Renee Moelders

Public accounting is experiencing one of the toughest periods of staffing in our profession’s history, and we believe it is just beginning. 78 million Baby Boomers are planning to retire over the next 10 – 12 years while there are fewer than 50 million Gen Xer’s to succeed them. Millennial accountants (33 and younger – your senior and young managers) are there to fill the gap. As a result, they find themselves in an enviable employment situation. The AICPA is seeing more start-up practices than ever before, while aging sole practitioners without a succession plan are looking for capable individuals to take on their clients.

Almost every firm we talk to is launching their annual search for experienced candidates at the Senior or Manager level, while few are realizing their recruitment goals. We believe you can begin finding the types of candidates you need. But to be successful, your firm will need to undergo a change in philosophy in four areas:

  • Actively reach out to passive candidates to fill your pipeline. Passive candidates are individuals who are currently employed and aren’t actively seeking another position. In a labor shortage, there aren’t enough active candidates circulating in the marketplace to fill open positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate in the accounting profession at roughly 2.2% compared to 5.9% nationally – which means public accounting firms are experiencing virtual full employment. Truly great candidates are not unemployed unless they have had a life change (like returning to the workforce, moving to your geography, etc.).

    Historically, you’ve tried to reach passive candidates through newspaper ads, or more recently with postings to online job boards like Monster.com. These “old-school” methods are proving ineffective today. Instead, firms that are having success are employing a proactive approach to actively reaching into passive candidates using social media and other programmatic techniques.

    I can hear many of you shifting in your seats as you read this, getting ready to tell me that you are uncomfortable with contacting passive candidates. We hear firms say something like “I won’t raid another firm’s staff, because I wouldn’t want anyone to steal our employees.” Such a stance ignores two basic truths: recruiters both inside and outside firms are contacting your people on a very regular basis; and firms who become comfortable with reaching in will have better success finding those prized experienced candidates. It’s a difficult but true aspect of our “talent war” that we have to become more comfortable with communicating directly with potential candidates in our community, with the philosophy that employees who are engaged and motivated by their firm will not entertain opportunities for new job options and if they are open to talking with your firm, then there is something not working in their relationship with their firm.

    We are not recommending that you raid a specific firm, call into competitors directly, or undertake otherwise unsavory and provocative behavior. But let’s be honest: when you hire an external recruiter, they are using these techniques. Instead, we advocate using a softer touch as you reach out to potential employees. This looks less like, “We really want you to work for us!” and more like “We have these fantastic opportunities and wonder if you know anyone who might be interested.” Your approach can be non-invasive, including following them on Twitter, introducing yourself at CPE and recruiting events, or attending similar networking events. It’s a process that takes time and energy but has the potential to really move your recruiting program forward.

  • Rev recruiting engines year round. Talk to any Firm Administrator or Human Resources Manager and you’ll get an earful about how work “on the firm” stops on November 30th and picks up again on May 1st. Recruiting is work “on the firm” and we’re here to tell you that you can’t turn off your recruiting program for five months and expect it to be successful. The techniques we’ll discuss in our next two articles (Building a Recruiting Community for Your Firm, and Creating a Strategic Approach to Recruiting Using Tracking Grids) require a programmatic approach, meaning the process becomes ingrained in your firm and happens on a regular basis. A programmatic approach also means the process goes on even when you have no open positions. Create a network of relationships that will “bear fruit” when the need arises.

    Keeping your recruiting program running year round means you aren’t stuck like Sisyphus, being compelled to roll your immense recruiting boulder up a hill every summer, only to watch it roll back down in the fall with no viable candidates, and repeat it again the next year.
  • Create capacity. Once you fire up your recruiting engines, are you prepared to hire the great candidates that begin to come your way? Be sure you are actively managing lower-performance employees and guiding them out of your firm when they aren’t the right fit. Or take the plunge and over-staff for busy season, and make “right sizing” changes once the new employees are settled into the firm. We hate to see firms miss out on great staffing opportunities because they can’t afford to hire at the time a candidate becomes available – when the reason for this is that they’re hanging on to people who lack potential.

    Be transparent with your staff about your hiring efforts, because as you know, it is hard to keep recruiting a secret and a lack of transparence will drive distrust. Communicate the difference recruiting new team members will make in the lives of your staff members — having the right people at the right levels working by their side each day, and get your employees onboard with your efforts.
  • Invest in social media, firm-wide. Social media is seeing greater acceptance among firm leaders, but we still encounter hesitation against fully embracing and truly using the technology. There isn’t any doubt, social media is a game-changer in recruiting and firms who are leveraging it are seeing success.

    To fully invest in social media, firm wide:

    • Get everyone in the firm onto LinkedIn
    • All employees should build their profiles and ideally add a picture
    • All employees should work to improve their connection count
      • Connect to all of those responsible for recruiting in the firm
      • Ideally all firm employees will connect to each other
    • Connection count matters in both quality and quantity
      • Connect to clients
      • Connect to people you know in accounting and finance
      • Link to contacts in your firm’s industry segments
      • Connect to referral source contacts in banking, legal, and insurance
    • Run promotions and contests and acknowledge those making headway
      • Create metrics or goals, like connections today vs connections 90 days from now
      • Sell these efforts by communicating “What’s in it for me” – for your employees:
        • Hiring higher quality teammates, or teammates at the right level
        • Bringing on staff to delegate to
        • Having the right resources in place

Your efforts in getting your firm invested in social media will pay off when you are ready to take the next step in your recruiting – Building a Recruiting Community for Your Firm. This is the topic of my next Recruiting Blog, scheduled for publication on May 27th. Stay tuned!

Albert Einstein defined insanity as: “…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t drive yourself insane with recruiting. Change something – namely your philosophy and you’ll begin finding the talent you need to fuel your firm’s growth. We hope you’ll get started on these efforts today!

Best regards,

Renee Moelders