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Talent & Culture

How to use ‘purpose’ to gain an edge in attracting accounting talent

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & advisory services / Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & advisory services / Thomson Reuters Institute

Tax & accounting firms that highlight their purpose and values while focusing on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) areas may gain an edge in recruiting top talent

A vast majority of people — 70% — say they define their purpose through their work, according to McKinsey & Co. At the same time, Millennial workers will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, and they have indicated that they want to work for socially responsible employers.

The combination of these facts is driving the majority of employers to identify and communicate its purpose and values and also focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) areas in addition to generating revenue through their operations.

Adding in the fact that demand for entry level talent within the tax & accounting profession will not meet demand over the next few years intensifies the need for accounting employers to differentiate themselves in order to attract the best talent. For example, accounting and business advisory firm Sensiba San Filippo (SSF) and global consulting firm Kearney & Co., have both taken purpose-driven approaches to recruiting and retention, albeit in very different ways. Yet both are examples of firms that are leading with purpose to attract and retain people to propel their firms forward.

Going the B-certification route

SSF took a different approach more than four years ago by getting B-certified, which is a rigorous, third-party certification process that ensures employers demonstrate their commitment to the “global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.”

When the firm started to explore it, John Sensiba, the firm’s managing partner, was attracted to the idea of being a socially responsible firm. “We figured it would be a great testament to the good work we were already doing,” Sensiba explains. “And the rigor in their certification process would help us establish some stretch goals ultimately to make us and our communities better.”

The firm increasingly has seen the benefits of the B-certification on its talent processes and culture. Notably, Sensiba attributes the firm’s low turnover, which is less than half of the industry average, to the firm’s B-certification.

Sholly Nicholson, director of Human Resources at SSF, outlines the full scope of the B-certifications benefits on recruiting, which include:

      • Attracting like-mind candidates around common values before formal recruiting begins — The B-certification differentiates the firm from its competitors. “Being a B-Corp helps us attract like-minded individuals who believe in using business as a force for good,” Nicholson says, adding that most people like the idea of building better businesses while helping people and the environment, and when they see and feel that SSF is aligned with their own values, they want to join us.
      • Expanding the diversity of prospective employees — The B-certification expands the firm’s outreach to women, minorities, and veterans and helps SSF ensure it is hiring a diverse workforce that feels welcoming, Nicholson notes. “People crave purpose and belonging, and they find it at SSF.”
      • Driving efficiency in candidate evaluation of skills — The firm embeds its social conscious banner into skills assessment during the interview process. “We don’t just ask about technical skills and education,” Nicholson explains. “We want to know about community involvement, if they have a passion for doing good in the world, and if they treat people the way they want to be treated.” To work at SSF, you really need to be technically competent as well as have a passion for contributing to a better business and a better planet, she adds.

No matter what the tactics are, the need to ensure that accounting and consulting firms are bringing in like-minded, value-aligned candidates is a necessity, especially amid the current labor shortage.

Using purpose to seek information about what candidates want

Kearney & Co. sought to lead with purpose at the first stage of its recruitment process while experimenting with hosting virtual sessions to widen its candidate pool even before the pandemic.

To create an emotional connection with the prospective candidate, the firm began asking questions of each prospective candidate about what they wanted out of an employer. Stephen Parker, the firm’s chief Human Resources officer, explains that asking such questions as “What else matters to you?” resonated well.

Kearney continues to prioritize purpose and meaning to engage candidates through the recruitment process because the firm has seen consistent success when hiring existing employees. The firm desired to meet team members where they were based on their life stage with the understanding that what a team member wants out of their job evolves over time. The open dialogue allowed for more transparent conversations about career growth, opportunities, and career development. The firm also benefitted from increased retention.

As the firm leaned into the people’s need to connect, it deepened the emotional connection with prospective hires. During the pandemic, “we were able to double-down on virtual, and we found that focusing on purpose was a good companion,” Parker states.

This new approach was both efficient and effective, and the firm soon found that the virtual-plus-meaning approach allowed it to be more efficient with recruiting resources. Indeed, the firm soon discovered that it could hold more events at an increased number of schools.

This process also allowed the firm to innovate its outreach by targeting expert groups and societies at more schools. The firm also embedded this approach in its social marketing engagement with students at schools that the firm had not prioritized with the on-campus experience before the pandemic.

The result had a positive impact on the diversity of its pool of candidates while building a stronger connection earlier in the relationship-building process with prospective lawyers.

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