How To Tap Top-Level Talent

Credit unions are well advised to recruit executives who have had success of their own.


Success breeds success, which is why credit unions are well advised to recruit executives who have had some of their own.

“We look for demonstrated success when we identify candidates,” says Janice Shisler, executive vice president at D. Hilton Associates in The Woodlands, TX. “We want to make sure they don’t come from failing organizations.”

Shisler and other veteran credit union recruiters also say when it comes to executive recruiting, “innovation” and “creativity” are not just buzzwords.

“When we talk to boards or hiring managers, we find a lot of them are looking for people who have a vision, people who can bring new ideas to the table,” Shisler says.

Further, a senior executive’s strengths need to align with the organization’s strategic directions. That’s why boards need to work out what they are looking for in both areas before the search gets too far.

“The board of directors needs to precede any recruitment process with an in-depth strategic plan discussion and agreement,” says James This, president of The Paragon Consulting Group in Olympia, WA.

This recommends the decision-makers consider factors such as the value of the credit union in its specific marketplace and where they want to invest, for example in asset or member growth, delivery systems, or products and services.

The Paragon Consulting Group president advises boards to reach a consensus on the competencies required in the next leader, including whether the organization needs someone with a strong marketing background, a strong IT background, experience in business lines that would be new to the credit union, or experience building community relationships.

Stay The Course Or Change The Course?

The best candidate can come from inside or outside the credit union, with necessary traits and experience dependent upon what the credit union sees as its primary need: staying the course or changing the course.

“You need to think about what you’re trying to achieve,” advises Jay Johnson, executive vice president at Callahan & Associates.

The institution’s leaders might believe it’s time for a complete change or maybe they want to deal with stagnation and are looking for a new dynamic and renewed vigor.

Either of those scenarios are good times to look outside.

“Even if it’s not necessarily a turnaround in the sense of things really going downhill, it’s important to bring in someone from the outside,” Johnson says.

Of course, if things are going well, it’s an appealing time to consider internal candidates — people who have been part of that success, people who understand the culture from the inside.

There To Help

Even in turnaround scenarios, however, an internal candidate can get the job done; it’s just going to be harder.

“There are relationships between management and the board and the whole staff,” Johnson says. “Depending on how long that person has been there, they could be really invested in the system.”

So how can a credit union give familiar faces a fair chance?

“My recommendation is normally to have internal candidates go through the same recruiting process as external candidates,” This says.

That process can also identify an ideal inside candidate. If not, at least such candidates get a fair hearing and some growth, such as identifying their strengths, areas that need development, and professional goals.

Talent Tips

Changes in executive leadership often cause anxiety within the organization’s staff and board of directors, says Mike Juratovac, CEO at O’Rourke & Associates in San Francisco, CA. That anxiety can significantly disrupt the credit union.

“A well-managed process, with clear timeline objectives communicated throughout the organization is essential,” Juratovac says. He offers these best practices on how to hire the ideal candidate:

  • Plan sufficient time for due diligence, candidate profile development, and market exploration.
  • Clearly establish a candidate profile, then engage the entire board around the recruitment process.
  • Conduct the search process in a manner that protects the organization’s brand externally in the community and across the broader credit union industry.
  • Align executive compensation and benefits with market conditions to attract and retain talent.

Outside Opportunity

The reality, especially in the turnaround scenario, is that a lot of organizations are looking for talent beyond what exists internally, says Shisler at D. Hilton.

And to find those candidates, credit union decision-makers are maximizing their own networks, looking beyond the usual LinkedIn and industry job sites, and using objective third parties.

Using a variety of channels helps a credit union identify what Shisler calls “passive candidates,” people not necessarily looking for a new job but who other credit union and banking executives think are worth considering.

“We can seek out people who didn’t even know they were interested in a new position,” the D. Hilton EVP says.

A protracted process might cost you the best candidates. 

Danger Ahead

As for people to avoid, the recruiting experts advise avoiding people for whom it’s all about money, title, and pride.

“If they say things like ‘I’m not going to make a move for a 15% or 20% jump in salary’ and they don’t seem to be motivated for other reasons, then they probably are not in it for your members,” Shisler says. “You want to make sure they are key stakeholders and contributors within the organization and want to make an impact as part of an organization that is prospering and growing to the next level.”

That said, This advises credit unions to have a backup candidate and strategy when they make the offer. “More frequently than you might expect, your perfect candidate declines at the last minute.”

He also says to keep things moving because highly qualified people have many opportunities, adding, “A protracted process might cost you the best candidates.”




Aug. 10, 2015


  • Thanks for considering going to sources outside this industry. To that point, and to my view concerning D. Hilton and O'Rourke, you responded to another commenter that this "article is presented as having recommendations and sourcing of opinions from field experts." Again, I think you might find that, as with me, others might call into question your characterization of those firms as "experts."
  • Thanks again. Really do appreciate your comments and being a reader. When someone makes a fulltime living at this and has an established company, I feel comfortable using the word "expert" but you're certainly correct in pointing out its subjectivity.
    Marc Rapport
  • I think there is some very dangerous advice in.....“If they say things like ‘I’m not going to make a move for a 15% or 20% jump in salary’ and they don’t seem to be motivated for other reasons, then they probably are not in it for your members". You ignore the simple fact that employment is at its heart a give and take relationship. You are typically pulling a candidate out and uprooting them from a home, a community, friendships, other family, etc. Are you really expecting them to make such a big change for the same salary or a very marginal increase? I think the veil needs to be pulled back from your eyes and then you can take a more realistic point of view. Your opportunity or position is not the penultimate opportunity of their lifetime; you can't expect to bring the best and brightest onboard with nothing to offer but the opportunity to 'serve our members'. The 15-20% comment should be EXPECTED; otherwise, the candidates are taking most of the risk in your example and getting nothing in return. I think that comment is misguided, outdated and horribly misleading to readers of the article.
  • Thanks for sharing your opinion and concerns and insight. I don't think I agree with it being "horribly misleading." Our readership -- and we value your input as part of that -- make their decisions on important matters such as a job change on multiple factors. I think the person making that comment was speaking to the more idealistic aspects of that kind of job choice, but I don't think anyone's necessarily being led or misled. Just informed about some different ways of looking at it.
    Marc Rapport
  • There were no other 'points of view' presented alongside the statement though; only the 'expert' opinion that if a candidate is requesting the 15/20% compensation, then it's time to move on to another candidate. The article is presented as having recommendations and sourcing of opinions from field experts, like most articles of course, but this comment runs unabated and no counter point is made. Typically, there is an alternative offered or the statement is unquestioned as it is a fundamental fact of the business (like candidates must fit the basic job description requirements - of course!). The comment was stated directly with no qualifiers as if it was a fundamental fact while it is simply not. I do agree it was cavalier in how it was structured.
    agree w/ original comment
  • Yes, the best candidates can come from inside or outside the credit union. So too can the best recruiters come from inside or outside the credit union industry. Which makes me wonder why, on articles of this nature, your reporters and others seem to rely on "credit union recruiters" like D. Hilton and O'Rourke. I'm sure each of those firms has many supporters. I am not one of them. Consider finding and citing sources from outside the credit union arena. Offering up fresh insights from outside the industry would be helpful.
  • That's a very interesting comment and thanks for sharing your insight. I'll certainly consider that. An outside-the-industry perspective is valuable. My colleague Erik Payne does that frequently -- for instance in his blog -- -- this week, and I'll look for opportunities to do the same.
    Marc Rapport