Attracting and retaining the best accounting talent is often a challenge for small- to medium-sized practices (SMPs), and in the current jobs environment it has become even more difficult. Here’s what accounting practices need to know.
By Tony Kaye
Ongoing skills shortages in the accounting sector have effectively shifted the power balance in the recruitment process from the employers to the candidates, and the onus is now on practice managers to sell not just the job opportunity itself, but also the wider benefits of working for their firm.
The jobs market has changed. These days many applicants are seeking out accounting roles that, beyond just a competitive salary, are in practices that offer them a range of other benefits that will make working for a particular firm more desirable over the longer term.
Those benefits can include the location of the practice and the types of clients it services, to things such as the organisational culture, work flexibility, the systems being used and, importantly, the firm’s approach and commitment to the ongoing training and development of its employees.
“What I would say to any accounting practice is, you need to identify what your key selling points are,” says Angela Cameron CPA, managing director of Auckland-based Consult Recruitment.
Cameron says practices should be thinking hard about branding themselves in the right way because candidates are spoiled for choice and want much more than just a day job.
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“A small suburban accounting practice with a very close-knit team, where you’re going to get mentored directly from a partner, is very different from an accounting practice based in the CBD where they work with larger clients and they have more of a structured environment,” Cameron adds.
“Firms need to understand what is great about them, but they also need to understand what isn’t great about them as well. It doesn’t mean they’re a good firm or a bad firm. It just means they need to understand what their selling points are.”
The importance of having a good recruitment process
Where many SMPs go wrong in their recruiting is by not having a structured recruitment process in place, which makes the job of attracting the right types of candidates that much harder.
That’s somewhat understandable because recruiting people is usually viewed as a second-tier task to a firm’s primary role of servicing the needs of its accounting clients.
Cameron says that for those practices wanting to take on the recruitment process themselves, it’s vital to know the current market conditions, the depth of talent available, and to have developed proper hiring processes for candidates, which beyond interviews may include skills and psychometric tests.
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The firm’s website should also be a good first selling point for potential candidates.
“Accounting practices need to make sure they have invested in their recruitment processes. When you’re busy running an accounting practice, you’re not really thinking about recruitment. But, actually it needs to be something that you’re focusing on a lot because the service industry is so reliant on the people that you have on-board.
“So, it’s really about firms having a hard look at themselves and just questioning whether they are good at interviewing. Are they skilled at it? Have they interviewed in a while? Do they know how to interview? What questions should they ask?”
Cameron points out that practices need to get things right, and to move quickly towards making the right decision. Undue delays can mean the difference between securing a candidate and seeing someone move on to another SMP because your firm has taken too long to make a decision.
Jobs increasingly need to align to the job seekers’ values
Accounting candidates, especially those in younger age brackets, are increasingly aligning jobs to their personal beliefs and values.
“More and more often, people are wanting to work for something with a bit of meaning,” says Cameron.
“They want to be value aligned. They want to know that if they come to work and they work hard, that they’re going to be working with people they like. They’re going to be working for an organisation they’re going to be proud of.”
For SMPs, that means having a strong understanding of your brand, being able to communicate the strengths of your organisation to candidates, and deliver on your brand’s promise.
The risk of not doing so is that good candidates will be hard to attract, and those that do come on-board will leave if they feel they’re not in the right place.
Incentives such as work flexibility are important, but often new candidates are more focused on building their career through training with their colleagues, collaborating together and working together as well.
“I think it’s all about people wanting to feel they matter somewhere,” says Cameron.
“They want to add value, and they want to be a part of something. It’s really understanding who the person is, what drives them, what their values are, and really even open communication about how it can work, both for the practice but for the person as well.”
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