Tax & Accounting Blog

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Accounting Firms, Business Practices, Professional Development June 16, 2014

If you want to attract and retain the very best staff, your firm needs to be recruiting every single day.

That’s the top-line advice from Sandra Wiley, chief operating officer and shareholder at Boomer Consulting in Manhattan, Kan., a widely respected expert in hiring and training for CPA firms.

“It’s no longer enough to recruit during part of the year,” she explains. “You have to be recruiting all the time – both outside your firm and within. And you can’t wait until you hit a pain point and need to find people. Then it’s too late.”

Pain points are the place to start when looking at your hiring and retention goals. What are your concerns? What kinds of talent do you need to recruit? Know the answer to that before you do anything.

Focus on the Middle Ground

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but Wiley says most people she talks with are struggling to find mid-level, experienced staff.

“Maybe there aren’t as many of those people as we would like and they’re not moving as fast as we’d like,” she explains, “but they are out there, no question.”

You’ll find good mid-level talent outside your firm but, equally important, many of those people are at your firm already, just waiting for an opportunity.

Nailing the Interview

When you’re meeting with prospective employees, you’re listening carefully to their answers. But are you asking the right questions?

There’s one key thing missing from most interviews, says Sandra Wiley, COO and shareholder at Boomer Consulting, which serves high-performing CPA firms.

“We have to quit asking the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions,” she explains. “We’ve got to get prospective hires to tell us their story.”

Instead of asking how they liked their accounting classes in school, ask questions that will prompt a more detailed response. Try “What was the accounting class that really got you excited – and why?” or “What was the one class in college that you would go back and take again because you loved it so much?”

“Get them to tell you the stories behind the answers,” Wiley says. “That will tell you a ton about a person, especially if they’re leaving another job to come work for you.”

It’s essential to create a firm environment where up-and-comers know that you’re interested in their future. Communication is key: Make sure your staff knows you’re listening and responding to their interest in growing with the firm and staying there. Foster a culture of continuous training and development.

“If you’re in an environment where people are talking with you about your career and telling you how important you are to the firm, you’re less likely to leave,” Wiley says.

Sell Yourself

You have to attract employees before you can retain them. That means putting your best foot forward. It’s about marketing, Wiley says. You’re selling your firm to prospective employees. Make it look like a place where good people want to work, no matter where they are in their careers.

“Have a great website where you show off who you are – and let people submit resumes,” Wiley suggests. “Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers go to social media before they go anywhere else, so they’re going to search your website to see if it’s a firm where they want to work. Make sure your recruiting efforts there are stellar.”

Don’t overlook other social media resources such as LinkedIn,, and even Craigslist, and keep your branding consistent across all channels. “You need to be where job-seekers are going to be at the time they’re going to be there – that’s why it’s so important to be recruiting every single day,” Wiley says.

Do Your Own Thing

Not every firm has the same objectives. It’s essential to know your firm’s core values and communicate them clearly to potential employees.

For example, Wiley worked with one firm that isn’t focused on career growth opportunities. But they do offer very high salaries, and the chance to work directly with partners and clients very quickly.

“It’s not for everyone, but the emerging talents I talked to there said they weren’t interested in partnership – they wanted a lot of cash and they were getting it,” she says. “It was working for the firm and their staff, because the core values were clearly defined.”

So whatever your firm’s objectives may be, identify your core values, communicate them clearly before and after hiring, and deliver what you promise. It’s a sure-fire strategy for finding and retaining people who are a perfect fit.