Developing Talent

Recruiting leaders Maureen Gaare and Todd McClain share why their firms make the investment in hiring and developing recent college graduates. 

One of the tightest labor markets in history, combined with the extraordinary growth of the independent advice industry, has created a fiercely competitive recruiting environment.

Graphic of a magnifying glass looking at employee profiles.

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Forward-thinking firms like Aspiriant and Plante Moran are turning to campus recruiting  to fill their staffing needs, and they aren’t alone: 26% of firms look for talent at colleges and universities, according to the Schwab Advisor Services™ 2019 RIA Benchmarking Study, making it the second most popular recruiting channel. The top recruiting source, as indicated by 42% of participating firms, is other independent investment advisors

Q: What compelled your firm to recruit recent college grads? 

GAARE: The talent shortage. We’ve had to be more open to hiring recent college graduates to fill the gap. Although originally reluctant, our hiring managers have been impressed with how prepared our new hires from CFP® programs are and how  quickly they can ramp up.  

We refer to them as “less experienced talent” but they certainly aren’t inexperienced. Many have independent advisor experience as interns, so they’ve started developing the necessary knowledge and skills. We’ve hired five recent graduates in various departments this year, and they’ve all been outstanding.  

MCCLAIN: Plante Moran started hiring from college campuses specifically for wealth management roles in 2001, when I was the first wealth management intern hired by the firm. After nearly 20 years, we continue campus recruiting. The payoff is that most of our partners started with the firm right out of college and grew up here. We have a very low employee turnover rate and have been recognized as one of the best places to work by millennials.

Q: What rewards make it worth the effort to develop talent in-house?

GAARE: The cost savings of hiring talent fresh out of school allows us to increase staff without depleting the salary budget. And less experienced talent have a long runway for development that allows us to plan ahead and design career paths to reach the next level. It also gives us a talent pipeline to other parts of the organization, as people choose their paths after exposure to the opportunities we offer. Finally, having excited, bright-eyed young adults around boosts the energy level and enhances our firm culture. 

MCCLAIN: We’re committed to preserving our firm culture. Co-founder Frank Moran’s quote puts it best: “Coaching during the game is far less important than picking and training the right players before the game begins.”² We have always taken the time to “pick the right players” from college campuses and develop them for long-term success. And recent graduates are able to quickly learn and adopt new technology, which is extremely valuable.  

Q: What advantages do firms that recruit less experienced talent have over those that don’t?

GAARE: We can teach new talent the “Aspiriant way” right from the start without their having to unlearn processes or behaviors. And new hires out of college have been more willing to relocate than established employees. We find that they are more willing to try new positions and to experience different departments by helping fill a need at the firm. Recent graduates also have networks of friends seeking work, and they often recruit their friends to apply for open positions at Aspiriant.

MCCLAIN: If a firm wants to increase staff diversity, they have to recruit from universities. There’s just too little diversity among experienced talent. We have 30% female advisors today because we’ve been hiring young women right out of college. Another advantage is that once a strong faculty relationship is developed, hiring new graduates can become a successful and consistent source of talent. Each year we hire 15 to 17 students for wealth management internships. In 2019 we have 13 new hires, most of whom had interned with us.

Q: Can you share a success story about hiring a recent college graduate at your firm?

GAARE: I met Victoria Zakinov at IMPACT 2016, when she was a senior at San Diego State University. She impressed me, so I introduced her to my colleagues, who agreed that she was outstanding. Victoria was a great cultural fit and had a wealth of RIA experience as an intern and part-time employee. “Having excited, bright-eyed young adults around boosts the energy level and enhances our firm culture.” Although we didn’t have an opening, I kept in touch with her. Victoria graduated in May 2017, and we hired her as a wealth management associate in our San Diego office that August. And she’s thrived! We nominated her as a young advisor panelist for IMPACT® 2018, and she did a fantastic job sharing her experiences with the new group of students. In August 2019, Victoria married and moved to New York City, where she now works in our Manhattan office, supporting two teams. We were happy to accommodate her life change and are committed to doing what it takes to help  her enjoy a long and rewarding career with Aspiriant.

MCCLAIN: We hired Rob Forte right out of college, after he successfully completed two internships with us. He was hired to be an auditor and did very well in that role. He loved working for Plante Moran but felt drawn toward wealth management. Rob felt comfortable discussing his career ambitions with his team partner because Plante Moran believes in an open door/open discussion policy. Not only was his team partner supportive but he helped Rob make the transition. He knew Rob was a great hire and worth keeping for the long term, even if it wasn’t in the area in which he was hired. Rob is a very successful wealth manager and remains a great asset to Plante Moran, doing what he enjoys most.


Results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM. 2019 RIA Benchmarking Study from Schwab Advisor Services™, fielded January through March 2019. The study contains self-reported data from 1,310 firms.

Jay Alix, Life on the Tightrope: A Tribute to Frank S. Moran (London: Brown Partworks, 1999).