With qualified accountants of all levels of experience hard to come by these days, some firms are starting to wonder if they should look beyond the profession for staff.

Many positions at accounting firms don’t actually require accounting experience or a CPA license, and people from outside the profession can bring fresh perspective and fresh skills.

At the higher levels, accounting firms that are looking to grow new niches and service lines may find the necessary expertise in other professions – a qualified engineer, for instance, can support a cost-segregation practice, while a tax lawyer or credentialed financial planner can round out a financial planning offering, and law enforcement veterans can be a good fit for fraud and forensics practices.

They can be particularly useful at the lower levels, where competition for recent accounting graduates is fierce. They may require extra training, but you have to spend time training entry-level staff anyway.

Bob Greenfest, a principal at Santos, Postal & Co., a Best Firm to Work For in Maryland, talked about hiring a younger person in the firm who didn’t have accounting experience early on, but worked his way up with a “sparking personality” and has been at the firm for three months now. “We have a history of taking people from another business,” he said. “The clients love them, and when they get established, they’re great at training the people right out of school and truly appreciate the opportunity.”

While you’ll need to bear in mind your state’s ownership rules when hiring non-CPAs (to say nothing of your own firm structure and the preferences of your partner group), including non-accountants in your candidate pool will give you more options, and let you flip the current career model of only staying at a job for brief period to your advantage: Young people may be leaving their jobs at public accounting firms after a few years, but other young people are leaving other jobs at the same time – and may well be interested in a well-paying stint at an accounting firm.

Most important, there are more non-accountants out there than accountants, and anything the profession can do to bring them on will help ease the current staffing crunch.

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