6 steps to Winning the War for Talent in Accountancy Firms

Jul 9, 2024 | Business Strategy, Recruitment

The current challenge of securing adequate competent and experienced staff is nothing new.  Accountancy firms have long been competing in what has become known as the ‘war for talent’.

I’ve never liked this term. The only alternative, the ‘battle for talent’, sounds equally outdated, better suited for the armed forces than professional services.

But these descriptions highlight the real challenges firms face in recruiting the right people to deliver promised services to clients. Whether it’s part of growth plans or simply replacing those who’ve left for greener pastures, recruiting the right staff is crucial.

Having interviewed and recruited goodness knows how many professional staff over the years, and having worked with dozens of accountants keen to recruit good people, I offer you six key steps to getting the right people on board and ensuring they stay.

1. Specifying the Talents, Skills, and Experience Required
Before you even start looking for new recruits, you need to clearly define what talents, skills, and experience you’re after.
Start by summarising what it is you need them to be able to do. What skills and experience do they need?

Do NOT start by thinking about titles, levels or qualifications. None are as important as having clarity around the work to be done and whether you NEED the new person to come into the office daily, occasionally or if a fully remote role would work.

Also, if you are filling a vacancy, do not simply look for someone to fill the shoes of the person who left. No two people will have identical experiences, expertise, interests or abilities. A new recruit might be willing to do more than the previous incumbent – or you may need to be prepared to reallocate responsibilities so as to the make the role more attractive to someone new.

If you are going to place an advert, try to go beyond just listing tasks and/or a list of characteristics of the kind of person who could complete those duties. What is likely to make the role potentially attractive to the right person?

2. Attracting the Right People
Whether you’re advertising the position yourself or using an agency, highlight what makes your firm attractive. What sets you apart from similar firms? Are you making the same broad claims about work-life balance, firm atmosphere, and approach? How can you prove these claims? Think about the real differences and ensure you communicate these effectively.

Does your website echo what you or the agency say? Is there an attractive and engaging ‘careers’ page – or does it talk about ‘vacancies’ as if you were seeking a new shop assistant?

3. Creating a Positive Interview Experience
The interview stage is critical and, however desperate you are, you must ensure you ask sufficient good questions to reveal whether the interviewee has the experience and expertise you need.

Planning and structuring the interview, using and making notes are all important – as is resisting the need to do too much talking yourself – however excited you get if the candidate interviews well.

You also want to consider what you can do to ensure they will accept if you offer them the job. Clarify what matters to the candidate—their aspirations, motivators, and needs. Don’t assume it’s all about money. If you have a two-stage interview process, make sure candidates are keen to return for the second part.

4. It’s not just about the salary
You may have a salary package in mind or a range dependent on the level and past experience (and current salary?) of interviewees. But the precise amount you offer is rarely the only factor that an interviewee will consider.

What about working conditions, location, benefits, bonuses, training, potential for promotion and so on?

Many of these could be spelled out on the Careers pages of your website too. Doing this could improve the chances of good candidates coming for an interview.

More generally, when people are asked about what makes their job enjoyable, they tell researchers three things:

  1. They want autonomy. Rather than being told what to do they want to be empowered to get on with whatever they feel is necessary to get the work done.
  2. They want to be challenged. They want to be given things that are at the upper edge of their abilities and skills. They like being stretched. They do not want routine.
  3. They often want the opportunity for personal development. People enjoy their job when their employer provides them with training and support for improving skills and knowledge.

5. Immediate Follow-Up
After the interview, balance showing genuine interest with avoiding appearing desperate. Personally, I advocate emailing or sending a DM via Linkedin as well as providing feedback through any recruitment consultant involved. This way, candidates will know you enjoyed the interview and are interested in taking things further.

6. Effective Induction
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I still remember starting a job as a senior manager in my late 20s, and realising early on first day that I’d made a mistake. I was left to my own devices in an attic room with no real guidance or support.

That experience has stayed with me for many years and, when I was still in practice, drove me to ensure that everyone I recruited received a decent induction.

What should the new recruit expect to do on their first day? In their first week? First month? How will you monitor their performance initially and throughout the probation period? How you will provide feedback as to their progress?

Over the years, I’ve championed the use of induction packs. These packs, separate from statutory HR materials, are checklists detailing everything a new recruit needs to know. They help create a balance between spoon-feeding and leaving new hires to fend for themselves. Even better, you can show these packs during the interview to demonstrate your commitment to an effective induction process, proving you care about personal development and training.

By following these six steps, you can significantly improve your chances of winning the war for talent.

There is one further step you may want to consider, especially for more senior recruits.  It’s something few of your competitors will be offering so could make your job offer that much more attractive.

What about if, as part of the package of benefits you offer, they also get to be mentored by a credible external professional focused on helping them to further build and develop their skills so that they can be of even more value to the firm?  Imagine the impact of promising new hires 6 or 12 months of mentoring by a such an external expert, free from internal politics, dedicated solely to their personal and management development. I’d be delighted to discuss how this could be arranged 😉


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