Staffing is one of the biggest concerns facing CPA and IT firms today.And yet, as I shared in the first article in this three-part series on recruiting, very few firms have a written strategic recruiting plan in place. In the previous article (May 1-14, page 24), we explored the importance of identifying your firm's competitive differentiators, defining your open position(s) and developing your recruiting calendar. In this article, we'll explore activities that work when recruiting the best and the brightest to your firm.

But before we delve into recruiting activities, we recommend that you first name one single person in your firm to own your overall recruiting process. While you may have many different people involved in recruiting for different positions, I believe that you should name one person to be responsible for project managing the implementation of your recruiting plan and the various activities we'll explore.

This person should be accountable to your leadership team for recruiting success and should report their status on a regular basis. In addition, they should build a team comprised of one primary lead recruiter for each open position (often the business owner), so that there is one person guiding the screening and hiring process for each open role.

Then it's appropriate to begin the activities that will lead to your recruiting success.

First, get with the business owner, or lead recruiter, for each open position and brainstorm ideas for where to find your ideal candidate for each open position. There are a variety of potential sources, and these sources work better in some markets, and for some positions, than in others.

I recommend that you liken the recruiting process to commercial fishing - where you want to cast many nets in various locales to catch the most potential fish (recruits). This translates to using a variety of recruiting sources for each open position and mixing it up so that you have tried-and-true methods combined with new test sources. Too often, we see firms employ only one or two methods and then wonder why their progress is so slow.

If you want to recruit qualified candidates quickly, consider using a mix of these more traditional advertising locales:

* Your local newspapers and their associated Web sites;

* Other Internet recruiting sites, including Careerbuilder.com, Hotjobs.com and Monster.com;

* The American Institute of CPAs' Career Center and, in some states, your state society's recruiting site;

* State society magazines or newsletters;

* CPA association career centers or Web sites; and,

* Alumni sites for the Big Four and for certain universities and colleges.

In addition to these "old school" methods (many of which still work well), consider adding important "word of mouth" activities that can really boost your candidate leads. These include:

* Developing your own career center on your Web site. Many of you are driving traffic to your Web site, and yet you're not taking advantage of the natural recruiting role it can play. Create a careers page on your site and place text on it that clearly answers the question, "Why work for us?" Place links to role descriptions that provide prospective candidates with the information they need to understand the duties and skill levels of the positions you have open. Be sure to include a call to action that makes it clear how candidates should apply.

* Enrolling the help of your firm's people. If you haven't already done so, pilot an employee referral program where you pay your staff "recruiting fees" for referring qualified friends and associates to the firm. Be sure to make the reward significant enough for staff members to be willing to risk the rejection or alienation of their referral - and if you feel like skimping, remember the significant fees you may be paying professional recruiters!

Document your pilot program in writing and consider tying your referral fees to longevity - paying a portion of the recruiting bounty upon the hire of the new employee and then paying the balance when that new employee completes six months of employment. As you have experience with your pilot program, you can make minor changes and then make it a standard program in your firm.

* Make friends with university and community college accounting and IT professors. Get to know those who work in higher education in your area and let them know about your firm's openings. Be sure that they are clear on how you're positioned and what type of candidates succeed at your firm. Because they often know the best students and are asked for advice by graduates, they may be in a position to steer the best and the brightest your way.

* Go broad and let your family, friends and colleagues know about select opportunities. You won't want to do this for every opening, or you'll risk burning out this source, but for the very strategic or hard-to-find positions, write a "friends-and-family" e-mail and send it to literally all your professional alliances and referral sources, your key client contacts, your personal friends, family, fellow church members, and more. In the e-mail, share your growth and then describe the open position(s) and the skills and behavioral attributes you seek in potential candidates. Attach your written position description (minus the compensation information).

I recently had a CPA firm seeking an experienced CPA audit candidate. We suggested that they try our friends-and-family e-mail campaign idea. They drafted a template e-mail and a written position description and shared it with their entire team. Then they held an internal contest to see who could send the most e-mails out and they tracked the number and to whom they were sent. They also began telling everyone they encountered about the opening.

This process brought them a referral to a superbly qualified candidate who started her new career with the firm early this year and has already sold her first large audit job. This isn't the only success we've seen with this idea, so please give it consideration if you're looking for innovative ways to recruit for hard-to-fill positions.

Getting outside help

This article on sources would not be complete without acknowledging the important role that professional recruiters can play in your recruiting success. Sometimes, even your best recruiting strategy and tactics can still leave you lacking the pool of qualified candidates you need. Or sometimes the position you're recruiting for requires a sensitivity that does not allow you to "go broad" in your search. As a result, you may need to work with a professional recruiting firm.

To ensure your success, consider these tips when working with a professional recruiter:

* Choose a recruiter with experience recruiting candidates in your profession. Ask them for anecdotal experience and listen for their proper use of industry terminology and knowledge of associations that illustrate their knowledge of your segment.

* Explore their planned recruiting strategies and activities. Make sure that they have a plan in place to source candidates that you believe will "cast a wide net" and also reflect your firm's values. For instance, you'll want to explore their telephone recruiting techniques and ensure that you are comfortable with the methods they plan to use on your behalf.

* Understand their rate structures and formulate your agreement in writing. Recruiters do vary in their methods of billing - some bill on a contingency, basing their fee on a percentage of gross salary for the candidate (usually ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent); some bill a flat fee; and some bill by the hour on a consultative basis and do not charge contingency fees.

Make sure that you understand how you'll be charged, and also what the recruiter's guarantees or replacement policies are. Some will offer performance guarantees or replacements at no charge, or a reduced rate, if the candidate you hire from them does not perform or stay for a specified length of time. Others do not. Be sure you memorialize your understanding in writing.

* Develop an agreed-upon accountability and reporting structure. Schedule a regular time each week to get status reports from your recruiter and also to supply status reports back to your recruiter on any candidates you may have in process. This will enable you to ensure that you are both focusing on your placements and achieving success.

Consider using a blend of traditional methods and word-of-mouth activities, and give thought to the value that a professional recruiter may have in meeting your firm's goals, too. Then you'll no longer be concerned about sourcing good candidates and you'll be ready to focus on the subject of the last article in this recruiting series - qualifying your candidates properly and making a differentiated offer that compels them to join your firm.

Jennifer Wilson is the co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.

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