4 keys to hiring accountants in 2020’s challenging labor market

Hiring qualified finance and accounting professionals in 2020 will continue to pose a serious challenge. That’s more of a statement than a prediction, given the trends in the sector for as long as most of us can remember. Consider this: Forbes published the article “Why Accounting and Finance Pros Are So Difficult to Hire” in 2013.

While the hiring crunch may be constant — the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics quarterly report lists unemployment for accountants and auditors at 2 percent — employees’ priorities have evolved. If you plan to attract and retain the best talent, you’ve got to know what matters to them.

What strategies will companies need to consider in this highly competitive hiring market? I offer these recommendations:

Provide opportunities for growth

Thumbnail for Video: Winning the Talent War: Hiring
When unemployment is chronically low in any sector, paying top dollar won’t be enough by itself to secure the talent you need. Offering project-based contract work that provides opportunities for professional growth and development can significantly expand your prospect pool.

You can’t limit your search to current job seekers. Even though people may not be putting themselves out there (passive job seekers), about 70 percent of the workforce is interested in hearing about newer, better opportunities.

These opportunities include positions that offer a path to leadership roles; projects that involve new software implementation; and initiatives in emerging, niche fields.

These jobs are enticing to finance and accounting professionals looking to fast-track their careers. With today’s seller’s job market, the best performers aren’t afraid to bet on themselves: A contract position that enhances a resume is often preferable to a permanent job with limited engagement or growth potential.

Don’t forget about culture

Workplace culture also plays a major role in a company’s ability to build and retain a high-performing professional workforce.

Top employees today are more aware of the full package of benefits an employer can offer. Employees are asking, “What kind of career development opportunities will I have? Is there flexibility with my schedule if I have to pick up my kids? Is there a clear track to management and leadership opportunities?”

These comments echo the findings of a 2019 Aerotek white paper, “Workplace Satisfaction Report: What Workers Want — And What Doesn’t Matter.” The report found that companies often struggle to understand what employees are looking for.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to ensure employee satisfaction, the characteristics that matter focus on personal touches, not pricey amenities.

It starts with leadership and the level of care they show toward their teams. Initiatives like health and wellness programs, training opportunities, and diversity and inclusion awareness make people feel valued. We spend more waking hours at work than we do with our families, and those things matter.

The takeaway? If you don’t have an employee engagement strategy, implement one in 2020. If you have a strategy in place, make sure you’re continually assessing its performance.

Reconsider “requirements” and be flexible

Years of low unemployment have also forced employers to value aptitude and potential over experience. In the finance space, that flexibility is often related to technology, which regularly tops Accounting Today‘s annual survey of major concerns for companies of all sizes.

An experienced staffing partner can help with flexibility too. They’ll get to know your priorities and identify potential candidates that traditional processes — especially online algorithms — overlook.

Recent advances have added enormous efficiencies to the recruiting process, but it still takes a human touch. Some candidates may not check all of the boxes but can really excel in a position. This is especially true with software and technology. If a candidate is proficient in an ERP system and we have confidence they can be an asset to the team, many employers are willing to overlook other criteria.

Leverage external support

Challenging projects and desirable work environments don’t change the fact that qualified finance and accounting professionals are hard to find. That’s why many winning hiring strategies involve working with an experienced staffing agency.

It starts with knowing where — and how — to look for the right talent, especially those passive candidates.

To engage people who aren’t in the market, you’ve got to go beyond LinkedIn or fully automated job search sites. With connections and industry experience, a seasoned recruiter can identify and contact finance and accounting professionals directly, including high-performing “passive” candidates who are currently employed.

Using contractors also helps to ensure that the match between the candidate and employer is right for both parties. Contracting is a good way to determine if a particular company or role is a good fit professionally and culturally. It’s like insurance for the employer and the employee.

In the face of another historically low unemployment year for finance and accounting professionals, 2020 will see more companies adopt fresh, proactive strategies to attract and retain talent.

Are you ready for the challenge?

Lauren DeMarco is a director at Aston Carter, a staffing and recruiting company. She began her career at Ernst & Young and has nearly 15 years of experience in talent management solutions for accounting and finance professionals.