How Your Firm Can Prevail in the ‘War for Talent’

May 20th 2016
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Key changes are at work in accounting firms, as veteran baby boomers enter or consider retirement and millennials increasingly join the workplace. But generational and attitudinal differences require changes in recruiting, too.

AccountingWEB spoke to Paul McDonald, senior executive director at recruiting firm Robert Half, about recruiting and retention strategies that, more than ever, must consider candidates and employees of different generations who can affect a firm’s culture.

AW: What new strategies or tactics are recruiters and human resources professionals – for retention – using in the accounting/financial advisory arena?

Paul McDonald: There are a number of new strategies and tactics in play right now. Employers are looking at raising salaries to attract the best and the brightest, averaging 4.7 percent increases in accounting and finance right now.

They are enhancing perks, which I would say include a larger focus in the past year on professional development and enhanced vacation policies.

Paul McDonald

They are freer with giving more days and time off. Many of these individuals are connected to the workplace through smart devices and networks from home. So, even though they offer enhanced time off, they know the employees work after-hours regularly. Some companies have gone so far as offering unlimited vacations, but in the end, the comeback on the HR group is that we know the individual will work extra hard because we have connectivity almost all the time, 24/7. They’ll recharge their batteries but also have high productivity.

Recruiters are promoting career paths earlier in the recruiting process and in the first six to 12 months of employment.

On the retention side, employees partner with mentors who have gone just before them, a year ahead of them, and it seems to work very well.

AW: What is driving those changes?

McDonald: Quite simply, the competition to hire individuals and the need to retain individuals is a war for talent out there right now. The competition is quite intense, and these in-demand professionals are often receiving multiple offers. They know if one employer doesn’t provide what they are looking for, they most likely will be able to find another employer that is.

When you look at accounting and finance individuals in the marketplace today, and unemployment rates being less than half the national average – we’re talking 2.5 to 2.6 percent for most positions we see in finance and accounting – the recruiting and retention strategies for organizations need to be reviewed all the time.

It’s easier to retain an employee and invest in them if they are a worthwhile retainee, than hire.

AW: What do millennial job candidates seek in accounting positions that differs from what earlier generations sought or currently seek?

McDonald: Our research has found that the groups – boomers, Generation X, and millennials – have similarities. They expect to work hard, be paid fairly, and advance their careers. When you look at the latest report, the Generation Z report, which is about one sector of the millennial generation, they are looking at career growth, generous pay, and a chance to make a positive difference.

I think it’s important to take the millennial generation and look at the older millennials, Gen Y, and the younger millennials, Gen Z. Both groups – and all generations in the workforce – are defined in some way by 9/11. While many members of Gen Y have seen strong hiring periods during their careers, Gen Z, as children, watched their parents go through two recessions. The research suggests, perhaps because of these factors, Gen Z workers look for stability in their careers and don’t expect to change jobs very frequently.

AW: Much has been written and discussed about how best to appeal to millennial accountants. What is your perspective on that?

McDonald: I’ve seen over the past decade, I’d say eight years, that we’ve come 180 degrees. It was the established workplace mantra that millennials had to adjust to the boomers’ and Gen Xers’ way of life. Today, to get the best and brightest finance and accounting individuals, you have to meet them in the middle. Communicate often and frequently, create a vision for them of where the firm is today and where it is going, and, most importantly, how they will be a part of your organization – where they fit in and how they can make a difference to the overall corporate objective. That’s not the boomer or Gen X way of a decade ago. The mantra then was “line up, this is the way we do business, and you need to accept it.” That’s not a good, attractive strategy right now.

AW: How can HR best integrate a blend of generations in one practice?

McDonald: Companies have been dealing with blending multiple generations for some time. There are a few keys to success here: foster a supportive work environment, customize and tailor a management style for each employee, and facilitate team-building activities, such as off-site socially responsible events – a walk-a-thon, fundraising event, or giving back to the community.

The one I like and that I mentioned earlier is integrating a formal mentoring program, which includes reverse mentoring. Use multiple generations in mentoring. Millennials, for example, could educate boomers about technology and social media.

AW: If you were a new accounting grad, what would be the two or three qualifications that you would emphasize in an application or interview?

McDonald: First and foremost, my grade-point average in accounting, my transferable work experience relevant to the accounting profession, my work experience that’s not accounting-related but that would demonstrate soft skills in demand – communication, presentation, and leadership – and my drive and initiative.

AW: What about an older accountant, say, a boomer, who seeks to either advance within a firm or move to another firm?

McDonald: I’d emphasize technical expertise that’s been developed over years of experience. That could be regulatory compliance, consulting, audit, whatever your technical wheelhouse is. I’d also emphasize leadership skills and the type of managerial and supervisory experience, communication skills, and technology proficiency you have to make sure that the potential firm or your current firm knows you are up-to-date with that skill set.

Related articles:

Accounting Salaries Estimated to Rise 4.7% in 2016
How to Find a Mentor Who Matches Your Career Goals
5 Reasons for Formalizing Your Mentoring Program

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