Recently, a managing partner shared with me his answer to the question, "When does turnover begin?" His reply was, "At the beginning."Duh! Why didn't I think of that? So, if employee turnover begins with the selection process, what steps can we take to improve it? There are many steps in the recruitment and selection process - and as they say, the devil is in the details. Here are some suggestions:

* Clearly define roles and responsibilities for each position in the firm, and develop competency tables for each.

* Use behavioral-based interviewing techniques.

* Use qualified recruiters and interviewers; for some positions, you might want to use a professional recruiting firm.

* Use an interview panel instead of just one interviewer, and include the job seeker's prospective supervisor and team members on the panel.

* For some positions, you might want to use a professional recruiting firm.

* Conduct thorough background and reference checks. Too many firms don't.

* Select from a wider pool of candidates, if possible.

* Make sure your salary and benefits are competitive.

* Conduct pre-employment tests.


When I was with American Express Tax and Business Services (now part of RSM McGladrey), we followed an interviewing approach that was designed to uncover the competencies an individual possessed, and how they have been demonstrated. Competencies are defined as behavior characteristics that help predict a degree of success in job performance.

Some of the broad competency areas include organizational knowledge, people leadership, thought leadership and self-management. These would be great areas for a manager or partner candidate. For lower levels, you might want to include technical skills, self-management, marketing and sales, and client service.

Here are examples of the competencies needed for a higher-level position. For organizational knowledge, some of the thing to look for include:

* Knows the business: Shows an understanding of issues currently relevant to the broad organization and accounting and consulting business.

* Technical/functional expertise: Possesses up-to-date knowledge in the profession and industry; is regarded as knowledgeable (less than expert) in the technical/functional area; accesses and uses other expert resources.

* Manages profitability: Emphasizes the need to contribute to the organization's profitability; makes decisions that enhance the organization's financial position; possesses the ability to learn and manage multiple economic structures to drive profitable results.

For people leadership, some things to look for include:

* Provides direction: Fosters the development of a common purpose/cause for all levels of employees; provides clear direction and priorities; clarifies roles and responsibilities.

* Influences others: Asserts own ideas and persuades others regardless of their position in company; mobilizes people to take action and deliver results.

* Coaches and develops others: Accurately assesses strengths and development needs of employees; gives timely, specific feedback and helpful coaching; provides challenging assignments and opportunities for development.

For thought leadership, some of the traits to look for include:

* Innovates: Generates new ideas; recognizes the need for new and modified approaches; can bring different perspectives and approaches together to create a solution.

* Uses sound judgment: Makes timely decisions; can make decisions based on clear principles; makes decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

For self-management, some of the behaviors to look for include:

* Drives results: Conveys a sense of urgency and drives issues to closure; persists despite obstacles and opposition; sets high performance standards for self; pursues aggressive goals and works hard to achieve them.

* Acts with integrity: Demonstrates principled leadership and sound business ethics; shows consistency in principles, values and behavior; builds trust with others through being authentic and following through on commitments.

* Develops oneself: Learns from each experience; actively seeks learning and self-development; recognizes that learning and self-development occur in various mediums; seeks and welcomes unsolicited feedback; modifies behavior based on feedback.


Here are some sample questions that you should ask during the interview process, and on which you should rate candidates. They will demonstrate the individual's competencies - or lack thereof.

* Describe a time when improving your grasp of the big picture was most beneficial to you and your organization.

* Describe a time when you had to bring structure and organization to an existing, unwieldy, dispersed group.

* Give an example of a time when you had to identify and integrate key issue(s) in order to guide a group (or colleague) towards the right decision.

* Give an example of a difficult tax (audit) issue you had to resolve.

* Give an example of a time when you went into a situation with a core base of knowledge, only to realize that you needed to expand your core base in a relatively short period of time.

* Tell me about a time when a relationship you had with an internal contact made it possible to get critical information or assistance.

* Give an example of a time when you needed to demonstrate special concern for one of your co-workers/staff.

* Give an example of a time when you came up with a different approach to either solve a problem or discover a value-added business proposition.

* Tell me of a time when your personal ethics were tested.

* Give an example of a time when you suffered a setback concerning a project or activity that you were responsible for that impacted others.

* Describe how you have developed yourself.


You should select no more than two questions from any competency grouping. In order to get more detail, use probing follow-up questions. Most interviewees will provide you with a general response: "I tried everything I could to salvage the situation." A probing follow-up question could be: "Walk me through the steps you took to salvage the situation."

While this process may not reduce your turnover to zero, it is important, as Jim Collins has told us, to get the right people on the bus. The time to get the right people is during the interviewing process. There are countless reasons why employees leave firms; your goal is to hire those that are excited about your culture and want to stay with your firm.

August Aquila is a nationally known consultant to the profession ( Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or

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