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Canada’s labour market has been impressive in its consistency — the unemployment rate clocked in at 5% in April, unchanged for the fifth straight month and just off the historic low of 4.9% recorded last June.

For financial advisors, that means the job of hiring a good assistant isn’t getting any easier. It also means firms should focus on keeping existing talent, said Cal Jungwirth, Edmonton-based director of permanent placement services at staffing firm Robert Half.

“From a jobseeker’s perspective, it’s still a fantastic hiring market,” he said. “There are more open positions than available people. Not only does that make hiring more difficult, but you need to have a lens on retention. The best way to hire is to not need to hire.”

Last year, assistants in stable roles might have been reluctant to switch employers — even for more money — over fears they could be laid off in a “last in, first out” scenario if the economy tanked. But Jungwirth said high inflation, combined with a stable economy, has largely eased those fears and people are more willing to cross the street for better compensation or flexibility.

“The cost of living has gone up, so that’s driving people to look at opportunities,” he said.

Erin Roy, principal, branch team market optimization at Edward Jones’ head office in Mississauga, Ont., said finding the perfect assistant requires a bit of digging. It’s impossible to identify a successful candidate on paper, which means it’s all about asking the right questions in an interview.

“We like to deploy a behavioural interview style,” she said. For example, she asks them to walk her through a time they juggled competing priorities and how they knew which one to tackle first. Another question she likes is delving into a scenario when they delivered a great customer experience.

“What did that look like? How did the client respond?” Roy said.

She’s less worried about the hard skills, or even a background in the financial industry. In her experience, the best assistants have some common traits — hardworking, ambitious people who are good communicators and can develop relationships.

“We can teach skills, but we can’t teach personality. We can’t teach caring,” she said.

Most candidates will do their homework before applying — researching your company on sites like LinkedIn and talking to colleagues about the working environment, Roy said.

During interviews, she recommends leveraging your firm’s reputation and emphasizing some of the non-salary aspects of the job. She will play up perks like bonuses, vacation time and tuition reimbursement.

“It’s often about the intangible forms of compensation as much as the tangible,” she said. “How much do you enjoy coming to work every day? Sometimes, that is truly priceless.”

The bar is constantly being raised on the skillset needed for assistants, Jungwirth said. Assistants need to embrace technology, be proficient in social media and even be willing to explore the role of artificial intelligence (AI).

“I don’t think any of us really understand how AI’s going to impact individual positions,” he said. “But the key is for people to be curious and be comfortable in terms of exploring how to use it.”

Roy likes to see assistants who are not only comfortable using technology but able to coach less tech-savvy clients. That includes taking time to help them understand how to use digital tools, setting up virtual meetings and building their overall confidence and trust in technology.