Ramping Up

Recruiting talent for CPA firms and accounting resellers isn't getting any easier.

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It's a tight job market. So why does Altara, a Microsoft reseller with a staff of 100, think it will have great success in hiring another 20 people with a broad range of skills? For one, in February, the Bernardsville, N.J.-based reseller hired eight new staffers, including three project managers, a relatively hot commodity.

Altara's problem with finding staff is actually the opposite of what many firms face. "I am trying to keep up with the people who want to work here," says CEO Helen Cole.

Those 20 future staff members will include account executives, Microsoft Axapta consultants, help desk employees, application developers, and systems engineers. Some of those will come from advertising-Altara had six postings on Monster.com as February ended.

Partner Insights

But given the high demand for accounting software implementers and installers, Cole believes the best tool for attracting qualified candidates is to have a reputation as a good place to work, since most candidates come via referrals from clients and other resellers.

Staffing a New Firm

Xcelerate was formed in January 2006, and with its formation came the need for more staff. So it doesn't hurt the reseller of Sage Accpac that its primary vendor is helping with the development of sales personnel.

Xcelerate, with offices in Buffalo Grove, Ill., and Knox, Ind., was formed after the Buffalo Grove branch separated from its parent, Forepoint, a leading Sage Accpac and CRM reseller with offices in three different states, and merged with nearby Accpac reseller DataQuest Consulting, based in Knox, Ind.

"We want to build an organization where there is enough senior staff to bring in junior staff. If you're going to grow, stay or lead the pack, you have to be able to feed off yourself," says president Jan Goodman.

The firm currently has 12 people, six in each office, and plans to have 15 people by year-end. "We want to grow organically and in our region. However, it's hard to find trained people. It is either luck or the bad fortune of someone else. In the Chicago area, it's hard because everyone is comfortable with his or her role," adds Goodman.

So how is the hunt for staff going? Currently, the sales person on board is going through Irvine, Calif.-based Sage Software's 100/100 program, which provides a pool of $1 million to help 100 VARs hire one new sales person for each organization. Sage contracted with Opus Marketing to help participating resellers. Opus assisted in designing ads, screening resumes and rating candidates.

Also, Goodman is negotiating with someone for a senior consultant position. The candidate has been operating as a one-man shop, but is now looking to join a team. In Indiana, the firm has both a sales and a consultant position open, and the firm is talking to a consultant who comes from a client that is laying off one-third of its staff. Also, the firm is looking for administrative staff. Goodman predicts by the end of February the firm will have hired at least three people and will possibly hire five people by year's end.

Not to mention Goodman sees the VAR landscape changing, and hopes to look at smaller players as a way to meet the demand for staff.

"How we attain our tier levels are changing at Sage and I think there will be a reaction from the smaller VARs. We hope smaller VARs are going to get ready to talk, and we would love to fold one or two smaller VARs into our offices," adds Goodman.

"A good reputation really helps," says Cole. But the jobs must also be rewarding. She says there is not a lot of interest in simple projects, the necessary basic GL/AR/AP installations. But there is a lot of interest "if I am doing an implementation, we are doing a lot of high- level budgeting and forecasting, such as putting a Sharepoint portal on top of Axapta and Microsoft CRM," she says.

Another key is flexibility. Cole believes in hiring good people that the company discovers even if the company may not have had a particular job in mind. That means hiring qualified people who may not be able to work from one of Altara's three offices.

"We are hiring incredibly talented people who live in Texas and North Carolina," she says.

The company has communications software and can hold white-boarding sessions via the Internet. It also has an IP-based telephone system and can route calls wherever necessary. While Cole would prefer to hire office-based staff, "If we have the right person, we bring them on board," she says.

The demand for more specialized workers comes as Altara turned its focus to vertical markets such as professional services and supply chain. But Cole believes that knowledge about bits and bytes is not the most crucial skill for candidates.

"When it comes to hiring, you have to break the mold. If the candidates possess strong business process knowledge it is much easier to train them on the applications," says Cole.

To make this hiring process more effective, Altara created its own internal product and industry-training programs.

It has also found vendor and channel consolidation to be a benefit in providing a supply of candidates.

"We have hired and have been approached by people who greatly preferred the entrepreneurial aspects of firms like J.D. Edwards before being absorbed by Oracle and other large resellers. They enjoy being part of an organization where they can individually continue to have an impact," adds Cole.

That doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing.

"Our biggest challenge is not comprising our high standards. The right skill set is important, but the candidate must fit the culture too. Attitude is an important driver; candidates must be able to be team players, as well as work independently, because our people are not always in the same location. The dichotomy is a challenge, but it's what makes us successful," says Cole.

A Tough Job

Recruiting talent isn't getting any easier, and competition to hire the right people is heating up. And, Altara isn't the only firm tweaking its hiring processes to address their staffing needs.

According to a study of employees and hiring managers conducted by Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com, one year ago 42 percent of hiring managers reported it was difficult to find qualified candidates, while recently 32 percent said it has become even more challenging.

A variety of trends have conspired to tighten the market. On the technology side, accounting software sales have rebounded. The 2005 hurricanes stimulated demand for disaster planning and recovery services, which are services that can be provided by CPA firms and VARs.

There are a lot of jobs being advertised in the technology consulting market. At the end of February, ePartners, a national reselling firm based in Seattle, had postings for 63 jobs on Monster.com, which represented a significant expansion for a firm which had a staff of about 400 last year. Tectura, the largest reseller based in the United States, had 43 postings.

There is fierce competition for IT auditors, being sought by private corporations, public accounting firms, and technology consulting and reselling firms. And advertisements for IT auditors have proliferated.

Salary Outlook? On the Way Up

It probably comes as no surprise to many hiring managers that Robert Half Technology predicted that the average starting salary for IT professionals would rise by 3 percent this year.

That prediction came with the fall release of the Robert Half Techology Guide. Not surprisingly, the biggest increase was expected for IT auditors, with salaries expected to rise by 11 percent.

Of course, salaries for experienced personnel go higher, depending on experience and geography. For example, in recent ads on MBSgurus.com, Iteration2 sought an Axapta-techno-functional consultant at a salary ranging from $90,000 to $110,000. Kono Consulting was looking for a San Francisco-based Great Plains consulting manager with five years experience from $100,000 to $150,000 annually.

The Robert Half survey found a wide range of increases in starting salaries as shown in the following table.

In discussing the growth in demand for IT skills for a story about risk management that appeared in the March issue of Accounting Technology, Lawrence Rieger, the executive in charge of Crowe Chizek's risk consulting services, said that Sarbanes-Oxley alone has doubled the need for IT risk professionals. At the end of Feburary, the Indianapolis-based firm had seven postings on Monster.com that involved IT audit positions.

The situation was similar at St. Louis-based Brown Smith Wallace, which has grown its risk management department from four to 24 in four years and was expecting to hire another six by June.

On the accounting firm side, there has been an increase in hiring out of college, according to Roseland, N.J.-based J.H. Cohn.

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