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The challenges and opportunities for recruiting and retaining accounting staff

As with many professions, hiring challenges have gone beyond supply and demand. Financial incentives have become more competitive, expectations about the work environments have changed, the tools and technology have changed, and clients are asking for more from their accounting firms. Compound that with a shrinking pool of qualified workers and the high costs of losing seasoned employees, and firms are struggling to find a new path forward.

Fortunately, there are opportunities with new tools and technology that have been able to help industries revolutionize their workflow processes and offer more efficient and effective ways of doing things to help offset HR challenges while improving client services.

A challenging landscape

The public accounting profession is constantly changing and the need for experienced, highly technical staff is more critical than ever. Before the pandemic, the shortage of accounting professionals was an increasingly pressing issue for many firms. The shortage is attributable to several factors, including:

  • Concurrently fewer graduates and more retirees
  • A higher rate of junior and senior accountants opting for industry positions
  • Graduates forgoing public accounting practice experience and moving directly into industry roles
  • The pursuit of entrepreneurship

Accountants don’t perceive the profession as having a good work-life balance due to long hours, monotonous work, and limited flexibility. Yet demand remains high. According to the “2023 state of the tax professionals report” from Thomson Reuters Institute, 90% of large firms surveyed say they want to hire in 2023. The U.S. Labor Board expects that trend to continue with a projected growth of 6% between 2021 and 2031 in employment openings for accountants and auditors.

Adapting your recruitment and retainment practices

While many firms consider recruiting as interviewing and making offers, today’s recruiting encompasses much more. Accounting firms should approach recruiting with a more holistic approach. Some initial steps — like posting positions and collecting applications — should be part of an ongoing program that nurtures an interest in the firm.

Many firms now have formal, ongoing recruiting programs for both new graduates and experienced professionals at all levels. By collecting resumes continuously and conducting interviews all year, regardless of whether a position is available, firms can snap up new talent when the right hire comes along. If a candidate is a good fit, the firm will work to retain that individual even before a position is open.

To recruit and retain successfully in the face of such a complex staffing landscape, consider incorporating the following three steps into your outreach practices.

1. Broaden your pool of candidates

To succeed, accounting firms must understand that a fundamental paradigm shift has occurred. There are no longer strict rules that define who a public accounting professional is or should be. The post-pandemic, post-capitalist economy requires firms to think beyond accounting basics.

The types of possible job candidates a firm might target include not only recent accounting graduates or experienced accounting professionals but also people with other educational backgrounds and professional experience, retired professionals, underrepresented groups, paraprofessionals, flex-time professionals, and interns.

Firms offering accounting support with big data; environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors; and building compliance frameworks are increasingly in demand by clients. Ninety-three percent of firms surveyed in the “2023 state of the tax professionals report” reported their clients are looking for more advisory services — an area firms can tap into while expanding their recruiting criteria.

Incorporating diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) programs into the recruiting and retention processes is another way to bolster the pool of candidates traditionally considered for the firm.

Consider partnering with local chapters of national affinity groups dedicated to increasing the number and visibility of accountants and finance professionals from all ethnicities. Examples include the National Association of Black Accountants Inc., the Association of Latino Professionals for America, and Ascend.

Targeting people interested in accounting earlier in their academic careers is becoming more common. Establishing and promoting scholarships builds trust in communities and raises the firm’s visibility as a desirable workplace. Hosting recruiting events at colleges and offering high school internships or co-op placements helps develop a stream of interested candidates.

2. Make your firm more attractive

Flexible working arrangements, lifestyle, and job satisfaction are key factors that employees consider when deciding whether to join — or stay — with a firm. While adequate compensation and benefits are necessary, your firm’s culture is also highly regarded. Culture significantly impacts an employee’s overall perception of the firm and can often be why an employee chooses to stay or pursue other options.

Firms interested in retaining high-quality staff should objectively try to answer the question, “What does our firm’s culture say to employees?” Proactive firms take the time to critically evaluate and improve the culture that surrounds their employees on a day-to-day basis.

The pandemic catalyzed companies globally to enable remote work and invest in solutions to make this possible. While some people may prefer having an office to go to, remote work arrangements allow firms to tap into talent that is not geographically close and offer all staff more flexibility over where and how they work.

A high-level look at other ways you can make your firm more attractive to potential candidates

Benefits and incentive rewards

Besides salary, benefits and incentive rewards are typically the top two factors influencing candidates to select one employer over another. It is essential to be as competitive as possible in those areas. Remote work, flex time, casual dress, and hiring bonuses are a few of the more popular benefits that CPA firms have added to attract candidates.

Flexible work environments

Many job seekers today — particularly younger generations — prioritize work-life balance. The accounting industry has an image problem of long hours and monotonous work. Even more senior staff are opting to move to industries in search of improved work-life balance. Developing a culture that promotes and encourages a healthy life balance will help firms stand out among candidates.

Personal development

One of the primary reasons that employees change jobs is because they don’t believe they’re receiving enough growth opportunities. According to a recent survey by McKinsey, 40% of employees cited a lack of career development and advancement as the top reason for quitting.

By investing in upskilling and career advancement, accounting firms can show a commitment and offer additional value beyond salaries and benefits.

3. Transitioning to tools and technology

Coinciding with interest in better work-life balance is the introduction of a wide variety of tools and technology designed to make tasks easier or automated completely. The U.S. and Canada are decidedly behind the times here, with the UK and Latin America reporting that between 50% to 100% of their workflow processes are automated, according to the previously mentioned tax professionals report.

By equipping your teams with tools such as ONESOURCE and the technology they need to get their jobs done effectively and efficiently, employees have more control over how they spend their time and more time to invest in other projects or work. That could be researching new tax changes or compliance standards, engaging with the client, performing other manual tasks, or upskilling.

According to Allan Koltin of Koltin Consulting, “Even with revenue and profits up, as the [Rosenberg Survey] report showed, if a firm is not investing deeply in talent and technology in order to transform the business over the next couple of years, it is going to have a big problem.”


Accounting firms looking to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of talent in 2023 and the foreseeable future must navigate many challenges. Processes, tools, and technology will ultimately help firms improve their favorability among job seekers and help retain quality team members by offering flexible work terms and opportunities for upskilling and career advancement. Having the right tax technology solution to perform much of the heavy lifting in automated processes and detailed research and analysis will not be a “nice to have” but a “must have.”

Are you ready to tackle staffing challenges head-on?

Gain a competitive edge by diving into our special report, “2023 state of the tax professionals: Talent,” and unlock invaluable insights and strategies to attract and retain top talent. Take the first step towards success by accessing the report today.

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