Community banks cannot fill positions simply by posting "help wanted" signs and waiting for workers to walk through the door.
Instead, banks should be seeking employees in ways similar to how they pursue loans, said Catherine D. Fyock, president of Innovative Management Concepts, a consulting firm in Crestwood, Ky.
"In a tight labor market, banks need to go beyond the help wanted section of the newspaper," Ms. Fyock said during a talk at the American Bankers Association's National Conference for Community Banks. "They have to be selling the merits of working at the bank."
Those who answer classified ads are often unemployed-and sometimes for a good reason, she said. Others are more likely to quit if offered a dime-an- hour raise elsewhere.
"The safest customers are the ones that are not desperate for a loan," Ms. Fyock said. "The same is true of employees."
To find higher-caliber employees, she said, banks should post openings on community bulletin boards and at schools. Advertisements should list not just requirements and openings, but also reasons why someone would want to leave his or her current job to join the bank. Bosses should encourage happy workers to tell employed friends that the bank is a great place to work.
"They need to attract the attention of everyone, including those not looking," she said.
She said one of her clients set up an "Employee Waiting List" display in a branch. Customers read a fact sheet on what the bank offered for employees and were invited to reserve a spot. Not only did it work to fill the positions, but the bank now actually has a waiting list of prospective employees.
Individual markets could have other opportunities. For example, banks near retirement communities might find part-time workers more interested in the social interaction than in the most competitive pay rate.
United Bank and Trust in Tecumseh, Mich., has solved some of its staffing problems by targeting stay-at-home parents for part-time work. The $400 million-asset bank needs extra workers during the day, when children are at school, and these employees have the time.
"They are content with the hours and more mature than most people who come in looking for work," said David S. Hickman, United's chairman and chief executive officer.
Banks should be equally careful not to over-advertise, Ms. Fyock said.
"If there is an ad running every week begging for workers, it sends a message to the community that you are desperate for help," she said.