Staffing up for Growth
The 2017 Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues survey highlighted that finding and retaining qualified staff are top concerns for firms with two or more professionals. Accounting firms are subject to extreme seasonality and workload compression during the busy season. The technical skill-set required for success is specific, and the need for a cultural match between the new hire and the firm is a must. It’s no wonder that staffing is a high priority issue for CPA firms.
Here is a guide for getting better hiring and retention results.
Step 1. Assess your firm’s needs
Many firms make the mistake of approaching staffing from the perspective of “who can we get?” Consider starting with “what do we need?” instead.
Begin with clarity on what your firm needs. Whether you are filling a vacancy after a professional left the firm or creating a new position to support your firm’s growth, lead with a well-written job description. Include skills that are required for success. List both technical requirements and soft skills. Add expectations and accomplishments that will be relevant for the candidate’s success in the first year.
Step 2. Evaluate your candidate sourcing strategy
How do you fill your prospecting pipeline with qualified candidates? Depending on your geographic location, time of year, and your experience, one or more of the following options may stand out as your first choice.
- Campus recruiting. It is not just for the national firms! Practices of all sizes can benefit from approaching colleges and universities in search of qualified candidates. Best results come from a year-round presence on campus, not a one-time visit.
- Internships can be a great way to test the candidate fit. Consider timing and availability: even a highly qualified intern will likely need supervision and guidance.
- Experienced hires can bring a wealth of knowledge, fresh insight, and complimentary skills.
- Seasonal / temporary staff is a good option if you are only short-staffed for a portion of the year and would struggle to keep a larger team busy year-round.
Consider using a recruiter to help in your search, particularly if you are too busy to sort through dozens of resumes. Interview potential recruiters as you would candidates, looking for a trusted partner who will put your interests first, respect your time, be available, and add value to the process.
Step 3. Try behavioral interviews
No interviewing technique is 100 percent effective at guaranteeing long-term employment success. Among the different approaches, behavioral interviews can help you gain insight into the candidates’ thinking patterns, habits, and values. Behavioral interviews utilize open-ended questions about situational behavior. Tailor the questions to get a sense for the candidate’s leadership, project management, communication, collaboration, and analytical skills that would be relevant for success.
If your personality is a good fit for this less-conventional technique, try asking oddball questions. Having a candidate solve a puzzle (or figure out how many square feet of pizza are sold in your state daily) can give you a good sense for his or her grit, thinking style, and ability to work under pressure.
Step 4. Re-think your onboarding process
Hiring a superstar candidate isn’t enough – you must also set them up for success. The goal of the orientation or onboarding process should be to give the new hire all the tools and support they will need to thrive in your practice. Choose one approach or combine several of them depending on your firm’s size and team’s availability.
- Orientation should combine administrative details (badge, keys, systems access, supplies) with technical training if necessary. If cramming all the revenant details into one day seems overwhelming (or has not been effective in the past), consider spreading the technical training out over a week or longer. Encourage the new hire to have lunch with the new colleagues. Shadowing can be another effective way of getting the new hire’s feet wet without creating undue pressure to perform and produce.
- A buddy system can be helpful to give the new hire a friendly point of contact in a larger firm.
- Mentoring allows new hires open-door access to the more experienced professionals in the firm.
Step 5. Timely and clear feedback
- Set clear expectations for every project, including quality of work and deadlines.
- Make time to deliver feedback in the moment. Just-in-time feedback on things done well and areas that need improvement allows you to use recent examples and shortens the learning curve.
- Formal annual feedback cycles are a good opportunity to reflect back on the year, map out a career path, and set goals. Remember that the formal annual review session should be a summary of just-in-time feedback conversations throughout the year – not the first time the new hire finds out how he or she is doing.
Step 6. Offer a clear path for growth
Your team members should never wonder what their path for professional growth, promotions, and salary raises looks like. Make sure that every single professional you hire understands his or her options for progressing within the firm. Growing accounting firms tend to have an easier time attracting and retaining top talent – primarily because a growing practice allows every qualified professional to move up.
In closing, consider your firm’s overall benefits package and assess its alignment with what’s most important to your staff. There are multiple salary surveys available online, some with regional and firm-size-level detail. Take the market averages into account and chose a compensation package that’s a great fit for your team. Consider non-monetary perks, such as offering every staff member a full weekend off during the busy season on a pre-determined schedule, a visit to a sporting event, or tickets to performances as just-in-time morale-boosters.