Advancing at Vanguard

The company's senior manager of employment says there's a world of opportunities at the financial-services firm

Career development isn't just a catchphrase at The Vanguard Group—which is one reason BusinessWeek recently named the financial-services company one of the top places for undergraduates to launch a career (see, 9/18/06, "The Best Places to Launch a Career").

"Once you make it to Vanguard, the entire company is open to you from a career-progression standpoint," says William Baas, Vanguard's senior manager of employment. Employees can take advantage of a number of different resources, from internal internships to classes at the company's corporate learning unit, Vanguard University. Baas spoke recently to reporter Kerry Miller about the company's opportunities for undergrads, including its accelerated rotational training programs.

William BaasVanguard
What are the entry-level positions that are open to undergraduates with an interest in business?

We have two main areas of opportunity. One is in what we would call our entry-level positions—client services, financial associates, brokerage associates. These are really our front line for members who we typically put through professional licensing. They go through in-depth training, and then they're put into either client-facing roles, managing the communications relationship between Vanguard and our retail clients, or in processing roles, where they're processing transactions and redemptions. Or potentially working in our brokerage area, where they're working with people in the brokerage accounts, bigger brokerage accounts. That's the majority of our undergraduate hiring.

We also have rotational programs for high-potential graduates interested in accelerating their careers, which we're very proud of. We have four of these programs: the acceleration into management program, the accelerated client engagement program, the acceleration into financial professional program, and the technology leadership program. For these programs, we have a very structured curriculum and provide very specialized training. We rotate the participants through the various areas, similar to some of the typical management rotation programs that you'll see out there. These are small programs of around eight to 15 people, except for technology leadership which is a little larger, around 30.

Where do you recruit?

On the whole, it's about 30 campuses that we partner with on recruiting for these programs. We recruit at several of the schools near our office here in Valley Forge, Pa., such as Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania. We also recruit at Notre Dame , and at schools near our offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Charlotte, N.C., such as the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University.

What happens in the Acceleration into Management program?

They will serve one rotation in our quality program, known as Vanguard Unmatchable Excellence. That's a Six Sigma-based program, where they'll be focusing on metrics and continuous improvement and doing things better, cheaper, and faster by using statistics and measurement (see, 7/22/02, "The Nuts and Bolts of Six Sigma"). They will also typically serve a role in a production-management function, in a client relationship management function, and then in a pre-supervisory function.

This gives them a broad exposure to the different areas within Vanguard.

The whole time they'll be paired up with experienced Vanguard managers and learning the tricks of the trade and how to manage people, how to motivate a team, how to have development discussions. They'll also be getting specialized training through our corporate university, Vanguard University, to help them assume leadership responsibilities upon completing the program.

What happens after the transitional program ends?

They will start in a supervisory role where they'll be supervising anywhere from 12 to 20 front-line associates, and they'll be running those teams, usually in one of our call centers, one of our processing areas, or in our brokerage areas. They continue to be matched up with an experienced mentor within Vanguard.

Following that assignment, the entire company is open to them in terms of where they go next, but the thought is that these are going to be people that thrive on people leadership and people management and will take those skills elsewhere within the organization.

Once they get out of the programs, where are those people positioned relative to the traditional entry-level employees?

The people that go to the rotational programs, typically they have initial acceleration up front because they're getting these rotational experiences, they're getting specialized courses with specialized mentorship. But once you get several years into a Vanguard career, you start to see that the people that come up through the traditional entry-level opportunities, they're taking rotations themselves, they're availing themselves of Vanguard University training, and, you know, they also will have a very dynamic career path.

We're the sort of organization where, regardless of your entry path to Vanguard, there's a lot of attention and effort put into career development, discovering your strengths and where you can really excel and what kind of training you need to get to the next level, such that several years into your career, we build broad pools of talent, and people's entry point becomes less critical. It's more a question of how they've developed themselves, where their strengths are, and how they've managed their career.

What's the typical career path look like at Vanguard?

Really, the open nature of Vanguard means that no one career path is the same. We've invested in things like learning maps and different learning curricula and diagnostic tools to help people discover where their strengths are. Then they can match that up with our training offerings some of the things like we do internal internships where someone says, "Boy, I'm interested some day in working in human resources," and you get an internship for six months in HR. We have an internal job posting system, called Taking Command of Your Career, and that's how somebody that's in their current position can apply for a post—for, as we call it, their next position.

When you're talking to students on campuses, what are some of the things that you tell them about that they usually pick up on and find the most attractive elements?

We talk a lot about career development. We have something called Career Development Days, where for two days we host a big expo where we talk about all the different areas in Vanguard. People that have been here for a while talk about their career paths and how other people can follow in their footsteps, talk about the resources that we offer, whether it be internal training, our tuition reimbursement program, or some of the instruments that we have that help you discover your strengths.

The other thing that we've seen is that many students, particularly today, are more focused on service and giving back to the community. So we talk about the opportunities that we have here to participate in those same sort of events. We're very active in the United Way and Outfits for Offices and drives to fill local food pantries. And the idea that you have to give back to the community and share your talents more broadly is something that many college students find attractive, particularly as they reflect back to some of the service opportunities they had in their college career.

Besides community service, are there other priorities that you see in students these days that Vanguard tries to address?

We notice that in addition to the idea of service and giving back, we also find that newly entering students in the work force are looking for recognition for a job well done, and that they're very focused on their development and getting feedback, and that's why we have a very robust performance management program. This is the Millennial Generation that had a graduation from kindergarten ceremony, after all. So whether it's done on a formal basis or a less formal basis, recognition is important.

In addition to our yearend review which everybody gets, we've also instituted a mid-year update. That's an opportunity for managers to meet with their crew members and discuss their performance, how they can do things better, what feedback they're getting from their co-workers. It gives the crew member a chance to absorb that and then think about what they might want to do differently for the second half of the year or how they want to approach their development.

We also have a formal skip-level process where a crew member meets with their boss's boss a minimum of once a year and fills out a form that's designed to elicit the thoughts of the crew member so that it's a structured discussion. That offers an opportunity to get a perspective on career advancement from a level higher in management to allow the manager to stay better in touch with what's happening broadly within a department, and again, provide feedback.

So: encouragement, recognition, feedback, opportunity for service, and continued growth. This is a generation that doesn't want to necessarily stagnate, so as we talk about the opportunities to go into different areas of the company and the tools that we'll give you to help accomplish that, we think it resonates with today's students.