Seasonable doubt: Preparers discuss hiring temp help

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Next season looms. So, for many practices, does the influx, both good and bad, of part-time and temporary staff.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that – not surprisingly – tax prep services’ employment peaks in February. Some challenges to finding staff remain the same as in previous years, such as the low unemployment rate. Workers also still balk at taking temporary jobs without the holy grail of benefits.

“I look for at least 10 years’ experience in a high-volume, fast-paced environment, as well as the ability to make decisions and work with little supervision,” said Debra James, an Enrolled Agent at Genesis Accounting & Mgmt. Services, in Lorain, Ohio.

Remote accounting is also on the rise, according to Tucson, Arizona-based remote-job firm Virtual Vocations, which reported a year-over-year 11 percent increase in remote accounting jobs posted to its database in 2019. “These openings include job titles like seasonal tax preparer, virtual accounting services manager, bilingual (Spanish-speaking) tax support associate, and telecommute tax research specialist,” the company added in a statement. A recent report by Vocations examined remote-accounting pro trends at the likes of Intuit, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt and others.

Help or hinder?

Seasonal help can come with a cost, such as lack of experience with your clients’ relationships and sometimes inferior work.

“New staff are at best a liability in their first season,” said John Dundon, an EA and president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colorado, who added, “$25 an hour in Denver buys you a hamburger flipper graduate, at best.”

Twila Midwood, an EA at Advanced Tax Centre, in Rockledge, Florida, hires an additional front office receptionist during tax season. “I’m fortunate in that she’s a very trustworthy friend of the family … her background credentials are pretty solid,” Midwood said. “But in today’s climate, hiring seasonal staff, if even front office receptionist, requires so much more background checking.”

Robert Half recommends three steps when hiring seasonal staff:

  • Evaluating and hiring in a short time when you and your team are already stretched thin can be tough. Engage a good recruiter.
  • Find out beforehand what range you should expect to pay. Be ready to make an offer.
  • Set clear expectations. If you’re working with an agency, inform the recruiter of the time frame and key expectations and make sure they’re communicated to candidates during the interview. Write a detailed job description before you bring the interim worker on board, go over it on the first day and stick with it.

“I’m fortunate. My wife is a financial recruiter and finds candidates for me,” said Robert Seltzer, a CPA in Los Angeles. “Using a recruiter who knows the culture of your firm is critical in terms of finding a good fit. The only other tip I can provide is to scrutinize resumes, as most candidates oversell their skill sets, experience and qualifications.”

Some screening processes begin long before the season. “We have a very robust internship program for college juniors and seniors who have an interest in becoming a tax professional. Many of these students are given offers at the end of tax season and join our firm after graduation,” said James McGrory, a CPA at Drucker & Scaccetti, Philadelphia.

“For experienced hires, we look for individuals with broad-based tax return preparation and advisory experience, who possess a strong quality client-service mentality and who want to work in a firm that’s more of a family than some of the larger firms out there,” he said.

“We typically seek interested local college students, friends of current team members and a cadre of alumni that like to earn vacation money,” said Daniel Morris, a CPA and senior partner at Morris + D’Angelo CPAs, in San Jose, California.

“In lieu of expanding again this year, I’m going to disengage clients who sap energy from my team and focus on performing exemplary for the clients we truly care about and can help,” Dundon said.

‘Easier’

Not all seasonal help are preparers – especially as calls continue mushrooming in the wake of reform.

“We hire an additional administrative staff person for tax season,” said Gail Rosen, a CPA in Martinsville, New Jersey. “There’s a lot of tax preparation paperwork and follow up with clients regarding the administrative aspect of the final tax return, too much for our current office manager to handle on her own during busy season.”

“Our tax staff is a total of four people, all knowledgeable about our clients and our procedures,” she said. “It’s easier for us to get the work done on our own rather than to bring in a seasonal employee who might not deliver the same service.”

“We outsource to a service, so our accordion staffing is more limited to clerical types that scan, upload, create workflow files and administer the back-of-the-house processes,” Morris said.

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