Recruiting top performers: How to win the war for experienced accounting talent

Interviewed by Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Just as CEOs are struggling to cope with the need for increased corporate accounting compliance resulting from a deluge of complex regulations, the task has been made even more difficult by a shortage of experienced accounting professionals. While businesses and accounting firms scramble to fill many newly created jobs, baby boomers are starting to exit the workplace, creating an increasing gap between supply and demand for seasoned accounting practitioners.

“CEOs need to know that they aren’t just competing with other companies for the necessary talent — they are competing with CPA firms,” says Joyce Salter, a senior manager in the Audit and Business Advisory Services Group at Haskell & White LLP.

As evidence of the problem’s severity, a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants revealed that “finding and retaining qualified staff” was the top issue among 35,000 participating CPA firms. Companies in a wide range of industries certainly will have experienced this shortage as well.

Smart Business spoke with Salter about how CEOs can compete for talent when experienced accounting professionals are receiving multiple offers as they seek new opportunities.

Why is there such a demand for experienced accounting professionals?

The biggest contributing factor is the governmental regulatory requirements imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). In particular, Section 404 of SOX imposes a significant increase in the internal and external financial reporting requirements by public companies.

Most public companies, especially the smaller ones, don’t possess the internal resources to handle compliance with Section 404. Therefore, businesses must hire new staff or retain outside consultants. In either case, these professionals are the same people that public accounting firms are attempting to recruit to handle the added external audit requirements, as well as the waterfall effect of new rules spilling over to private companies and not-for-profits.

What are the best sources for candidates?

Executives can turn to familiar sources for candidates, such as executive search firms. However, those recruiting services can come at a fairly hefty price. Being a CPA, I always suggest that CEOs look at the cost-benefit of using search firms.

A more cost-effective solution is to build a pipeline of candidate referral sources from among former employees, current colleagues and friends. Who better to provide a referral than someone you already know?

With all of the competition in today’s marketplace, it is critical to develop creative, alternative sources for recruitment. Accounting industry professional associations provide fertile ground for new talent.

Also, don’t overlook college students — they are tomorrow’s business leaders. Start planting seeds now to build your company’s reputation as a premier employer by maintaining an active presence on college campuses.

What are the top reasons that candidates might decline an offer?

First, they might decline if your offer is not competitive with the marketplace. Do your homework and know what the competition is offering before you draft and extend your offer.

Second, a candidate might decline if he or she is unfamiliar with your company or its brand. In addition to ongoing marketing activities, be sure to communicate the advantages of your company throughout the courting and interviewing process. Companies that are effective at recruiting have finely crafted value propositions and well-honed branding.

Finally, your offer may be declined if the candidate doesn’t feel that his or her needs are being met. Recruiting is a highly personal business. Find out what is driving the candidate from his or her current position.

What can I do to make certain that my company is viewed as an employer of choice?

The individuals you are recruiting likely have worked in the accounting profession for up to 10 years and have a pretty good idea of what they want in an employer. Achieving better work-life balance often tops the list of desired attributes, so integrate this concept into your operating philosophy as much as possible.

Another major consideration for experienced candidates is career progression. I can’t overemphasize the value of having a formal career-planning process in place and introducing candidates to prospective co-workers who have ascended in the organization.

Have serious candidates meet with several employees at various levels in the company. This benefits both the candidate and the company, as it allows both sides to evaluate the interpersonal chemistry and the ‘fit.’

Lastly, actively demonstrate that you care about the candidate’s decision. Little things do count, so don’t be afraid to send that basket of flowers.

JOYCE SALTER, CPA, is a senior manager in the Audit and Business Advisory Services Group at Haskell & White LLP in Irvine. One of the largest independently owned accounting and business advisory firms in Orange County, Haskell & White provides a full complement of tax, accounting and auditing services to public and private middle-market companies. Reach Salter at or (949) 450-6200.