The Key To Recruitment In The Accounting Profession

by : Ranju Kumar

In every industry there are areas where talent is scarce, where organizations can't recruit. It's the very nature of business. The thing is, there is a solution for each industry, but it is often a multi-faceted and difficult one. What's interesting, however, is that the very problem is often quite specific and unique to an industry. Any solutions therefore need to be tailored.

Rather than looking at the generalities of solving talent scarcities (which is fast becoming a worn-out formula in my opinion), this article focuses on an industry facing these very issues.

Let's start by looking at three broad groups of people within this profession:

(1) Those who do the work.
(2) Those on track to become partners they do the work and also start to bring in new work.
(3) Partners who sell manage the clients and supervise the work.

All three groups are critical to how accounting is structured, but is in the first two groups that the profession is struggling to recruit good people. This then contributes to a lack of potential new partners, resulting in many smaller firms being concerned about their succession plans.

Generally speaking, the people who deliver the bulk of the work in any given firm are the more junior people, and we're currently suffering from a major shortage of talent in this area. This is a strategic problem for firms as they rely on delegating work, which then provides them with the leverage to generate profits.

But why the scarcity of junior people, you ask? Firstly, it's becoming tough to find and recruit good juniors in this industry. While firms are successful in attracting good employees, those people often leave before reaching manager or partner level, so the skill, experience and potential is lost. Let's look at the reasons for these two related problems. Firstly, the traditional (albeit old) model of a partnership role is failing to appeal to many young people.

That is, the stereotypical workaholics with disproportionate work-life balance (something all Gen X and Y now demand) that dominated the industry and largely still does. When I was a young accountant at Price Waterhouse, we were told to work hard, bill our clients hard and work for essentially a pittance. If we kept our noses clean for long enough, we would be rewarded with riches: a partnership. And the rewards were rich, particularly for the partners in the big firms.

Having recognized the issues facing accounting firms large and small, established companies are creating a network of accountancy firms all tasked with the same goal, to attract the right mix of employees both now and ongoing. By joining the network, these firms share the huge costs of advertising over a number of firms who are all seeking slightly different people. These established companies put in place a selection process using recruiters who formerly worked in the profession to thoroughly screen the applicants. Their role is to ensure that they are joining the right firm for the right reasons. It works. Firms that take this approach don't see scarcity.