"'Onboarding': the process of acquiring, accommodating,assimilating and accelerating new team members, whether they come fromoutside or inside the organization. It is used to refer to theadministrative work involved with setting an employee up in a new jobor role. Onboarding is now more broadly defined as the entire processof aligning an organization around recruiting, hiring, and helping thenew employee reach full productivity as quickly as possible." - from Wikipedia.org.

"Olderstaff understands that attracting younger staff members is moredifficult than it used to be. It isn't difficult to convince them, butI don't think they necessarily understand some of the newer methods ofattracting them," says Sarah Jialanella, recruiting coordinator atAkron, Ohio-based BCG&Co.

"Employers need to stay in touchwith young people," says Laurie Simonson, director of operations atMinneapolis-based Froehling Anderson. "Study their generation,understand what makes them tick. Only then can an employer tailorrecruiting/retention programs to the younger generation."

What's 'Younger?'

Ayounger staffer is any staff member who is Gen Y (born between 1977 and1992) and can also include a young Gen X new to the firm, according toJialanella, who adds that BCG recently implemented a formal onboardingprocess. "They generally are technically savvy, eager to learn andadvance, and expect respect from supervisors and co-workers,"Jialanella adds.

"We define younger associates not by agebut by experience. We refer to younger staff as 'newer associates,' anindividual new to the public accounting profession, either a recentcollege graduate or someone changing career direction," says MargueriteMount, a principal in Mercadien, P.C., CPAs, and a managing director ofThe Mercadien Group in Princeton, N.J.

"At Daszkal Bolton, 85percent of our team members are under the age of 40, so generally a'younger staffer' would be someone relatively inexperienced, such as anentry-level hire (professionals with less than two years of accountingexperience), perhaps a recent college graduate, or a Master's studenthired for an internship," says Susan Kaplan, recruiting manager for theBoca Raton, Fla.-based firm.

"We hire staff right out ofcollege to fill our intern positions and staff accountant positions. Weoften call them 'individuals who are new to the profession'," reportsSimonson. "These individuals go into a department called GeneralServices, so we often call them 'GSDers'. The General Servicesdepartment loans the individuals to our audit department, taxdepartment, and our management advisory department. This gives themexposure to various types of accounting work and various industries.Within three to four years they're better able to choose which areathey have the most interest in, and typically move into anotherdepartment after three or four years."

Programs in Action

"We'vefound that younger recruits place a high importance on relationshipsand balance, so we organize events designed to help them build thosethings. Our intern/team building event is an all-day competition inwhich they compete against each other for prizes. We also organizekickball and softball games, as well as happy hours and othernetworking events. We seek out younger staff by becoming involved inthe activities they're already part of," says Robin Pilcher,director/shareholder with Postlethwaite & Netterville in BatonRouge, La., and a leading member of the firm's recruiting team.

"Werecently revamped our onboarding process from a'one-day-cram-everything-in' to more of a process that spans 45 daysand includes a buddy system, scheduled lunches with co-workers and HR,department training, company training, and benefits overview, amongothers," says BCG's Jialanella. Andrea Ballard, recruiter and retentionspecialist with Seattle-based Peterson Sullivan, says her firm attractsyounger staff through career fairs, accounting club involvement, andemployee involvement in referrals and recruiting. Younger staff areparticularly attracted to work/life balance (or "life/work balance," assome firms term it), extracurricular outings such as team play andsporting events, green initiatives, and other events, say firms.

Youth Movement

Firmsuse younger staff aggressively in recruiting. Says Jialanella, "Notonly are the younger staffers relatable to the students, but they alsoallow the potential employee to create a bond with the firm." LaceyBacchus, marketing coordinator for Barfield Murphy Shank & Smith,Birmingham, Ala., says that among other perks the firm invitesprospective interns to the office in the summer, and each January somefour college students join BMSS for a three-month internship. "Theseinterns are excellent ambassadors at their universities to explain theBMSS culture and work environment," Bacchus notes.

Youngerstaff at East Brunswick, N.J.-based Wilkin & Guttenplan assist withon-campus recruiting and in-office interviews, according to JanineZirrith, firm administrator. "We assign them as a buddy to interns.During on-campus interviews, they're a warm-up interview for theinterview with our partner-in-charge of recruiting. Younger staff alsoplay an integral part in training new interns."

