skills are transferrable from situation to situation and from person to person. You can’t teach talent.”
To attract talented recruits, O’Connell suggests hiring managers get excited about what the company does and give the candidate a reason to join your team. “Real property runs through everybody’s life. I could write a book about the stories, but no one would believe it because it’s stranger than fiction.”
To drum up excitement, Gregory recommends showing a video of your company that highlights its involvement in community events or holiday parties.
“This will help show the culture at your company and true faces of the people who work there,” she added.
According to a recent survey by Glassdoor of more than 5,000 adults, 77 percent of those surveyed would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there. More than half said company culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. In addition to asking people the extent to which they value culture at work, the survey also uncovered the importance of culture and company mission to recruitment and retention, as well as the extent to which job seekers are now looking for employers whose values align with their own personal values.
“Having a compelling mission, culture and values are critical when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent in a competitive job market—it is what differentiates each and every employer,” said Christian Sutherland-Wong, Glassdoor president and COO. “Across the countries we surveyed, it’s clear that job seekers are seeking more meaningful workplace experiences. Job seekers want to be paid fairly but they too want to work for a company whose values align with their own and whose mission they can fully get behind.”
Culture Is Prioritized
While the majority of adults place culture above salary when it comes to job satisfaction, the Glasdoor survey showed company culture matters significantly more among younger adults. Millennials are more likely to place culture above salary than those age 45 and older. Company culture can be a critical factor for job seekers when applying for a job and when deciding whether to stay with a company. For companies fighting for talent, Glassdoor says this highlights the importance to clearly define and communicate their values, as well as demonstrate they are living up to them.
Recruiting Needs to Be Mission-minded
According to Glassdoor, nearly nine in 10 adults believe it is important for an employer to have a clear mission and purpose. Nearly 80 percent would consider a company’s mission before applying for a job there, demonstrating just how important a clear mission is to recruitment. Two-thirds of employees believe people are more motivated and engaged because of the strong company mission where they work, and 64 percent say their company’s mission is one of the main reasons they stay in their job. In a sign that company mission may be top of mind for job seekers, 77 percent of adults believe employers are becoming more mission-driven to recruit and retain talent.
“A common misperception among many employers today is that pay and work-life balance are among the top factors driving employee satisfaction,” said Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor chief economist. “We find little support for this notion in Glassdoor data. Instead, employers looking to boost recruiting and retention efforts should prioritize building strong company culture and value systems, amplifying the quality and visibility of their senior leadership teams and offering clear, exciting career opportunities to employees.”
Elements of Success
There are three key elements to be successful in the title business, according to Gregory. The first is knowledge. This includes the factual and experiential things that are learned along the way through training and study. Skills are the second item needed to perform a role. These include the ability to make decisions based on the job description. Having clearly defined expectations are crucial, however.
“When we make a job offer, what we are presenting in our mind isn’t always what the person is accepting,” Gregory said. “As an example, I once hired a closer who had actually never closed a transaction. Now, during an interview, I ask, ‘How did the last closing with your buyers and sellers go?’ instead of asking ‘Have you sat a closing before?’” Ask questions to get to the true expectations of the position. For instance, when hiring for a receptionist position, you should find out how many phones and phone lines the candidate has answered. Gregory says if the answer is one and your office has 10 lines, “you may have a problem.” In another scenario, it might prove helpful to understand how someone would respond when there’s a customer at the front desk and several phone lines are ringing.
“There’s no perfect answer, but it’s an opportunity to learn if they can meet the needs of the job and to express the company expectations to see if they are the right fit,” Gregory said.
The third integral piece is emotional intelligence. This involves self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. “Have you ever been in a closing where there’s a crying child who is hungry?’” Gregory said. If the receptionist knows the office has chips in the back but doesn’t ask the parents if they would like some chips, that’s a sign of not being very aware.” People in the title industry need to always be aware of what the customer needs and expects. “They want us to admit when we’re wrong and how we will fix it. Ask questions to see how a candidate would handle criticism,” Gregory recommended. Finally, professionals in the industry need to be astute at building relationships. It’s vital any recruit who’s being considered can offer this, Gregory said.
What does it mean to be talented? Merriam-Webster defines talent as a “special, often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude; general intelligence or mental power: ABILITY; the natural endowments of a person.” Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author widely recognized as a leading expert in this area, calls talent “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied.” These are your habits—things done instinctively.
Before searching for the next recruit, managers should make sure they create a work environment where talented people want to work. They can do this by developing a culture that allows employees to do what they do best every day.
“Some of the most successful people I know in this business never went to college and are prolific underwriters who never went to law school,” O’Connell said. “The crutch we’ve always used is recruiting from competition because we typically don’t plan and need someone immediately or trying to grab market share. Then there’s the fear of training staff and getting them stolen. But if you create a place where talented people want to work, they will gravitate to that culture.”
While knowledge can be shared with new hires and skills developed with training, it’s difficult to create talents in individuals. The key is to recognize and cultivate the talents someone already has, Gregory said.
“At my company, if someone is miscast, we call it being in the wrong seat,” she added. We offer training to keep new hires engaged and interested in growing in the title. It’s important to share the big picture with new recruits so they understand where their role fits into the company strategy and why it matters.”
Finding Diamonds in the Rough