Can top tax & accounting firms beat the odds and recruit quality entry-level professionals during this tight labor market? Some talent leaders think so.
The accounting profession was ranked 75th among the Top 100 best jobs in a recent poll, which was not likely to be seen as good news by tax & accounting firms looking for new talent.
And while the industry currently boasts an unemployment rate of under 2%, many accounting students paused their studies during the pandemic, resulting in a delay in entering the profession by a year. On top of this, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy reported an 18% decrease in the number of CPA sections that were processed in the 2020 fiscal year, indicating a delay in accounting students sitting for the exam.
In the short term, competition for entry-level accounting talent likely will increase, and this is on top of an already tight labor market. The American Institute of CPAs, which represents two-thirds of individual CPAs in the US, estimated that 75% of its some 450,000 members became eligible to retire in 2020.
All of this means that accounting employers will need to get creative in how they are attracting entry-level talent, especially those individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. Indeed, this has become more important as clients’ priorities intensify around having diverse talent work on their engagements and more broadly on environmental, social, and corporate governance issues.
Recruiting entry-level professionals
We sat down with some of the most creative leaders from among the Top 100 accounting and professional service firms to discuss how they are wooing entry-level professionals, especially as the world of hybrid and virtual work expands. Their innovative tactics include:
Lead with purpose-driven recruiting — Global consulting firm Kearney approaches its conversations with entry-level candidates with an eye on purpose and making a visceral connection with candidates from the beginning of the recruitment process. Stephen Parker, Kearney’s chief HR officer, began using this strategy before the pandemic and has doubled-down in 2020 when virtual recruiting became the only option.
Parker describes how the firm help candidates think through for themselves what it is about the work they do that matters both professionally and personally to them. This practice assists candidates to finding meaning in their work, Parker says, adding that it also allows the firm to see how it aligns it can offer and what it wants in candidates.
This innovation has proven successful in the firm’s efforts to recruit diverse candidates, especially when it is combined with the firm’s investment in long-term relationships with on-campus expert groups, societies, and forums in which prospective graduates from underrepresented backgrounds gather.
Leverage technology to expand reach to graduates — Tax advisory firm CohnReznick used the pandemic-driven, recruit-from-anywhere opportunity leverage its technology in order to expand how it identifies candidates. Imad Khoury, the National Director of Talent Acquisition at the firm, began using the technology platform Handshake — which he describes as “a LinkedIn for college students” — to expand the firm’s reach from 100 schools pre-pandemic to 2,700 in the last two years.
Because the geographic barriers no longer exist, “we understand the values of looking at talent from a skills, expertise, and background perspective, no matter where they are based, to come and join our family,” Khoury says.
The results have been amazing from a diversity lens both from a geographic and demographic perspective, he says. By using technology, Khoury’s talent acquisition team was able to reflect candidate diversity in all the ways the firm desires, allowing CohnReznick to identify early career talent more intentionally, especially at historically Hispanic and Black institutions. As a result, the firm hired nearly 100 more graduates than it did the previous year and increased the diversity of its final 2021 candidate class by more than 10%.
Utilize a multi-lateral retention strategy on Day 1 — Aronson LLC, wishing to deepen the authentic connection with its new hires on Day 1, prioritized a multi-pronged relationship-building approach to integrating its new employees. Dawn Bailey, Director of People Operations and Engagement at the firm, explains how Aronson ensures that every employee feels a warm welcome and continued sense of belonging from the very beginning of their tenure at the firm. This is achieved through a rigorous check-in strategy of one-on-one meetings with leadership, a new-hire mentor, an HR representative, and an individual career advisor.
“Re-recruit” existing employees continuously — CohnReznick also takes steps to ensure their employees feel connected to multiple communities simultaneously at the firm through community-building activities with their immediate peers and managers, industry practice groups, the lines of business, employee resource groups, among others.
Clearly, the way tax & accounting firms are recruiting entry-level talent today has changed dramatically from just years before, due to the pandemic, new technology, and the squeeze brought on by the current labor shortage.
Jonathan Kearney, Senior Audit Manager at CohnReznick, perhaps best described what accounting employers are trying to achieve with all of their current efforts to recruit and retain accounting talent, saying about his own firm that he has “never worked at an organization that is so passionate about making sure that my entire authentic self can show up to be successful and be recognized, and what that does for me as a manager is that it drives me to be more passionate about passing that on to individuals that I work with, that I support and develop.”