used a format more common for tracking down desperadoes than locating top managers.

The Fort Pierce, Fla., banking company ran newspaper ads that looked like the "WANTED" posters often found in sheriff's and post offices. The ads proffered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the hiring of a new chief financial officer.

"To get people that are really top-notch, sometimes you have to go off the beaten track," said Chip M. Beaston, senior vice president of human resources at the $1 billion-asset bank.

Whereas large banking companies can rely on informal networking and executive search firms to find high-level talent, community banks face a number of obstacles. For one, the fees charged by headhunters are often beyond what a small bank can reasonably afford.

"The expense of most search firms we looked at put us off," Mr. Beaston said.

Name recognition is another challenge. Riverside National is hardly a household name beyond its 24-branch network along the east coast of Florida, Mr. Beaston said. And though word of mouth works sometimes, in a small market it can go only so far, he added.

"A search like this becomes even more complex when you look at where the bank is located," said Peter W. Kelly, managing partner at Rollo & Associates, an executive search firm in Los Angeles. "If it is outside a major city, visibility becomes a major issue."

Some small banks do shell out the money for an executive search firm. Corporate headhunters helped Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Kislak National Bank hire James Dougherty, the former chief operating officer of BankUnited Financial Corp. of Coral Gables, Fla., to fill its newly created presidency.

The search took 18 months. Mr. Dougherty, 48, died of a heart attack less than 90 days after he started at Kislak in May, leaving the bank to renew its search.

In its latest hunt, the $250 million-asset bank is again using search firms, but it is also advertising in American Banker. The bank's ad says it seeks an experienced executive to help it double in asset size.

"We're in a situation where we really need a president, so we're using all the methods available to us," said Claire Bergquist, Kislak's human resources manager. "This isn't too good for morale."

A significant advantage of Riverside National's reward-based approach is that it brings the bank in contact with executives who might not necessarily be thinking about changing jobs. A $5,000 payoff is a strong incentive for people to recommend candidates, Mr. Beaston said.

"We got to take a look at some people who were not actively searching for jobs," he said.

The method appears to have worked for Riverside National, which started its search after CFO Robert A. Henleben was selected to fill a newly created strategic planning role.

The bank's ads, which appeared in May in American Banker and The Wall Street Journal, brought in about 60 resumes, most of them from candidates with "good, solid qualifications," Mr. Beaston said.

"We've narrowed it down to a very short list at this point," he said. "We're getting close."

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