Hiring of finance and accounting employees is expected to improve in the first quarter of next year, according to a survey of CFOs by staffing company Robert Half International.

Twenty percent of the 1,400 CFOs interviewed said they plan to add full-time accounting and finance employees, while 11 percent anticipate staff decreases. The net 9 percent increase is up four points from Robert Half’s fourth-quarter survey and represents the third consecutive quarter of sequential growth.

But while the CFOs’ hiring plans may be increasing, companies are facing difficulties finding professionals with the right skills to fill a number of key roles. Sixty-eight percent of the executives surveyed reported recruiting challenges, up from 59 percent in the fourth quarter and 41 percent in the third quarter.

"Competition for the best employees is intensifying, and, at the same time, these professionals are beginning to feel increasingly comfortable exploring new roles at other firms," Robert Half International chairman and CEO Max Messmer said in a statement. "Businesses are still selective when hiring but understand they need to move quickly once the right candidate is identified."

The Mountain states and New England are projected to see the most active hiring in the first quarter. A net 16 percent of executives interviewed in each of these areas of the country indicated they intend to hire full-time accounting and finance employees.

In the Mountain region, small to midsized organizations are having particular difficulty finding in-demand professionals, such as financial analysts and controllers, according to Messmer. "In the New England area, professional services, construction and biotech companies also seek financial analysts, as well as internal auditors."

Executives in the transportation and construction sectors expect to do the most hiring in the first quarter, according to the survey. A net 18 percent of CFOs in each industry said they plan to add staff.

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