Advisors: You Need to Pass the Cleveland Airport Test

In a time when culture and likeability are key, personability really matters—and can make or break a deal.

An advisor with a big book of business and “an attitude” can likely still get hired at a wirehouse, where the bottom-line rules. But the managers at smaller firms tend to stick to their knitting and follow the “Cleveland Airport Test.” That is, they seek to answer the question: “Is this someone I would like to spend time with if I had a 6-hour flight delay at the Cleveland airport?”

[Note to those from Cleveland: Please hold off on angry comments. It’s not a concept I invented, nor meant to disparage the city or the airport. Feel free to substitute any airport for the sake of the exercise.]

As more and more advisors look beyond the traditional large brokerage houses, competition has become fierce. Smaller firms have become increasingly selective given that they have become such attractive destinations for advisors. Part of the appeal of these firms is their culture, so hiring managers are tasked with maintaining that atmosphere by hiring like-minded advisors. Passing the airport test could also mean a stronger deal since those holding the purse strings typically go to bat for “their people”.

Subjective? Sure, but because the community is the big draw, advisors looking to join one of these firms should be sure they don’t inadvertently rub the hiring manager the wrong way.

Here are 7 tips to increase your likeability, helping you to pass the “airport test”:

1. Invest time to form a connection
Hiring managers and business development officers are busy too, and they are often paid on a commission. Don’t brush off the small-talk and personal questions. This isn’t just about your book of business, it’s about fitting into a firm’s existing culture.
2. Don’t play hard to get
While every advisor can and should speak with multiple firms during due diligence, you want each firm to feel like they are your top choice, and that you value the time they are investing in courting you.
3. Honesty and transparency are key, but…
The way you message your frustrations, red flags and “asks” matters. You can articulate your thoughts in a constructive and non-adversarial way. Although you may be at opposite sides of the table, those who treat the other party as their partner in the process typically fare best.
4. Follow through promptly
When the hiring firm asks for something (book documentation, meeting requests, etc.), respond promptly and hold true to your word.
5. Put your money where your mouth is
If you say you are truly interested in a firm, back it up by investing the time to visit their home office and speak with key decision makers. Be willing to put forth the time and effort to get to know the firm and principals, both for your sake and theirs. They’re more likely to bring you aboard if they know you’re as invested in the process as they are.
6. The deal will come
Don’t try to force negotiations. Be patient and let the conversation evolve organically. A good rule of thumb is to avoid talking dollars and cents during a first meeting (unless the hiring manager naturally brings it up).
7. Stop kicking the tires
Although there is ZERO obligation to make a move after deciding to take a meeting, if you are truly interested in a firm, act decisively. On the flip side, cut your losses if the firm isn’t what you are looking for—but do so kindly and respectfully. Even if you aren’t interested today, you want to preserve optionality down the road.

Related: The 4 Types of Advisor Acquirers that May Be a Good Fit for Your Business

Always remember that the due diligence process is a two-way street: As you evaluate if a new firm would be right for you, the hiring manager or business development officer has to consider how you would fit in with the firm’s culture. Just as you wouldn’t want to work for someone you dislike, managers can’t afford to poison the community their firms have worked hard to build. By demonstrating that the hiring manager wouldn’t regret sitting next to you while delayed at the airport, you’ll allow your career to take off and soar.