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Thinking differently to build the best accounting team

Thinking differently to build the best accounting team

With accounting practices shifting further into advisory work and providing higher-value services to clients, all accountants are being required to step up and provide a better service to clients. Kim Middlemis from Adrians Chartered Accountants shares how this has changed their recruiting process.

Accounting is no longer just about pumping out tax returns, which means the way accountants are recruited and trained needs a rethink. This is something we have given a lot of consideration to. We now have a process that is working fantastically well, and giving us great results.

Every 12-18 months we undergo a recruiting process for cadets or graduates. To begin, we ask for applications via video, which we introduced to save us time sorting through 300, mostly ordinary applications. 

A video makes the application a bit harder—something more than a simple flick of a CV. It requires applicants to prove that they really want the position, show that they are willing to research our business, and demonstrate what they can bring. Now it’s only go-getters who apply, who want the job badly. We’ve gone from getting 300-odd applications, to less than 10 high-quality candidates.

From these video applicants, we shortlist about six for a two-week intensive program. We train them solidly in a range of areas and require them to pick up what they’re taught and apply it. They need to know how we use our software, how we work with clients, and some more value-added pieces like business structuring conversations.

Graduates come out of university not knowing about the main accounting apps that are being used, few have any work experience, and they have no idea what they’ll actually be doing as an accountant. This program serves to rectify this.

The more traditional approach is to recruit young accountants and train them slowly. This lets a candidate pick things up to run with at their own pace. But this doesn’t tell you just how good they are. They could reach the end of their probation and you could still be unsure whether they are a good fit for your firm in the long run. 

At the end of our two weeks, we know exactly how good our candidates are. It is based on the philosophy that if you don’t prove your worth quickly, then you don’t deserve to be here. Sink or swim.

A final consideration we’re giving more and more attention to is carefully assessing whether candidates fit into our own vision. We’ve been around 70 years this year and have a very strong culture and values. Whoever comes on board must really believe what we believe. One person thrown into the mix who isn’t a great fit could bring the whole team down, while on the other hand, bringing the right person in will lift us all.

We find out if they have the empathy to be able to understand what it’s like walk a day in a client’s shoes, and to be able to say, “yes, I can make your business better, yes I can make sure your compliances are under control, and yes we’re going to grow together”. It’s hard to find this out in an interview, but we try to ask the right questions and know the answers we’re looking for.

At the end of the two-week program we assess them, and if they don’t get the results we expect—and admittedly we set the bar high—they don’t get offered a position. It’s as simple as that. 

Generally, we have one or two successes, but we see this as a shortcut to making sure we’re not wasting our time on somebody who won’t be passionate about accounting and be the right fit for our team. Those one or two successes who make it through this whole process, who we then employ, are off-the-charts fabulous. They’re completely right for our business—go-getters who soak up new knowledge and are genuinely excited to be here. 

The more we look at what defines our business and where we are going, the better we can refine the kind of people that we want to have on board to make our team great—accountants who ooze those same things that are a part of who we are at Adrians.

This article was written by Kimberley Middlemis, Partner of Adrians Chartered Accountants

Kimberley has been working in public practice for more than 20 years and a business partner at Adrians Chartered Accounting since 2004. Her focus is on helping clients to find more efficient ways of doing business, and she works with a diverse range of industries including professional services, manufacturing, retail, property and start-ups.

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To compare the challenges your firm is facing acquiring, training and retaining staff with accounting practices from around the world, download The talent challenge: insights from Karbon’s 2017 talent survey.

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