Hiring Tips: “CPA Wanted” Classifieds Don’t Cut It in Today’s Talent Wars

With the battle for accounting professionals at all-time highs across the country, and with business growing faster than the pool of available talent, firms looking to hire good people must approach recruitment from an entirely different perspective. Or as nationally-known practice management consultant and author Bruce Marcus says, “Posting classified ads such as “CPA Wanted,” just doesn’t cut it anymore."


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The single biggest hiring factor during this era when prospects can be extremely selective about where they work is firms’ reputations for being superior places to work, postulates Marcus, publisher of the practice management newsletter, The Marcus Report, and co-author (with August Aquila) of “Client At The Core,” published in 2005 by John Wiley & Sons.

“A firm that’s well-managed, and relevant to the needs of its clientele – and offering the opportunity to participate and grow with that kind of firm - will attract the best of the profession.” says Marcus. “In all of advertising, the best advertising and promotion won’t long sell the second-rate product, nor will the poorly run accounting firm be sold by the best recruiting advertising.”

Working out organizational kinks and making the company better perceived by existing workers may go further than superior benefits in attracting new workers. “There is a paradox in that job benefits, which can be generous, seem not to cancel out the discontents (dissatisfied workers),” Marcus says.

He cited recent surveys of accountants at small public firms and in business and industry that found: 53 percent complain of work overload; 36 percent complain about pay, and 34 percent feel they don’t get sufficient recognition for their efforts. Other accounting workplace surveys by the Bay Street Group research and communications firm found that 40 percent of accountants said they could be persuaded to consider a new job, and only 11 percent said they “love it here.”

“When it comes to staffing with good people, recruiting is only half the battle. Retention is the other half and if your firm is famous for its turnover, word spreads and makes it difficult for you to attract new talent," says Bay Street Group President Rick Telberg, who coordinated the accounting workplace surveys on behalf of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). “It’s not so much about hiring in the traditional sense as it is about marketing your firm as a great place to work,” he added.

The fact that CPA firms don’t adequately let prospective employees know about their stature has been known for some time. At a meeting of the Advisory Board consortium of accounting’s leading management consultants late last year, consultant Jay Nisberg of Ridgefield, Conn., said, “You (CPA firms) are the most influential in the business lives of people you work with and service. But you often lose sight of that in how you charge, recruit and network. You can and should flex your muscles.”

Meanwhile, the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section says that small firms have some great advantages in today’s talent wars if they learn to “take advantage of their size."

The PCPS’ “Best Practices in Recruiting and Retaining Talent” white paper says that because they are more flexible than larger firms that require long lists for approvals, small firms are positioned to create the perfect blend of workplace environment and benefits that both seasoned CPAs and recent college graduates now seek. “Treat your size as an advantage, and reap the benefits that your flexibility can offer,” the report says.

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