Simonson's firmparticipates in a local A&A student conference, to which it sends,in addition to partners/managers, "a less-experienced staff member togreet the students and chat with them while they wait for theirinterviews. We also have our less-experienced people go back to theirown schools and present to the accounting club. We stress picking asubject, rather than sending them to sell our firm." Adds DB's Kaplan,"Several of our associates are Florida Atlantic University alumni, andserve as firm representatives at the university's career fairs,professional development workshops, and mock-interview sessions. Wealso encourage our younger associates to participate in youngprofessional groups and committees."

Mount's firm also uses, inaddition to "outright recruitment" on campuses, paid-internship andshadowing programs with select colleges. "Our shadowing candidates aresophomores, and our paid internship positions are offered to juniorsand seniors," she notes. "In the college setting, we assemble a team ofrising associates that are alumni of the schools we recruit from, andthey help maintain relationships with students and professors throughboth formal and informal interaction."

At Michigan-based Plante& Moran, younger staff also act as campus ambassadors: formerP&M interns who've accepted a position with the firm but haven'tyet started work return to their campuses and are assigned to othercollege students the firm is recruiting "to talk to them about theirplans and serve as a P&M champion," according to Laura Beyer,scheduling and staff resources director, and Paula Frerichs, recruitingdirector.

Weiser now has a buddy system, according to organizerCasey Barnes, a first-year staffer at the New York-based firm. Afterlearning from similar colleagues how they hadn't seen each other muchwhile traveling to clients' offices, Barnes sent an e-mail to Weiser'sHR department outlining what they'd discussed and proposing creating asystem to pair new hires with second-year staffers. Response wasgenerally positive.

Unusual Ideas

Contestsand cutting-edge entertainment software and hardware are big draws foryounger staff prospects. At the student conference, Simonson recalls,drawings were held for iPods, Wii game systems, and the "RockBand"video game. "Typically," she adds, "we recruit students in the fall butthey don't start until the first of the year. During the time from whenthey accept the offer and when they start, we try to stay in closecontact with them. We send them a book and a music CD, with musicselected by the younger staff."

Some firms are using socialnetworks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Others are pursuing younger andyounger prospects, too. "We've started targeting high school juniorsand seniors," Pilcher adds. "The earlier we can begin the recruitingprocess, the better chance we have to build a quality relationship."

AP&M program also targets high school students through their collegecareers to the point of internship with the firm, and the firm alsoinvites local public school students interested in accounting andfinance to a shadow day at the firm. P&M's annual "Challenge" eventalso involves inviting some 60 "top prospects" for a weekend tointeract with P&M staff in what Beyer and Frerichs term "basicallya group job interview."

Younger staffers also seem to respondto fun. One of the P&M offices treated staff to a fair ofinternational foods, during which staff paid donations to charity totoss pies at firm partners. Ballard's firm has also used scavengerhunts. "People were split into teams with a mix of partners and staff,"she says. "Each team had to make a video acting out 'an unwritten rulethat doesn't show up in the employee handbook.' Voting took place atthe end in a local bar, where we saw all the videos and tallied uppoints."

"One year, we included a group photo of our HalloweenSpooktacular in the local business journal," Kaplan recalls. "We usedthat same photo and a description of our Spooktacular in our on-campusrecruiting materials for a year following, and continue to use photosof our internal and external social and professional events in ourrecruiting and marketing efforts."

Extracurricular Programs

"Weencourage them to be a part of the young professionals group at thestate society of CPAs," Simonson says. "They start learning aboutmarketing from day one, and are placed on a marketing team. We givethem client contact and set up tours and visits with clients, have thempresent at our firm-wide team meetings, assign them challengingprojects, allow them to shadow partners."

Mark Kraft, partnerat Hansen, Jergenson, Nergaard & Co., Minneapolis, says his youngerstaffers participate in the young professionals group at the statesociety, which conducts such outings as bowling teams with staffersfrom other firms. "We also go on an annual staff retreat," he adds."There's lots of socializing and opportunities to do other activities,such as football, basketball, pontoon-boat rides, and karaoke at lastyear's retreat."

Zirrith's firm has also tapped socialconsciousness. "We've worked on houses for Habitat for Humanity, donetoy drives for the Red Cross, and collected items for soldiersoverseas," she says.

Pivotal, say firms, is interaction betweenages. Mount's firm offers a variety of mixers outside the office, alongwith "social hours" for associates and significant others to attend.

