Rapid change has permeated nearly every part of the accounting profession, and the process of recruiting in the field is certainly no exception. In 2015, recruiting has become more of a cajoling procedure, as firms look to quickly fill a plethora of open jobs with a less-than-ideal number of potential hires. High compensation has now just become a starting point, and more than ever before — aided by the rapid increase in technology and driven by soon-to-be Boomer retirees — firms are turning to the wants and needs of students and new hires to stay competitive in their recruiting processes.

“We are all kind of searching at this point,” said Rod Foster, an assurance partner with Top 6 Firm McGladrey and office managing partner of its Des Moines and Mason City, Iowa, offices. “This is an industry problem, a supply problem, and an image problem. It’s the mismatch of expectations that causes the quick turnover. We have people who make more than doctors, but people don’t know that when they [come in] here with the wrong expectations.”

To promote a more realistic image of the profession, McGladrey has been active on social media, producing recruiting tips and company news videos on YouTube, as well as launching a “Pursue Your Passion” program, in which McGladrey employees apply to be sent abroad to pursue their passions and blog about their experiences. Foster said this is all working toward “identifying students, staying in touch with them on social media, and follow[ing] them for years.”

And should a hire find themselves in the interview process, Foster suggests four essential factors that McGladrey looks for in successful team members: “Be prepared, just be naturally curious (have a conversation; you don’t need to look at a list), you’ve got to be sincere (the same thing I tell interviewers), and show some passion. We’re looking for a spark.”

 

WOULD YOU WORK THERE?

A factor that may be overlooked in the recruiting process is the actual physical environment they are applying to. A firm’s office environment is becoming an increasingly significant factor for students — often ranking just as highly as compensation and benefits.

“To be more attractive to this generation, it’s about being a nice place to work,” said Jeff Phillips, co-founder and CEO of accounting job board/network Accountingfly and former advisor to Fortune 500 clients such as Exxon, Walmart and Dell on how to hire better candidates at a lower cost.

Factors like “technology, software, and being progressive in how [firms] manage,” according to Phillips, are no longer perks, but are necessary to attract and retain new hires. “Some firms aren’t doing anything and that’s the problem,” Phillips said. “You can’t sell a product until it’s built correctly. Some firms are progressive and some are not, and those who aren’t are going to miss the boat.”

Phillips also advises firm to not just recruit in the moment, but to actively keep track of applicants for the future. As the number of social media and networking tools only continues to grow, there’s no excuse, he argues, for not staying on top of one’s hiring possibilities. “Build pools of talent,” he advised. “Firms only hire a sliver of the people they interact with, yet they’re good enough to work there. Put them in a tracking device (like Accountingfly), where you can track them for the future. You don’t want to start fresh every time you need to fill a job — you want a database with candidates and start ahead of the game. That’s the best practice I took from working with large corporations.”

 “Those are steps people are going to need to take to survive,” Phillips continued. “[They] need to invest in social media to reinforce their brand to the community. Nurture those candidates, and when you have an opening, you have a bench.”

 

INTERESTED INTERNS

Echoing this notion for a thorough internship is Susan Conway, director of human resources at The Bonadio Group, a Rochester, N.Y.-based Top 100 Firm with approximately 600 employees and more than 11 offices.

“Part of interning is, ‘What am I going to school for? I want to find out if this is what I want to be doing,’” Conway said. “You want, ideally, exposure to the work you’ll be doing on a full-time basis. [Our interns] are staffed on client service teams, full-time, at client sites doing work that staff would do, training right alongside people who have been there, done that. It’s one thing to get the concept from a textbook, but now they’re getting a chance to actually apply it.”

Conway tells of a time when the firm had a pitch-perfect intern in house, but when the firm made a full-time offer, the intern ended up declining, explaining that it wasn’t the fault of the firm, but in fact by having such a hands-on internship experience, she had learned that that particular firm environment wasn’t the right fit for her. This kind of experience, Conway says, is what a good internship is all about. “What [students] don’t necessarily know while they’re in school is what type of firm [they] want to work for,” said Conway. “Is it a large firm? Is it a two- or three-person local firm? That’s something a student needs to know. Our job is to get in front of them to show them what we’re all about and help them make decisions.”

In terms of what to look for in potential candidates, core values such as “strong tech skills, impeccable ethics and [dependability]” remain a necessity, said Conway, but more, communication is becoming necessary.

“Something we’ve found over time — because it’s not necessarily easy to learn — is the client service mentality [and] interacting with the client face to face,” Conway said. “If [clients] never see anybody directly, sometimes that’s a down tick in the overall value. Identifying candidates who can do that is important.”

And as always, the interview process is no time for potential hires to put forward half measures.

“We want students to be proactive and really know who we are,” said Conway. “One of the things I’ll often ask right off the bat is, ‘What do you know about us?’ You can tell who just read off the Web site and those who share some more facts and stories.”

In terms of sheer volume, the Big Four are most certainly at the forefront of the recruiting process — EY alone looks to hire some 9,000 students over the course of the next year. With such a large influx of professionals coming through the door, the hiring trends for the Big Four are crucial in identifying the future trends in recruiting.

Dan Black, director of recruiting for EY Americas, explains how the firm is focused on looking for students with a more global perspective. “What sets us apart a little bit from everyone is that we are really looking for leaders,” he said. “‘Inclusive Leaders.’ Different backgrounds [and] people who can really appreciate the differences that can be made [for] a broader global mindset.”

“It’s the world we live in today because that’s where our clients are,” Black continued. “[Hires] are going to work with communities that are much different from where they grew up. People who take time to read about different countries [are the] kind of hire that looks to engage diverse groups of people and tend to be more successful.”

Along with the much touted characteristics of “good communication skills, the ability to multi-task, and good analytics,” Black said that EY is also mindful of building a “workplace of the future” to attract potential hires.

“[It’s] refurbishing space to be conducive to what our people want,” Black explained. “People want to interact with people on a more regular basis, [have] the ability to work smarter, and be in an environment less about physical space and more about a place where you can do great work.“

And with the advent of technology, Black said that the recruiting process for the hire should be a lot more geared toward them, with tools such as ExceptionalEY.com, a career-planner, letting potential hires feel more in control of their options.

“[It’s about] a lot more customization in the recruitment process,” said Black. “Despite hiring 9,000 students, it’s about the individual experience you can give, the experience, that will attract them to the firm. It’s critical to explain it because it turns on a lot of light bulbs.”

For more, see our slideshow on the Top 10 Recruiting Tactics.

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