By Robert G. Epstein, CPA, President and CEO of CareerBank.com
Small CPA firms face a challenge in today’s competitive employment market. Quality accounting professionals are a hot commodity, and smaller firms often lose candidates to the big starting salaries and name recognition at larger firms. What can smaller firms do to be competitive? Be creative. There are many programs and policies that can turn small firms into aggressive competitors in the hunt for CPAs.
First, get involved with the community to establish name recognition. Join local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, encourage employees to get involved with associations and attend meetings for university accounting
organizations like Beta Alpha Psi to meet people and get to know students while they are discovering the accounting profession. You can encourage your employees to be active by paying their dues or emphasizing that these actions can lead to quicker promotions.
When the search begins for a new employee, choose more cost effective “classifieds.” The AccountingWEB CareerZONE, for example, offers members discounted job postings and an extremely focused audience of accounting professionals. There are also recruiting firms that offer special low-rate packages for smaller clients.
The next step to attracting employees is an effective interview. Ask existing staff to speak with new candidates during the interview process and let them talk about the success and atmosphere of the company. This allows the interviewee to get a sense of the work environment, and provides a chance for the team to gauge how well the applicant will fit in at the firm.
One of the greatest benefits of working in a small firm is the chance to see the “whole picture,” and be assigned more diverse tasks. Emphasize these benefits. Give employees the opportunity to work on a client from beginning to end, instead of handling areas narrow in focus. Allow employees to experience work in audit, tax and consulting for a variety of clients. The benefits of a smaller firm are especially attractive for younger professionals who want to see a comprehensive picture of a client’s account. For ambitious accountants, a smaller CPA firm often offers greater responsibility, more involvement in management decisions and—possibly—a track to partner status, all at a faster pace.
In order to retain quality employees, create a positive work environment. By focusing on flexibility and comfort in the office, small firms can use size to their advantage. An open door policy between all levels of management and staff encourages direct communication not only between supervisors and staff but also among the employees themselves. Professionals often find a family or team atmosphere very appealing.
The physical aspects of a firm are also an important factor. Choose a business casual dress code and be sure there are big windows, natural light and good air quality, all of which have been proven to result in more effective, healthy employees.
Pay attention to details in the office. Stock refrigerators with juice and soda, keep snacks on hand and give employees an extra day off on their birthday. Organize a co-ed sports team and join a community league to promote teamwork both in and out of the office.
Flexibility is a popular word in today’s professional vocabulary. Many candidates say they would choose a flexible job over a higher salary. Offer flex hours, an option that is appreciated by employees as commutes grow longer and families get bigger. For working parents, flex time allows for more involvement with the family and indicates that a firm is more family-oriented.
Employees are also grateful for continuing education. While larger firms usually provide in-house training, invest in your staff by encouraging their participation in accounting associations and paying for training at their facilities. This provides more than a class; employees get the chance to interact with other professionals in the community while building alliances and net working for the firm.
Appreciation for employees is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in a small CPA firm. Directly thank staff for a job well done, and recognize employees for their hard work and dedication.
Just because a smaller CPA firm can’t necessarily offer the same salary or name recognition as a larger firm, it can provide many opportunities and benefits. By promoting more responsibility and leadership among staff, giving them a chance to see the big picture early on, providing a comfortable and flexible work environment, encouraging continuing education and showing appreciation and interest in the team, a small CPA firm can be an attractive destination for today’s best and brightest CPAs.
AccountingWEB members can begin their own search for candidates at the AccountingWEB CareerZONE, which is powered by CareerBank.com.
About the Author
Robert G. Epstein, CPA, is the President and CEO of CareerBank.com. His unique combination of accounting and recruiting experience has been invaluable in the founding, development and success of the site. Robert has more than 15 years of experience in the accounting and recruiting industries, including positions as both an auditor and tax accountant at Arthur Andersen, and later as a senior director for the largest accounting and finance recruiting firm in the Washington, D.C. area.