No matter where you turn today, one of the top concerns facing firm leadership is attracting and retaining the best in human capital. One crucial aspect of attraction and retention that is a challenge for every firm is recruitment.How do you find the best? How do you entice them to come to your firm? What are the unique aspects of your firm that would be a "draw" for candidates? How do you communicate the benefits of working for your firm to the candidates that you come into contact with?

In firms across the nation, firm leaders are working hard to find innovative ways to spice up their recruiting methods. They must think outside the box and they must work hard to find the best candidates who have skill and motivation, and who fit the culture of the firm. Don't despair - you can do it.

Many firms will tell you that the only way to get the best is to steal them from other firms, or offer huge signing bonuses. While that obviously works in some areas of the country, it may not provide long-term results that you will be satisfied with. Let's take a look at a few innovative ways to pump up your recruiting efforts.

* Look at open positions through new glasses. The shortage of qualified candidates in the accounting industry is serious; however, smart firms are choosing to look at open positions in a different way. Assess the true need for certain qualifications in the positions you are searching for. Do they have to have an accounting degree to complete the tasks in this position? Could you rearrange some duties and create new positions that require a different set of qualifications, thus opening the door to new candidates?

Don't let your firm make the mistake of saying, "That is the way the position has always been structured," because you might overlook some amazing talent that one of your competitors will be more than happy to take advantage of.

* Develop a learning environment. One of the benefits that firms often overlook in their recruiting efforts is the environment they develop in the area of ongoing learning for their staff. It makes no difference what level a new staff member is hired for - they are looking for a firm that will allow them to continue to grow and learn. The stronger your firm's learning culture, the more attractive your firm will appear to the candidate.

The value of this type of program is imperative to your firm's competitive advantage in the recruiting market. If you don't have a culture of learning in your firm, then give serious thought to making this a high priority for your firm's strategic planning initiatives.

* Share your strategic plan. Candidates want to know that the firm they are considering has long-term objectives, strategies for obtaining those objectives and, most important for them, they want to know how their position fits into those objectives. They want to know that they will make a difference for the firm they are going to work for. Strategic planning is an amazing recruiting tool, so don't forget to add it into your plan for finding the best and the brightest.

* Strengthen your technology. Technology is not a luxury in firms today; it is a necessity. Candidates today want to go to work for a firm that has the top-of-the-line tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently. They come out of school, or out of other quality firms, and they expect at the very least to have equal technology. Better technology and a learning culture make the decision to work with you much easier.

Take a look at the systems you have in place. Are they enticing to new candidates? If not, make the changes that are necessary to put yourself in a competitive position. If you are comfortable with the systems you have, then brag about them to candidates. It will make a difference in their decision-making process.

* Check out your archives. Archives can include many sources: walk-in candidates who were looking for a position when you were not ready for them; employees who left your firm for other opportunities (now they might be interested in returning to you after they find that the "grass is not greener on the other side"), or candidates who applied for an open position in your firm but are actually qualified for another position that is coming open soon. The key to accessing those valuable archives is building a process that gives you the ability to easily find these candidates. This process will give you an edge over the competition as you are "working" the recruiting process.

* Use your extended human resources department. Current staff members are vital to a solid recruiting strategy.

No one knows your culture and the benefits of working at your firm better than your current staff. Asking for their assistance in the process, and rewarding them for "wins," could be a real coup for your firm. Give your staff the tools they need to assist them as they come across candidates to refer. How about a monetary reward for the staff member? Having brochures, referral cards or an online form can also help in the process of getting the information from your staff to the right person in the firm to contact the referred candidate.

* 'Net' working is imperative. Posting your firm's open positions on the Internet has become a standard practice across all industries. It almost goes without saying for firms to use the popular employment search engines, but don't forget to use your own Web site as well. Many candidates who are looking will search local firms' Web sites to find out more about the opportunities that are in the market they are looking at. While they are looking, they might as well drop off their resumé at your "Web" desk! Candidates are very comfortable with electronic means of delivery today, so be sure that your recruitment strategies are just as comfortable when it comes to "receiving" the information.

* Look for young talent. Many firms have used the strategy of looking for interns in their junior and senior years of college and then encouraging them to stay with the firm when they graduate. It has been very successful. However, the number of graduates in the accounting field is shrinking; therefore, the competition for those juniors and seniors is getting hotter. Expand your reach by looking at the freshmen and sophomores who have identified accounting as their area of interest. You will stand a much better chance of endearing them to your firm culture if you have them intern in your firm for three to four years rather than one to two years.

* Create an experience at job fairs. Recruiting at a job fair is becoming more popular as our market becomes more competitive. It is not enough to just show up at a table - in a long line of tables - and plop down some brochures and then stand there and wait for traffic. That just does not work any longer. You must find a "cheerleader" from the firm who is outgoing and represents the firm in a professional manner. Create an experience in your booth space that will show your firm's most valuable assets - technology, learning opportunities, benefits, etc. You don't have to tell them everything, but you want to make them want to find out more about working for your amazing firm.

* Market your firm! There are plenty of candidates who are looking for a great place to work. The trick is to find them and then capture them! Show off your firm. Have an open house and invite potential recruits to come and discover your firm. Gather their resumés and get a first impression of the people who attend. Make it informal and fun.

One firm that tried this worked with a local university, and they performed a skit to tell about their firm. The entire event was so successful that they increased their qualified candidates, and plan to continue the process as an ongoing tool for their firm. Don't be afraid to try something new and unique. That is what will attract the best candidates in our environment today.

Make it happen

Having a list of ideas, like the one above, is interesting and exciting; however, it is not enough in the world we live in today. Recruitment is not easy. There is no magic formula for overcoming this incredible challenge in your firm; however, there are some steps your firm can take in order to increase your success rate. You need to build a recruitment plan by following the steps below:

Step 1: Develop the objectives. Identify five objectives that your firm wants to accomplish in the next year in the area of recruitment.

Step 2: Develop the measurements. Identify how your firm will measure the success of those objectives. Without measurements, you will never know if your objectives were a success or if they did not work.

Step 3: Develop the strategies. Strategies are the step-by-step processes that will drive your objectives throughout the year. This is the detail behind the bigger picture.

Step 4: Develop the accountability. Building in a level of "who is responsible" will make accountability possible. Accountability is imperative to recruitment success. If no one is responsible, then don't be surprised when objectives are not met.

Step 5: Develop the due dates. Everyone works better with deadlines and due dates. This part of your plan is very important for the responsible parties within the firm.

Once your plan is developed, you then must work the plan. By that I mean you have to follow up with quarterly meetings to ensure that your recruitment plan is working and ensure that no changes need to be made.

Recruitment does not just happen; it is something that you must actively plan for, follow up on, and then systematically enact in order to strategically find the best candidates for your firm. If you take the time to follow these steps, and use some creativity, the challenge of recruiting for your firm will seem much less overwhelming!

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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