Recruiting quality, experienced people: It's the No. 1 issue facing the CPA and IT clients we coach.There is a "science" to recruiting, a series of tasks that, when done, usually will produce some candidates. These tasks include defining the duties, skills and compensation for each new hire, identifying sources for finding candidates, and agreeing on who will be involved in screening and how you will make your offer.

Unfortunately, in this tight labor market, you may find that simple science isn't producing the caliber of candidates you'd like, or allowing your firm to "win" and hire the brightest when the dust settles.

Why? Because you may not have realized that there is also an "art" or strategy to recruiting, and the principles for applying this art live within your marketing function.

I believe that your staff recruiting process should mirror the marketing process you use for identifying and selling new client engagements. In this article, we will explore the many parallels of these two seemingly different aspects of your practice, and how you can, and should, leverage your marketing processes to significantly enhance your recruiting efforts.

Developing a recruiting plan

The recruiting function is often relegated to an administrative position that focuses on the "rules and regulations" and tactical aspects of the recruiting and hiring process.

In this era, where finding good people is increasingly difficult, we believe that the recruiting process should be managed as a strategic marketing and sales process, and, instead of identifying new client opportunities, your focus should be on uncovering new staff (or partner) candidates.

Just as you develop a market positioning and marketing plan to ensure your marketing success, you will also begin your strategic recruiting process by developing your market positioning and recruiting plan. To begin, you should define your competitive differentiators as they relate to recruiting key staff members to your firm, similar to how you would define your competitive differentiators, or value proposition, for prospective clients.

One way you can identify your key differentiators is by collaboratively meeting with valued staff members to list the strengths of your firm and determining which ones apply, and how they apply, to potential staff members.

Competitive differentiators

When defining your value proposition for potential staff, your messaging should center on the benefits you offer them and how those are different from your primary competitors, who can be other CPA or IT firms or alternative careers (such as a job in industry). They can include ideas such as:

1. What difference your firm makes in the lives of your staff and partners, in the lives of clients and in your local community, which can often lead to high job satisfaction. People want to work at a firm that has relevance.

2. How your firm is different from others. Some ideas might include offering your team members:

* Career "roadmapping" versus performance appraisals;

* A genuinely open culture with access to and regular interaction with top-level leaders;

* Staff involvement in firm planning;

* Support for a more flexible, always-available work style including hoteling, work-from-home, Fridays off in summer, and other flex-time options;

* A technology-enabled environment; and,

* Training plans or continued growth and development for your staff members that helps them achieve their career goals.

3. How your current team members are different.

4. What type of clients and projects the new team member will be able to participate in.

5. Innovative recruiting process differentiators like taking your ideal staff member candidates to dinner with their spouses or significant others, especially for manager-level positions and above.

Taking the time to identify your firm's recruiting differentiators will enable you to highlight them for prospective candidates in your recruiting marketing, interviewing and offer process.

Ideal target staff member

Once you've identified your firm's recruiting competitive differentiators, you should then define your "ideal target" staff member, which will vary depending upon the open positions you have available. In marketing, when you identify new client opportunities, you first determine who your ideal target client is for each of your firm's products and services. The same is true for recruiting.

Identify your ideal target staff member for each of your positions and define characteristics of the prospective staff members, including their experience and education level, skills, past responsibilities, and their goals and values to ensure the best fit within your firm. By defining your ideal target staff member for each position, you will be better equipped to communicate your needs in your outbound marketing for the position, and you will be more successful in finding the right person to be successful within your firm.

The best way to define your ideal target member is to create a written position description for each new open position. Don't hire another person without one! If this is a replacement hire, you may be able to leverage an existing position description and hopefully refine the description further; if it's a new position, try to model it after a position description that is close.

In creating the role description, decide what tasks this individual will take from any existing positions (moving them "off" their position descriptions onto the new one), who they will report to, and/or any management duties that they will be assigned.

Your position descriptions should include:

* The position title;

* Who the position reports to;

* The objective of that position;

* The primary responsibilities of that position;

* The minimum education and skills required;

* Compensation model; and,

* Measures of success, or goals, for that position for the first 90 to 120 days.

Recruiting calendar

In marketing, you develop and then implement your plan, then measure your progress and message your results. The same principles apply to the recruiting process.

We suggest you consider applying a valuable marketing planning concept and establish a calendar for your recruiting plan. Your recruiting calendar should be owned by a single person within your firm, and include the open positions that you are filling just as you would track the various marketing activities and vehicles for your firm's marketing activities. Your recruiting calendar should include your open positions, the date you'd like the positions filled, the vehicles you'll use to recruit, and the estimated budget for your recruiting efforts, such as ad costs, agency fees or online placements.

Once you've established your recruiting calendar, be sure to share it with those involved in hiring or interviewing potential staff members so that they can plan accordingly. Those who own different aspects of the recruiting calendar should keep the calendar owner apprised of any movement or updates regarding the open positions that they are involved in recruiting. Hold regular status meetings to discuss progress and ensure that your recruiting plan is being followed.

Lastly, use your recruiting plan as an internal educational tool. Be sure to inform your entire team about your activities and remind them of your employee referral incentive program, if you offer one (and I strongly encourage you to do so - especially if you're willing to pay placement agency fees!), for sourcing candidates for open positions. Let your staff know how they can generate prospects by supplying them with a copy of the position description and information on how and to whom they should direct their recruiting referrals.

In my mind, you should always have some form of recruiting messaging occurring, whether it's on the "Why Work for Us" section of your Web site or through regular communications about the growth and expansion of your firm. Just as in marketing, the law of large numbers works in recruiting, too! And you always want to be prepared to hire an ideal staff member when the opportunity presents itself.

In the next article on this subject, we'll focus on marketing activities to consider and sources for finding your ideal target staff members.

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.

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