Pay is still king, but it’s not the only factor in hiring

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With the profession clamoring to hire younger accountants — and desperate to retain the ones they’ve got — firms are being forced not just to raise wages, but to move beyond just salary to try and recruit top talent, and the outlook for 2018 is no different.

Two recent industry salary guides shed some light on this shift in power to younger staff, giving hiring managers and leaders an idea of what to anticipate in the year ahead.

In its “2018 Salary Guide,” Accounting Principals cites information from consulting firm RainmakerThinking to the effect that the percentage of current Baby Boomers in the workforce sits at 30 percent, while Gen X, Gen Y/Millennials, and Gen Z come in at 27 percent, 28 percent, and 14 percent, respectively. The profession is quickly becoming a young person’s game, and with newer professionals in a position to easily find new job situations, retention has become a prominent issue.

“Because it’s getting harder — and more expensive — to replace staff who leave for new jobs, firms are putting extra emphasis on retention,” writes staffing firm Robert Half in its “2018 Salary Guide.” “Managers know that top professionals are likely to look for new opportunities if they can’t envision their next steps at the company. In response, companies are mapping clear career paths and offering mentoring programs … [and] enhancing their corporate cultures.”

According to the Accounting Principals’ salary guide, a March 2017 Google Consumer Survey polling 337 accounting, banking, and finance professionals found that the three most important factors Millennials consider when contemplating a job offer were “salary” (32 percent), “opportunities for growth” (19 percent), and “company culture” (13 percent).

Similarly, in a poll of over 740 human resources professionals cited in Robert Half’s salary guide, the most common perks offered in North American businesses were found to be “flexible work schedules” (62 percent), with “regular social events” (39 percent), and “telecommuting” (34 percent), confirming that firms will be continuing to go the extra mile if they want to attract young professionals.

“We’re seeing job seekers take an increasingly holistic view when assessing whether to accept a job offer,” said Robert Half senior executive director Paul McDonald, in a statement. “Salary is still king, but professionals are paying more attention to other factors that can affect their quality of life. Highly skilled professionals want assurance that the company will invest in their careers and help them keep their skills current.”


With ongoing pressure on firms to step up their hiring packages to effectively recruit, starting salaries are ground zero for talent, and both new salary guides note significant increases in pay at public accounting firms.

Accounting Principals’ guide, using data from CPA Exam review site Crush the CPA Exam, reported that starting salaries at the Big Four firms range from $40,000-$63,000 at EY to $48,000-$68,000 at PwC.

Base salaries follow a similar range across the public accounting sphere. Accounting Principals’ guide reports that base staff salaries in accounting services are $53,613, $57,238 and $62,201 at small, midsized, and large firms, respectively, while associates in audit/assurance services can expect base salaries of $50,401, $56,701 and $66,151. Lastly, associates in tax services can expect the highest base salaries, at $64,783, $72,881, and $85,028.

With a combination of attractive base salaries and perks, firms should draw a good number of young candidates through their doors. However, the process doesn’t stop after the job offers have been accepted.


It’s one thing for a firm to have their perks in place; it’s another to have an ongoing process of communicating those perks to keep young staff both informed and content in their careers. Firms looking to retain young staff need to keep in mind that it is as much about fostering a welcoming working environment as it is about paying competitive salaries.

“[A] question for firm leaders: Do your employees know all you offer?” asked Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. “Regularly communicate the benefits and perks you offer, everything from insurance options to discounts and conveniences. You may find employees are surprised by the volume and types of perks available to them.”

Of course, not all firms are alike, and one business’s budget for perks could be another’s pipe dream. But Hird argues that quantitative amounts of money or time don’t matter — as long as management has the right mindset of doing right by their young counterparts. “Show your teams you’re investing in their career,” he said. “Whether firms have large or small budgets for benefits and perks ultimately won’t matter if employees don’t have a strong working relationship with their manager … . Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive — just provided.”

“Managers need to take a genuine interest in their staff and actively help them advance their careers,” added Hird. “If employees aren’t happy with their boss, a better perks package won’t keep them from quitting.”


It may be a difficult time to adjust for firm management, as they’re forced to appease the growing demands of young talent, at a pace that only seems to increase each year. However, if firm leaders are willing to lend an ear to new professionals and adapt their practices accordingly, staffing woes can become a thing of the past.

“Ultimately, a firm’s ability to attract and retain talented employees starts with focusing on what today’s accountants want and need from their work,” Hird advised. “Stay in touch with your staff to ensure you understand their interests, motivations and stressors. If you help employees grow professionally and personally, word will get around, and you’ll enjoy a reputation as a valued employer. Conversely, if you fail to take an interest in your team’s growth, word will spread — likely even faster.”

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