If there’s a word that best defines the current hiring and staffing environment within the accounting profession, it’s “demand.” On the employer’s side, it’s the demand for more skills, more graduates with advanced degrees, and more hires to (quickly) fill their businesses among talent shortages. For the young professional, it’s the demand for more flexible workplaces, more choices and freedom to find their preferred career path among all the options available.

The job market as a whole is also demanding more accounting professionals: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics writes that, “In general, employment growth of accountants and auditors is expected to be closely tied to the health of the overall economy. As the economy grows, these workers will continue to be needed to prepare and examine financial records [and] as more companies go public, there will be greater need for public accountants to handle the legally required financial documentation.”

Both sides of the hire are demanding a lot from each other, but with a little knowledge about the current staffing landscape, both parties can get their demands met.


THE NEW NORMAL

For young accounting graduates, the future certainly looks bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for professionals (as of 2014) is $65,940 annually. The number of jobs in the field in 2014 sat at approximately 1.3 million, and the outlook for job growth was 11 percent over the next 10 years, compared to 7 percent in all other industries.

The expectations of new hires, though, seem to be shifting: According to the 2015 AICPA Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, “The percentage of total new hires assigned to accounting/auditing continues to decrease, while assignments to taxation continue to rise, with a 4 percentage point increase since the last reporting period.” (That’s 47 percent for accounting/auditing, 27 percent for taxation, 10 percent to management information systems/computers, and 16 to “Other.”)

The 2016 Robert Half Salary Guide also found an immediate need for professionals in both the corporate and public accounting sectors who have “specialized experience in revenue recognition, generally accepted accounting principles and Securities and Exchange Commission reporting,” as well as “professionals with risk and compliance backgrounds, especially in financial services.” Proficiency in “enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, integrated financial reporting systems, cloud-computing platforms, and information security and data-mining tools” are desired as well.

Paul McDonald, a senior executive director at Robert Half, breaks down why graduates with a broader skillset may be a hotter commodity than a specialized one: “Employers are looking for well-rounded candidates who can do more than just reconcile accounts and file tax returns,” he wrote on RobertHalf.com. “Businesses of all sizes are interested in accounting and finance professionals who not only understand numbers, but can work with big data and explain what they might mean in terms of growth projections and possible mergers and acquisitions. As such, financial analysts and business systems analysts are in especially high demand, as they can help companies improve efficiency, control costs and strengthen their information systems.”

Some, though, don’t believe that firms are communicating these needs for diversified candidates enough, and thus are not getting the results they desire. Jeff Phillips, chief executive officer of accounting online community and job board Accountingfly, argues that if employers want to attract more multi-talented candidates, they need to be more upfront with their demands.

“CPAs in public accounting with less than 10 years’ experience aren’t aware that these types of career paths are available to them,” he said. “Firms aren’t marketing the story the right way; if you do good marketing, the job funnel becomes a lot easier. I want firms to communicate a vision of what a career in accounting can look like. There are a lot of neat opportunities out there for careers.”

Phillips went on to say that Accountingfly has gone so far as to bar 30-day postings from their site, as he doesn’t believe such a time-frame is enough to hire an experienced CPA. Firms can instead purchase annual contracts where job postings are live until filled.

McDonald added that even though accounting professionals are in such high demand, it doesn’t mean employers can “skip any part of the process. They get in trouble when they don’t research. It’s important to look at a hire just as extensively as any management position.” McDonald advises employers to have prospects meet with multiple professionals of varying job titles at the firm or business, then gather feedback at the end of the interview process. It takes time, he says, but candidates “want to have a multitude of opportunities to pique their interests” within the business.

(One place to kickstart that process of piquing young accontants’ interest is Advance ’16, an online meet-up the week of June 21 that is — full disclosure — run by Accountingfly and Accounting Today with the goal of bringing together accounting firms and job candidates in the Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City areas to discuss the employment opportunities in those markets. You can learn more here.)

 

CHOOSING THE RIGHT PATH

As businesses and firms look to quickly fill their open positions, figuring out which path to choose can be overwhelming for new graduates. Employers are now, more than ever, practically falling over themselves to recruit strong talent, and professionals have a bevy of options to consider before even leaving the university gates.

The hiring environment that graduates are entering is defined by three main factors: “First, businesses are having to offer competitive salaries, signing bonuses and other perks to attract the best,” according to McDonald. “Second, they must have a fast and efficient hiring process since companies that take their time may lose top candidates to the competition. Third, they have to pay attention to their current staff and make sure star employees with in-demand skills don’t jump ship.”

Given this insistent hiring process, what should professionals know before they embark on their career? How do they choose from so many options and healthy wages before they potentially decide to switch gears some years down the line?

“If you’re thinking about a career in accounting, you need to do a lot of homework to try and get a sense of what’s available to you,” said Phillips. “Be aware of where this industry is headed. Take the time to speak with partners at firms of all sizes and ask them questions on why they stayed where they are. Expect to start in a firm by learning the fundamentals, [but] expect to be given a clear career path based on objectives, not time. You need to think about what your end goal is going to be. It’s a really exciting time; be aware of what’s changing.”

“You could have multiple offers, but you’ve got to do your due diligence,” McDonald added. “What’s said in the interview can change; you have to understand that things change. The employee really has to evaluate, ‘Where have people gone before me? Have I done my research?’”

 

TAKING TIME

Demands are high in the profession, but the solution can come in the form of some simple reflection. If young professionals can be more open to researching what’s being offered in the profession and what they ultimately want in their own career paths, their demands for a fulfilling career can be met. If employers can be more clear in telling candidates where their career can go, or what different services they can offer, their demands for finding and retaining talent can be met. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important to each party when the current hiring environment changes so rapidly, but taking even just a little more time in the staffing process can pay dividends for both sides.

“Where companies and job-seekers are getting in trouble is when a job offer is accepted and stones are left unturned,” says McDonald. “Retention starts with that first interaction with the employee and sharing a vision with them.”

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