Struggling to find experienced recruits?

By Francesca Zelasko

Although the number of accounting graduates has increased, the supply of accountants with seven or more years of accounting experience lags demand. This is especially true for tax practice leaders and professionals with specialized expertise, such as international tax, SEC, or FAS 109 proficiency.
 
Competition is sizzling
 
When recession-induced layoffs by larger firms temporarily increased the talent pool, many smaller accounting firms snapped up the best candidates to handle business as companies moved downstream to save on fees. Now Big Four firms are raiding smaller firms to get the experienced staff they need to go downstream after the middle market – often offering candidates $15,000 to $30,000 more to lure them away, according to PDI Executive Search.
 
Plus, 43 percent of tax professionals are hoping to move to other accounting firms when the economy evens out, according to a recent survey by Ajilon Professional Staffing. So competition for experienced accountants will remain strong.
 
The experience gap
 
Today’s talent shortage also is due to demographics. Some 46 million strong, Generation X (born roughly between 1965 and 1980) is just over half as large as the Baby Boomer generation. Consequently, college enrollments during the late 1980s and 1990s were down.
 
According to a 2009 AICPA report, the 44,695 accounting degrees (baccalaureate and master’s) awarded in 2001 and 2002 were the lowest in 25 years, making a huge impact on the number of professionals with approximately 10 years of experience.
 
How firms are filling it
 
To acquire needed talent, look beyond conventional recruitment efforts, such as:
  • Leveraging your Web site. A firm’s Web site often is the first place a candidate goes to learn more about the firm. Show why your firm is a great place to work. Post videos of partners and staff talking about the firm – and themselves. Include some personal information, such as activities outside the firm or favorite books, movies, or music. The goal is to give candidates a feel for the firm’s culture.
  • Making the type of work you do a selling point. Candidates may consider client work at a smaller firm less interesting than work done by large firms for companies like Microsoft. Make sure your Web site and collateral provide specific examples of the challenging and satisfying work your firm offers. And be prepared to talk about it in interviews.
  • Getting peer-level employees involved – ASAP. Again, start with your Web site and let firm members of all levels tell why they came to the firm and how it’s met, or exceeded, their expectations. Then in interviews for a manager-level position, for example, have candidates meet not just with the firm administrator and practice leader, but also separately with other manager-level firm members. Candid information from potential peers can make the difference in winning a recruit.
  • Using social media to blog and promote. For example,virally share with friends to gain referrals.
 
Don’t delay
 
As the economy recovers, it will be even more difficult to get talent. So take steps now to acquire the people you need to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Also, make the most of the talent you have by outsourcing tax preparation, payroll, or other routine services to free up existing staff for higher-level (and more lucrative) work.
 
About the author:
Francesca Zelasko is director of accountant partner programs and partner marketing. Zelasko has more than 10 years of progressive marketing experience within the technology industry including SaaS, software, hardware and middleware products and services. She currently oversees the overall Accountant Channel for SurePayroll which includes Referral and Reseller partners and customized products.
 
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