Staffing up for Growth
In a recent American Institute of CPAs Private Companies Practice Session CPA Firm Top Issues Survey highlighted that finding and retaining qualified staff are top concerns for firms of two or more professionals.
Accounting firms are subject to extreme seasonality and workload compression during the busy season. Combine that with the specific technical skill-set required for success, and the need for a cultural match between the new hire and the firm, and it is no wonder that staffing is a high priority issue.
Here is a guide for setting your firm apart and getting better hiring and retention results.
Step 1. Assess your firm needs
Many firms make the mistake of approaching staffing from a “who can we get?” perspective. 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, listing 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 extremely 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 interview models
No interviewing technique is 100% effective at guaranteeing long-term employment success. However, if you are not using it already, consider conducting behavioral interviews to gain insight into the candidates’ thinking patterns, habits, and values.
Behavioral interviews utilize open-ended questions about situational behavior. Tailor 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 ability to deal with pressure, as well as his grit and thinking style.
Step 4. Re-think your onboarding process
Once you have selected a superstar candidate, set them up for success. Your goal is to give the new hire all the tools and support they will need to thrive and grow. Choose a strategy that is the best fit for your firm’s size and the timing of the hiring decision.
- Orientation should include administrative details (badge, keys, systems access, supplies), and technical training (as necessary). If cramming all the revenant details into one day seems overwhelming (or has not been effective in the past), consider spreading it out over a week or longer. Include technical sessions, lunches with colleagues, and shadowing.
- 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 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 is a good opportunity to summarize the year, map out a career path, and set goals. As a rule of thumb, nothing that the reviewer says in the formal annual review session should come as a surprise to the reviewee.
In closing, consider your firm’s overall benefits package and assess its alignment with what is most important to your staff. Many industry studies are available on best practices and salary levels, but the most important factor is that you chose a compensation package that is 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.