As it has been a seller’s market for talent in public accounting — and looks likely to continue to be for the foreseeable future — firms have had to pull out all the stops to attract new professionals. Top pay, plenty of perks, and an attractive firm culture are all seen as essential now, and that can leave recruiters and firms scrambling to keep up with modern needs.

What can be done to alleviate staffing hardships? What areas of recruiting do firms need to work on, and how do they do it? We sat down with a number of recruiting experts to find out what will facilitate hiring in the year ahead.


SUPPLY AND DEMAND

It can be hard to believe that recruiting in the profession can be difficult when demand is so high. The need for new professionals certainly hasn’t slowed in the last year, and has even spiked due to recent events in Washington. LinkedIn’s “February 2018 Workforce Report” notes that while “hiring for accountants has been low compared to the national average in the past year, up only 7.7 percent compared to 13 percent nationally, demand for accountants has risen significantly in the past month. Seasonally adjusted hiring for accountants in January was up 16.3 percent from December, compared to 10.9 percent nationally. This spike is likely attributable to the new tax bill, as the rise in demand goes beyond what is expected for the start of tax season alone.”

So how can firms that are ready and willing to hire go about finding the talent they need?

Mike Bevolo, senior recruiter at Top 100 Firm UHY, believes that “brand awareness” is the biggest missed opportunity for firms, as he believes that they always need to be selling themselves. “Brand awareness [is] where it starts,” he said. “When people look at names, the Big Four are the Nike and McDonald’s of the accounting world. People see the names of the Big Four and they know what it means. But firms below that have to make sure their brands are just as effective if they want to attract the A-level talent.”

“In the past, it wasn’t as much of a focus for accounting firms, but it has really come to the forefront to make sure the general public really understands what it’s like to work at [firms],” he continued. “That’s what [millennials] are really interested in understanding. Potential candidates do a lot of research because it’s available to them. Companies doing a good job of keeping their site updated speaks a lot to how they value their perception to the general public and that means a lot to potential candidates. Keeping up the public image, enhancing your brand, and being able to equate your firm to a specific culture is going to be critical to attracting additional talent going forward.”

Maureen Hoersten, chief operating officer of staffing agency LaSalle Network, echoed this sentiment of brand awareness and smaller firms’ need to promote themselves. “Smaller firms struggle to recruit top talent because they don’t have the same brand recognition — but they can develop it,” she said. “It’s all about getting in front of the target audience. That may mean building relationships with universities, speaking to classes, attending career fairs, and making sure their brand is visible to graduating seniors.”

Hoersten added that firms also need to factor in the desires of their candidates in their brand campaigns. “[The] Society for Human Resource Management reports that 80 percent of millennials say the opportunity to learn new skills is a top factor when considering a new job,” she added. “Firms can use this insight to their advantage recruiting talent. They should showcase their culture on the company website and social media channels, especially aspects like philanthropy. Firms should also explain the opportunity for professional development at the organization. These opportunities will be completely different from firm to firm, but if the organization offers tuition reimbursement, or an award-winning training program, that should be advertised.”


THE RIGHT AMOUNT

Big-name firms may have the budget and means to give young talent the special perks they want, but smaller firms might need to get more creative to reach those goals. But according to our experts, it’s more about the mindset and willingness of firms to work with recruits, rather than the resources.

Nick Dentice, a career coach and recruitment specialist at Top 100 Firm Freed Maxick in Upstate New York, emphasizes a balance of what firms of any size can offer. “There is a line [to perks], but due to the competitive nature of our industry, it is blurred sometimes,” he said. “As much as we want to create an environment that attracts, retains and engages employees, the offerings still must be meaningful and valuable. Placing the focus on growing the culture organically and identifying perks when they make sense might be the best course of action from a business and talent standpoint. Also, avoiding repetition whenever possible is key — we’re constantly in a state of refresh. If people know what’s coming, it can become boring quickly.”

Hoersten adds that firms shouldn’t get too caught up in what fun extras to add, as these extras should be a door to a room, and not the room itself. “It’s very important to recognize the difference between perks and culture, because they are not the same thing,” she noted. “Perks are things like free food, ping pong and foosball tables, paid time off and more. The main problem with offering too many perks is that it doesn’t make an investment in your employees. This is where culture comes in. Culture is so much more than perks; it’s investing in your staff, caring about one another, and growing and learning together. A strong corporate culture engages staff, strengthens a company internally, and elevates a company’s success. We like to say that culture is the intangible feeling created by tangible actions. Focusing on relationships and connections within the company is key.”


REACHING OUT

If firms are intent on hiring top talent, they’ll also have to re-examine their recruiting methods — how they actually reach out to talent and convince them. Not only do firms have to be aware of what careers and culture they’re offering, but how they’re communicating them.

“We have to be very clear on the job itself,” said UHY’s Bevolo. “Something I’ve heard from people on the market is that job descriptions are too generic and that’s something I tend to agree with. I think if you sampled five to 10 job descriptions on the job boards — a senior auditor from one company — the responsibilities are going to be very similar to another position. So what we as recruiters need to do is to find out and deliver the message of, ‘OK, putting the day-to-day aside, what are those things that are going to make our organization stand out above and beyond?’ Culture, flexibility, environment, project work — what does the company believe in? That’s big for today’s environment.”

“Firms should be building relationships with colleges and professors,” advised Hoersten. “This may mean speaking on campus or to classes virtually or in person, hosting interns, or hosting an on-site lunch and learn. Offer resources for free and you’d be surprised by the return. Companies should also utilize their employees and their alumni networks. Call on employees to reach out to their network to recruit more talent like them. Employers can even incentivize this and offer referral bonuses.”

The experts also emphasized the importance of keeping recruiting modern — to focus on the individual talent and make sure they feel appreciated throughout the recruiting process.

“We need to stay current, adaptable, flexible and ahead of the curve,” said FreedMaxick’s Dentice. “One of our goals is to build a clear path for candidates to get to know who we are and what we have to offer each individual. Whether that’s with internships, leadership programs, on-campus presentations and events, shadowing opportunities, mock interviews, resume reviews and consults — the objectives of our recruitment efforts will continue to be identifying talented individuals, and piquing interest in our firm early on.”

“The old methods of hoping people know about your firm on name recognition alone and handing out brochures on campus became extinct a long time ago,” added Dentice. “But one thing hasn’t changed — the more effort you put forth, the better results you’ll experience. Each year, we learn more about what worked and what didn’t, which allows us to truly stay ahead of the curve.”


A BETTER SOLUTION

Firms need to understand that fixing their recruiting woes doesn’t require external factors, but internal ones. Firm leaders must examine the firm and the product they’re selling — and how they’re selling it — if they want to ensure future success in the profession.

“Transparency,” advised Dentice. “With various social media platforms and websites, there’s no longer a way to hide from what an organization may be — good or bad. It’s important to remain truthful about what the firm is all about: the culture, the values, the growth opportunities, what the position entails, what a career looks like, what types of trainings are offered, and what the steps are to advance. ‘This is who we are, these are the traits our successful employees have. This is what we offer to challenge and help you thrive and flourish within our culture.’”

“For firms of all sizes, employees are the heart of your brand,” said Hoersten. “They are your most important and best brand advocates. Companies should ensure their social media profile and website are up to date and highlight what it’s like working at the organization, so that talent researching the brand finds up-to-date information.”

“Again, it’s to create the right message and get that brand awareness out there,” said Bevolo. “I think the market right now is really strong. Companies are starting to pick up on things and adjust their benefit packages and adjusting the work that their talent really wants to focus on and folks are realizing, ‘Wow, this is a great place to stay. I don’t want to leave.’”

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