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Today’s Talent Decisions Affect Tomorrow’s Success

Understand the timing of hiring, the changing recruiting landscape and the importance of building effective accounting teams.
May 20, 2020

This article appears in the May/June issue of Disclosures magazine. Find more issues of Disclosures here.

By Brandon Pope, CPA

What keeps you up at night? Are you a manager who is trying to balance a shorthanded team’s needs while still maintaining your own priorities? Are you a controller who has deadline after deadline coming up with limited resources? Are you a CFO who understands the power of big data, but maybe you are less up-to-date on employee data? Regardless, you likely share a common issue surrounding one topic: talent.

Talent-related decisions are critical to ensuring an organization’s success, so it is important to invest the time in understanding when to hire, how the talent landscape continues to change and what best practices to utilize in your organization. The fact may be that you are a CPA, not a hiring expert, but it is important, now more than ever, to understand how the decisions you make today affect the success you will experience tomorrow and further into the future. 

The Recruiting Landscape

If you’ve tried to hire an accounting or finance professional recently, chances are it may have been more difficult than you thought it was going to be. It may have been dramatically harder than you originally thought, in fact. This is, in part, due to the sheer shortage of top-caliber, qualified talent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a recent report that noted “the unemployment rate for workers in management, business, and financial operations occupations was just 1.6 percent.” Compare that to the national unemployment rate of 3.5 percent pre-COVID-19 (more on that later). Considering this statistic, it should come as no surprise that some organizations take weeks, if not months, to identify the right talent solution for their team. 

CPA firms are all too familiar with the challenge of getting timing of hiring right. For entry-level positions, it’s no longer as simple as posting a need online and waiting for the top students to self-identify themselves. Significant resources are being spent on college campuses every semester to ensure firms can secure the top talent they require for their teams. In some cases, firms are having to take extreme timing measures of investing recruitment efforts in local high schools, not only for their firm’s interests, but for the overall accounting industry in general. 

The future is far from certain, but one thing that differs dramatically from that of times past is the overall hiring landscape. A changing hiring landscape, in part, involves many hiring managers facing difficult projects and tasks on top of their already hectic workloads. 

Consultants Can Be a Solution

Some CPAs do not realize there is an alternative to a traditional direct-hire employee: project and contract consultants. Project and contract work provide consultants high work-life balance on engagements that are meaningful for organizations. Sometimes that leads to direct-hire positions with the organizations they serve, if they decide that is best for their career. Often, the compensation, flexibility and variety of experiences that project and contract work provides is attractive to consultants and it fits meaningful portions of their professional experience. This employment umbrella also allows project consultants to organically avoid office politics that may be present in some organizations. Organizations engage consultants on projects in seasons of excessive demand and when they need specific expertise. It is a tremendous value because it doesn’t overburden and burn out employees during peak times, allows organizations to access specialty skills to support the overall growth and gives countless accounting and finance professionals an opportunity to contribute in a way that fits their lifestyle.

Finding the Right Fit

Effective accounting teams are not always easy to come by — many CPAs quickly realize this. Decidedly, professionals who possess the technical qualifications, but lack an organizational cultural fit, likely fail to be a long-term talent solution. In fact, the International Workplace Group released a recent study that showed “80 percent of respondents said that when faced with two similar employment offers, they would turn down the one that didn’t offer flexible work arrangements.”

It’s 2020 and culture is king. One best practice for organizations that struggle with the hiring process is to utilize an expertise-based approach to their talent needs. A few questions to help focus on cultural fit are: 

  1. From what you’ve seen, how would you describe the organizational culture here? 
  2. Describe a big decision you made recently. What was your thought process in making the decision?
  3. How do you adapt your communication style to your audience? 

Not only will this strategy allow hiring managers additional flexibility, but it will expand the talent pool of qualified professionals. Focusing on finding the right fit can help attribute to teams being happier, more effective, productive and efficient.  

The Post-Pandemic Landscape

Lastly, by now, you’ve probably been affected in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic — whether it inconvenienced you to temporarily work remotely, you lost clients or other sources of business, or worse, you lost a loved one. There is no dancing around the fact this was one of the hardest set of circumstances any of us will have to face in the foreseeable future. However, hard times have come, and hard times have passed; COVID-19 is no different. Business operations will likely soon mirror what they did back in January and February, and the common issue facing many organizations, talent, will be just as important now as it was then — if not more. With that in mind, keep three things in clear sight: 

  1. Go ahead now and invest the time it takes to understand your organization’s strategic goals and how the timing of hiring affects them.  
  2. Don’t be naïve to the changing talent landscape. Understand it may end up being more difficult than you initially imagined and stay open minded to new and unique hiring methods. 
  3. Identify the best practices for your organization on how to build effective accounting teams —  the difference will undoubtedly affect tomorrow’s success. 

Brandon Pope, CPA, is associate director for accounting and finance and Vaco Richmond  a staffing and recruiting firm. Email him or find him on LinkedIn.