Importance of Mentoring

"Allnew accounting staffers are assigned two mentors," Ballard reports,"one with a few years of experience in our firm, and another with manymore," and new FA staffers are assigned a mentor in the first sixmonths to a year, according to Simonson. Weiser formalized a mentoringprogram for its incoming class two years ago. The firm does a masshiring of roughly two dozen college grads who start the Monday afterThanksgiving. They all sit in a common staff room instead of individualoffices, and undergo a two-week training and career developmentprogram. Each is paired with a partner counselor with whom they meet atleast four times annually. Weiser is considering extending the buddysystem to older staff.

Daszkal Bolton believes associates atevery level should have a mentor. "Accessibility to upper managementthrough an open-door policy has become very important in today'sworkplace, and is especially significant for young professionals,"Kaplan says. Adds Zirrith, "Every staff member is assigned a coach.Interns and entry-level staff are assigned a buddy, a younger staffmember they meet with throughout their internship or first year."

Chat and SIGS

Twoprograms that Houston-based PKF Texas has developed with successfulresults with young staffers are a "Cubester Chat" column in the LeadingEdge Magazine, and the Young Professionals SIG (special interest group)of the Leading Edge Alliance.

The Cubester Chat column began in2006, as a response to the request of the young pros on the firm'sLeading Edge Magazine taskforce to write about issues they face as theybegin to navigate the business world. Topics have included: networking;why choose a middle market firm?; transitioning from staff level tomanager; and what the economy means to this generation. Authors usefirm, alliance, and community resources to research, develop, and writetheir articles.

PKF Texas approached the Leading Edge Alliancelast summer about creating a special interest group geared toward youngprofessionals. Led by a steering group of members of eight Leading Edgefirms nationwide, the SIG provides a forum to address the needs ofyoung professionals. Through vehicles such as the YP Voice educationalWebinars and interaction via a Web forum, the SIG will serve as astimulus for filling pipelines for business development by allowing theyoung pros to develop relationships across the alliance.

Best Tips

  • Stayclosely involved with the professors, get to know the officers of theaccounting clubs of your target colleges. Stay involved in all youngprofessional networking clubs, and sponsor young professionalnetworking events. Let younger staff invite their friends/ex-classmatesto firm events. (Andrea Ballard, Peterson Sullivan)
  • Makesure you know what your firm culture is; write it down and articulateit during the interview process. Provide younger candidates with allthe benefits of your firm, not just vacation and medical but also thewellness programs, technology, support in taking the CPA exam, learningand mentoring opportunities, and chances to interact with clients.(Laurie Simonson, Froehling Anderson)
  • Use younger staffin the recruiting process. Give the potential young staffer informationabout your firm; they've grown up with the Internet and are accustomedto having information at their fingertips. If you think they aren'tgoing to "Google" your company, you're kidding yourself; they'll thenmake a judgment based solely on your Web site. (Sarah Jialanella,BCG&Co.)
  • Offer more than one career path. Providecross-training. Consider implementing a business casual dress code andan informal, family-style corporate environment. Develop a policy forflexible hours and telecommuting. (Susan Kaplan, Daszkal Bolton)
  • Behonest and upfront about the challenges facing new professionals intheir first few years in the profession. Be clear in the opportunitiesand career path available at the organization and the expectations foradvancement. Create a non-recruitment presence on campuses. (MargueriteMount, Mercadien, P.C., CPAs/The Mercadien Group)
  • Makesure recruits are interacting with the people they're going to workwith. Go where recruits are, such as social networking sites and campusgroups, and provide a reason for them to come see you when you're there(free pizza goes a long way!). (Laura Beyer and Paula Frerichs, Plante& Moran)
  • Stress the importance of work/lifebalance. Make sure that there's diversity in assignments. Recognizeindividual achievements, and provide timely feedback and guidance onperformance. (Janine Zirrith, Wilkin & Guttenplan)
  • Chooserecruiters carefully. Establish a contact strategy, and treat yourrecruits like you treat your clients. Become involved in what they areinvolved in. Use technology as much as possible. Seek out personalconnections and make an effort to make each recruit feel important andspecial. Get the entire firm on board with recruiting efforts. Afterthe hire, deliver on what you've sold. (Robin Pilcher, Postlethwaite& Netterville)

For related material, see"Staff Communications Buy-In" in the November, 2008, issue of PracticalAccountant at practicalaccountant.com.