Financial hiring will increase in first quarter

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The job market in accounting and finance is holding steady, suggests a new survey. Nine percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed plan to add full-time employees and 8 percent expect to decrease the size of their staff, according to the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index. Eighty-two percent of executives said they would make no changes to the size of their teams.

In a sign of the current economic climate, the percentage of firms anticipating personnel reductions is at its highest point in the past three years. However, the number of companies expecting to hire is above the average over that same period, reflecting an ongoing need for skilled professionals.

Large companies, in particular, plan to add staff in key specialty areas. Eighteen percent of respondents at firms with 1,000 or more employees expect to hire in the first quarter, compared to 8 percent who anticipate decreasing staff levels.

The Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,400 CFOs across the United States. It was conducted from Sept. 23 to Oct. 15, 2008, by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half International, a staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance. Robert Half has been tracking financial hiring activity in the United States since 1992.

"Even though weakness in the economy is affecting hiring in many fields, accounting and finance expertise in key functional areas remains in demand," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. "While no job category is completely immune to economic changes, professionals skilled at identifying cost efficiencies and enhancing profitability are a perennial need for firms of all sizes."

Financial executives continue to report difficulty finding highly skilled professionals for certain functional areas. Twenty-eight percent of CFOs said accounting positions are the most difficult to fill, and 20 percent said they experience the greatest challenges hiring for finance roles.

Messmer added, "Positions in demand include credit and collections specialists, who help firms manage credit risk and collect outstanding receivables; public accountants, who assist clients with their accounting, tax and, audit needs; and staff and senior accountants, whom companies depend on to oversee fundamental - and indispensable - accounting functions."

Accounting and Finance Hiring -- By Region

The Middle Atlantic states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) are projected to experience the most active hiring in the first quarter. A net 9 percent of CFOs in this region anticipate adding full-time accounting and finance staff.

"In the Middle Atlantic states, there is demand for experienced accounting and finance talent to help balance workloads, handle year-end audits, and prepare for next year's tax season," Messmer said.

Firms in the Mountain (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming) and West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas) states also project notable hiring activity. A net 7 percent of executives in both of these sections of the country said they plan to boost staff levels in the coming quarter.

Robert Half has conducted additional CFO interviews in more than 40 major metropolitan areas to provide snapshots of financial hiring trends in these markets. You can view the local results.

Accounting and Finance Hiring -- By Industry

Among industries, executives in the manufacturing and professional services sectors are most optimistic about hiring in the first three months of 2009. Nine percent of manufacturing CFOs expect to increase personnel levels in the first quarter while 3 percent foresee a reduction in staff, a net 6 percent increase. Within professional services, a net 5 percent of financial executives forecast greater hiring activity.

About the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index

First published in 1992, the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on more than 1,400 telephone interviews with CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. For the study to be statistically representative and ensure that businesses from all segments were represented, the sample was stratified by geographic region and employee size. The results were then weighted to reflect the proper proportions of employee size within each region.

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