Game changers Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

Many companies become reactive when it comes to hiring talent. A position opens or a need arises, and the company’s leaders spring into action.

That approach isn’t adequate for David Becker. As the founder, chairman, president and CEO of First Internet Bank of Indiana, he’s built his company from a start-up to 50 employees. To achieve growth, Becker has taken a vigilant, proactive approach to finding and hiring the best talent.

“I’m a hands-off leader. I don’t get wrapped up in the details,” Becker says. “But as a general rule, the success of my company has been hiring and retaining very talented individuals from the get-go.”

Becker uses every meeting, every conference, even the occasional restaurant lunch, as a means of finding his next potential top performer. It’s an approach that is rooted mostly in a willingness to keep your eyes peeled and ears open.

Smart Business spoke with Becker about how you can find the next wave of top talent for your company.

Keep your eyes open. You consistently look for people. We don’t just wait until we have an opening. We’re always open to take applications from people. I probably talk to three, four, five people over the course of a month, whether we have an opening or not. You just want to find some good, quality people, have some resumes, have some folks on deck for when an opportunity comes around.

As an example, I was at a luncheon once, and there was a young lady who handled one of the most abusive customers I had ever seen in my life. He tore this young lady apart, just made a complete ass of himself. But she defused him, got him through lunch, everything was great, and I handed her my business card on the way out the door. I told her, ‘If you want to get out of the restaurant field, give me a call.’ I made a position for her the following week, and two years later, she’s running my customer service department. So you’re always keeping your eyes open, always looking for good people wherever they might be.

Recruit before you need to. Look for the people beforehand. You borrow when you don’t need to borrow; you look for people when you don’t need to look for people. You’re not just looking for a body. You’re looking for a person and a leader. That’s a constant job for me as a leader. Among our ranks, probably 70 percent of the people I’ve hired were gainfully employed at the time, and I took them away from somebody else. I met them through some association or some business. When we have an opening, I’ll go through my Rolodex of people I’ve met around town and make that inquiry. A lot of times, the best candidate is someone who isn’t looking for a job.

Hire self-starters. The biggest issue is self-motivation. They have to build that enthusiasm and do it on their own. You want a self-motivator, someone who has their own desire and push. We’re a pretty lean organization on a body basis, so we want fast people, quick thinkers.

I’ve always believed that you should hire an A-player, and hire them with an idea that they can take your job. So we want to get great quality people, cut them loose at the outset to do the best they can do. If you’re not hiring someone who could take your job, you’re not moving forward.

As we interview, one of the statements I make is the only constant we have around here is change. In something like the software industry, that’s always in play, but the banking industry has a reputation for being a little bit stodgy, kind of a 9-to-5 job. We don’t do that. We’re a pretty lean machine, we have constantly tried to re-innovate old practices, doing them differently. The hiring play is to find people who think outside the box, think creatively, everything is up for grabs. Never believe that you should do something just because you’ve always done it that way. We perpetually try to improve through change.

A lot of our new hires from over the years have come from referral. We have an internal recruiting program, kind of refer-a-friend, [and]that sorts out a lot of people who you might not want. It takes a special person to be the type you might want to work with. A lot of friends become enemies when you get close together. The employees themselves kind of weed out some of the players and really give us a great pool of candidates.

Ask the right questions. One of my favorite interview questions is, ‘If I’m the fairy godfather and you can do anything you want to do, what would it be?’ It’s phenomenally insightful. Some people would lay on the beach and read books all day. It would tell you that they’re not very self-motivated or very focused. If someone says they’d travel to a third-world country and build irrigation systems, that shows you they’re motivated to do things. I’ve had phenomenal answers to that question. My answer when I was in college was that I would race sports cars on the weekend and do photojournalism, going site to site, race to race. It’s intriguing, off the wall, and catches most people a little off guard. They know they have to respond relatively quickly, so they don’t get a tremendous amount of time to think. You get insight into their characteristics, their background and motivation.

How to reach: First Internet Bank of Indiana, (888) 873-3424 or www.firstib.com