With unemployment in the accounting profession estimated to be half the nation’s rate of 5.6%, recruiting the talent to run your firm and serve your clients isn’t getting easier. In our previous blog entitled Finding Success in Recruiting Requires a Change in Philosophy, we shared some philosophical changes that should put your firm’s recruiting efforts on the right track.

In this blog, we will talk about building a network of relationships that you can leverage to find the appropriate talent. You are looking to create a community of CPAs who don’t work for you yet, but might want to work for you in the future. You will start investing today to reap the benefits tomorrow.

Before we get started, we want you to understand that these efforts will take resources. Your leaders have to invest above and beyond what they think they should, or want to, to position your firm as an employer of choice and to get ahead of your competitors. Firms at or over 100 employees should consider hiring a dedicated, full-time recruiter to manage all of the activities we’re going to discuss in this blog. Smaller firms can contract with an outside HR consultant or part-time person to manage many of these activities. The key is to continuously recruit – not stop and start or “fit it in” between other HR priorities. The firms that dedicate the most focus and resources to this critical function win!

So let’s explore what it takes to build your recruiting community:

  1. Advertise and sponsor where CPAs read and attend

    Be present and build your unique, special, and different brand in the CPA marketplace. We aren’t just talking about posting open positions, but instead advertising to promote your firm, sponsoring events, and making an effort to be noticed in publications that potential candidates are reading, and at events they are attending. You want candidates to think of you when they move home to your geography, get married, or make some life change that makes working for your firm realistic or desirable. Become visible in State society publications, online forums, young CPA events, the AICPA, LinkedIn, Facebook, Indeed.com, Glassdoor, Alumni publications and forums, university job boards for alumni moving back to the area, and posting openings to your Twitter feed. Pick one or two publications or events that fit with your firm’s culture and establish your brand there.

    Your “Why Work For Us” section on your website is another great place to build your brand for recruiting. Focus on your differentiators – what makes your culture and work environment unique and special – to attract candidates that fit your organization. Candidates will visit your website in an attempt to learn more about your firm, so make sure it's positioning your firm's best qualities.

  2. Teach your people to network and build an in-person contact web

    Your employees come in contact with other CPAs at events, CPE learning sessions, association and board meetings. When they do, encourage them to use the meeting as a recruiting tool as well. Train them to build rapport, bring back contact information, and share job openings when they feel related enough to do so. Remember, you can always share that your firm has openings and ask them if they know of anyone who may be interested. Even if they are not, they may know someone who is.

    To be successful, employees first have to recognize that they are a walking billboard for working at your firm. Teach them that if they think your firm is a great place to work, they should talk about it that way. If all they do is talk about how “busy” they’ve been – and act burned out, or exhausted from a terrible busy season or otherwise negative – then they aren’t portraying the firm in a way that will attract good candidates (and provide them needed relief!). They have to put on a positive face to help get better people on board, and you can show them how.

    Remember to answer the question – What’s in it for Me? – when asking your employees to help you recruit. Communicate the difference it will make in the lives of your staff members to have the right people at the right levels working by their side each day, and get them fully engaged in the effort.

  3. Cultivate your alumni

    Any employee who has ever left your firm is an alumni. Those that left your firm on positive terms can be an excellent source for potential rehires, hiring referrals, client prospects, and client referrals. We recommend that you work with your leaders and HR to build an Excel grid or database of alumni you’d like to rehire as well as those you would not rehire but are on positive enough terms to share your openings with. Assign one person to own communicating regularly with each re-hirable alumnus, and ask them to make contact three times a year. You might contact the non-rehirable alumni less often, such as annually.

    Alumni shepherds on your team should ask their assigned alumni how the firm can help them. Use open ended questions about what kind of networking events the firm could hold that would be meaningful, or what kind of referrals their new organization could really benefit from. Make the relationship a win-win for alumni. And remember to talk about the great growth opportunities at your firm. Ask if they know anyone who might be interested in becoming a part of your thriving team.

    Consider pursuing alumni who relocated outside of your geography, or those who left for work-life balance issues, into the re-hirable tab, since you should be developing remote work opportunities for these types of individuals. See our blog series on anytime, anywhere work, starting with Why Do You Care Where I Work? Six Reasons to Go Virtual, for ideas on developing flexible work programs.

    We also recommend that you hold events to facilitate the process of staying in touch with your alumni. The events don’t have to be grandiose or expensive. Consider instead a smaller idea like creating an alumni Facebook page to facilitate happy hours every four months, where alumni and staff get together and network with one another. Or you might invite alumni back to participate in firm CPE programs on technical and soft-skill topics. Find a way to keep them close to the firm.

  4. Stay in touch with campus candidates

    Are you tracking your favorite campus recruiting candidates? Keep a database of these individuals, tracking where they choose to work, the reasons they didn’t select your firm, and the characteristics you liked about them. These candidates could become an experienced hire in the future, so create a program to touch base with them regularly, through social media or check-in calls.

  5. Create a “friends and family” message with your firm’s current openings

    When seeking new employees, we highly recommend reaching out to everyone you know, including friends, family, and referral sources. Develop an e-mail or LinkedIn message that details the position your firm is looking for, including an attached role description and brief information about your firm. Distribute the message template to partners and employees so they can share it through email or social media. You can’t use this method too often without overwhelming your contacts. Instead, reserve it for a few times a year when you are recruiting for certain strategic positions that will be difficult to fill.

    The Connections page on LinkedIn offers an easy method of distributing your friends and family message to contacts. Select the desired contacts using the check boxes, and then choose Message at the top of the connections list. You can attach files, so be sure to include the position description or a link to your LinkedIn ad placement.

  6. Pay an employee referral bonus

    While you may have employee referral bonus programs, you may need to revisit the details of your program. First of all, be sure your bonus is a large enough incentive. With this program, you are hoping that employees will take the time to comb through their personal network, identify people who might have an interest in the role, and then reach out to them to “sell” the firm and the position. In doing so, the employee is putting their own reputation on the line, and for a few hundred dollars they may not feel it is worth the money. We recommend that you offer at least $3,000 for entry level positions. Some firms are paying 5-digit bonuses – and when you consider the fees you’re paying to outside recruiters, this might be a bargain.

    It makes sense to tie the bonus to retention of the referrer and the referral. You might choose to spread the bonus over a year, with incremental payments at certain milestones. This ensures that you have the opportunity to “check out” these candidates before you fully commit. And, some firms make the bonus payout contingent on BOTH employees still being on staff at the end of the payout period.

    We feel strongly that you should pay a bonus to any employee who reaches out to a candidate on the firm’s behalf, even if YOU or someone in the firm identified the candidate via LinkedIn or another means. Be sure to financially reward your people when they are willing to put their relationships at risk to benefit the firm! Some firms are even extending their employee referral bonus programs to reward alumni who refer successful candidates to the firm.

    Most importantly remind your employees on a regular basis about your employee referral program. Send them the policy details, attach the open positions, and keep it front and center throughout the year.

Which one of these six ideas will move your recruiting efforts forward? Pick at least one, and work with your team to make some changes towards building a recruiting community today!

Stay tuned for the next installment in our recruiting series on June 25th entitled Relentless Recruiting. In it, we'll share our best practices for staying on top of your recruiting efforts and tracking your results using a programmatic approach.

Best regards,

Renee Moelders