Designing the ultimate recruiting strategy

Finding the right talent is one of the biggest challenges faced by accounting firms all over the world. In our 2017 survey, we found that 91% of accountants expect their firm’s staff numbers to increase in the short term. Yet very few feel confident in their current recruitment process.

And this is something that can be very costly to get wrong—a bad hiring decision can cost your firm more than 30% of that individual’s first year salary.

So before your next hire, take the time to rethink your firm's needs, who you are looking for, and how you can best identify the perfect candidate.

Defining the job role

A successful recruiting process begins with a spot-on job description.

The best way to define a role and the type of person that should fill it, is to break down the MOC: The mission, outcomes and competencies required for the position.

  • Mission

    What is the purpose of the role, why does it exist, and what will this person be required to do? (keep this straightforward and limit to 2-3 sentences)

  • Outcomes

    What specific results will the new hire be required to achieve within their first 12-18 months? (3-5 measurable outcomes)

  • Competencies

    What specific skills, behaviors and experiences will this new hire require? What are essential and what will be nice to have? (these should flow from the mission and outcomes)

You will find it useful to break down each of your chosen competencies and define some individual attributes that align with each one. This will be useful to measure against when you get to the interview and testing stage of your recruitment process.

With your MOC identified, you will have a much clearer idea of who you are looking for. When combined with the other specifics of the role (remuneration, direct manager, location etc.), you should be able to document the job description and write the ad.

The perfect job ad and application process

Any job ad will get resumes, but a great job ad will attract quality applications from worthy candidates, cutting down on the time it takes to sort through candidates and ultimately, putting you one step closer to finding your firm’s next member of staff.

With your perfect person in mind, write your job ad specifically for them. Don’t just list the required competencies (in fact, these should be secondary), work to catch their attention, emphasize the benefits and your EVP, and make the reader excited about the prospect of working at your practice.

You should also inject the personality of your firm into your job ad. If you are a laidback workplace, make sure this comes across in the tone and language you use so that you appeal to those who will be a good culture fit.

Our business has a strong brand and culture and it is super-important for us to make sure we find the right people to take us onwards and upwards. Our job ads give us fewer applicants (as people who do not fit are scared off), but those who do apply are generally great quality. No point in creating unrealistic expectations before they even start the job!
Andrew Van De Beek, Illumin8

For most accounting firms, attracting applications is not a challenge—attracting quality applications from candidates they want is the hard part. You will increase your chances of success if you aim for quality over quantity. Consider the ideal person you want, and design your process to help you identify them. 

If you are searching for a detail-oriented person, ask them to identify an obscure, purposely-placed typo in your job ad. Or set an activity as part of the application process, such as asking for 200 words outlining how a tricky scenario with a client will be handled. If you need someone who will be comfortable communicating with clients, or simply want to make the application process more involved so that only those who really want the job apply, ask for a 5-minute video message with each application.

These steps can help you to identify the good from the bad (allowing you to instantly disregard any who do not meet your requirements), and will also reduce your number of ordinary candidates.

We ask for applications via video. Now it’s only go-getters who apply, who want the job badly. We’ve gone from getting 300, mostly ordinary applications, to less than 10 high-quality candidates.
Kimberley Middlemis, Adrians CA

Running an interview

The interview is your chance to learn more about your top candidates’ skills and experience and to find out whether they have the right personality and attitude that will make them a good fit for the role. 

The role you are interviewing for requires unique, carefully chosen questions to assess the competencies and attributes that are specifically needed for that role. You must also include questions that will assess cultural fit.

Here are 30 questions you can ask in an interview to help you identify your firm’s best candidate.

Throughout the interview, allow your candidate to open up. If you do not get the detail you need in a particular response, ask follow-up questions and push for specifics. Pay attention to their body language and communication style, and constantly assess whether they have done their research, whether they really want to work with you, and if they have the necessary skills and attitude. Get them to prove that they can do what they said they could do in their initial application.

Making your decision with confidence

A second interview is recommended for those high-value candidates. If a candidate makes it through to this stage, it is likely they have the skills, knowledge, and experience required for the role, so this interview should be used primarily to assess whether they are a good cultural fit for your team. It is a good idea to include other members of your team who will be working directly with the new hire, to gauge their opinion.

We are more like a family than an actual team, so that means everyone needs to ensure a new addition will fit in. We find that having a relaxed and informal chat with everyone gives us a much better understanding of the person we are potentially hiring.
Steph Hinds, Growthwise

You must also take the time to do thorough reference checks. You should use this time to validate your interview findings and fill in any gaps. Dig deeper and ask questions that will tell you whether the candidate is being honest, can do exactly what they say they can do, and have the personality and attitude to be a good addition to your practice. Where possible, utilize your own contacts and attempt to find your own references for a candidate. Finally, further testing can be another way to really assess the skills and technical know-how of a candidate. Many progressive firms develop their own tests to assess a candidate's skill-set before they make their final decision.

We've learned there's no substitute for testing people using objective trial work days. We have developed a two-day course that every potential new hire goes through which tests professional judgment, technical skills, communication style and culture fit. Working together gives us both an opportunity to feel stronger about the upcoming hiring decision.
Chad Davis, LiveCA

Throughout this process—from initial application to your final activities before a decision is made—look for, and assess, the same competencies, attributes and cultural fit. Score the candidate, rating how these outlined areas are met, and tally these to give an overall score for each candidate.

This article is an excerpt from The Talent Playbook. You can download the complete playbook for free here, which includes worksheets and activities to help you recruit, train & retain a world-class team in your accounting firm.

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Jess Marcello
Managing Editor, Karbon Magazine

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