The traditional recruiting tools simply aren’t enough for accounting firms to fill their personnel needs nowadays, according to consultant Sarah Dobek, founder of Inovautus Consulting.

“We need to rethink how we deliver our recruiting message in a way that cuts through the clutter,” she said in a session at the American Institute of CPAs’ 2018 Engage event, held in Las Vegas this week, warning the audience of accountants that they need to explore a much wider range of tools and distribution channels. “The biggest challenge in recruiting is getting people’s attention.”

“Most firms focus on job boards, which still have value – but we need to move beyond them to other formats,” she said. “How about a video of the hiring partner talking about the job? Send it out through social media and online. You can also do this in a podcast format.”

Given that most firms will be aiming to hire millennials, it’s crucial to take their preferences into account when crafting a recruiting strategy, Dobek warned. “Millennials aren’t always interested in following the usual position hierarchy, or the traditional career path,” she said. “How do we allow them to personalize their careers?”

Sharing the stories of current staff members who have pursued individual career paths is a great way to communicate this to potential job candidates, she explained – but firms will need to communicate it in the venues those candidates prefer, like social media and online, and where possible in video or audio format.

“Storytelling and sharing stories of actual people in your firm – why they joined your firm, what they like about it – this is going to help with the personalization that millennials are looking for,” Dobek said.

On the flip side of that, firms will want to allow candidates to share their own stories in unusual ways. “Consider asking for a video or audio introduction, rather than a cover letter,” she suggested. “Imagine what kind of candidates you’d get if they’d gone to those lengths.”

Giving potential recruits the option to chat online with recruiters or HR staff – rather than, say, holding a phone interview – is very important, as it’s often a form of communication they expect and are comfortable with.

Two aspects of their culture that firms will want to communicate very clearly are professional development and technology.

“Share information about development and learning opportunities,” Dobek urged. “They’re not interested in what it will be like to be a partner in 20 years; they want to know what you’re going to teach them in three or four months.”

And this isn’t just for large firms, either. “You have to be able to talk about how you mentor and teach staff. It doesn’t have to a big-firm university,” she said. “It can be, ‘We’ll have a partner take you under their wing.’”

As for technology, “The rising generations are going to expect us to integrate with AI – we need to emphasize technology in recruiting,” she said. “A lot of that is going to come down to how we interact with candidates,” including social media, video and audio alternatives, chat and texts, and so on.

More broadly, firms need to realize that recruiting is a full-time job – even when they’re not looking to hire.

“Move away from reactive recruiting, where you only recruit when you have an open position, to more proactive recruiting where you’re constantly getting your message out there,” she advised. “Spend time building your brand presence – with advertising, networking, hosting events, using social media, leveraging alumni, and so on.”

In addition, she said, “You should be constantly building a list of candidates, including people who applied for open positions, that you are nurturing on a regular basis, keeping connected with them, and keeping a record of all your contacts with them – as well as making sure you know who at the firm owns recruiting them.”

Part of that constant recruiting is doing some thinking in advance. “One of the first things to do is to figure out what your ideal target employee is. Most firms haven’t really had this conversation,” Dobek said. “It’s a really important exercise to go through – what soft skills do they need, culture fit, location, experience level, etc.”

Overall, firms need to realize that recruiting can no longer be a haphazard, underfunded endeavor. “Invest in resources,” she said. “Someone has to own this – a full-time or part-time recruiter to keep things moving. If you’re over 80 people, you’re going to need a full-time recruiter, and you need a budget for these activities.”

“You have to invest in recruiting,” she urged the conference attendees. “People are our most important products.”

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Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood is editor-in-chief of Accounting Today and Tax Pro Today, and has covered the tax and accounting field for over 20 years.