While the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the work environment of most practices, accounting firms must still keep an eye on recruiting, whether it’s to fill open positions or simply to grow the firm itself.
If you’re hoping to recruit young accounting graduates to join your firm, you need to understand how the learning landscape has changed and how this could potentially impact their effectiveness on the job, as well as how to attract the best of the best from this talent pool.
How the Undergraduate Experience Has Changed
Accounting graduates in the class of 2020 gained most of their education via more traditional classroom learning, and only spent about half a semester engaged in “distance learning.” Accounting graduates in the class of 2021, however, will have spent at least the last year – and possibly even two and a half semesters – taking classes online. This comes with a unique set of challenges, since most accounting students take the most challenging and in-depth courses during the last semester or two of their undergraduate careers.
While studies in the future will examine the effect this may have on the quality of their education, on things is certain: these new graduates will not be accustomed to working in an office for 9-12 hours per day. The flip-side to this is that they will have learned to work with online/remote workflow processes (at least as it relates to their education), which makes them well-suited for telecommuting.
How to Recruit Top Accounting Graduates
Prior to COVID, the market for new accounting graduates was competitive, which boosted starting salaries and benefits. Since the pandemic started, however, the market for general business graduates has become more challenging for many students, since employers as a whole have tightened their hiring practices.
If you’re hoping to hire accounting graduates in the not-so-distant future, here are some strategic ways you can get a proverbial “leg up” on your competition:
1. Attend Virtual Recruiting Events. While COVID-19 has impacted recruiting for accounting graduates much less than other general business management candidates, firms have had to transition from traditional methods of recruitment, like job fairs and campus events, to completely virtual strategies that adhere to proper social distancing guidelines. While social media and online job boards top the list, and all firms seeking new staff for internal positions should include notices on their feeds, a relatively new trend is virtual job fairs. Many graduate placement offices at the colleges you are interested in recruiting from have also developed innovative methods to connect firms with talented accounting graduates.
2. Embrace Video Interviews. Prior to COVID-19, some firms were already holding video interviews as an initial screening step or when considering a geographically-distant candidate, but still generally held off on extending an offer until an in-person interview could be conducted. Now, however, many hiring decisions must be made without physically meeting the candidate.
HIRING TIP: During the interview process, ensure that several current staff members have a chance to interact, even if briefly, with candidates over the course of a series of video interviews.
3. Offer a Competitive Salary and Benefits. While salary guides can provide a good starting point for national and regional averages, firm management should also determine local norms and firm-size comparisons, which can often be obtained from local college recruiting offices, the AICPA, or by anonymously surveying existing firm staff. For most firms, at least until the pandemic is under better control, working from home will be standard, and not just a nice “perk” to the job. But firms should also be able to communicate what they expect post-pandemic work requirements to be. In-office all or most of the time, but with flexibility? Or in-office on certain days? And what about during tax season? For the most competitive markets, additional perks may include more generous PTO and healthcare options, as well as parking, transportation or gym memberships.
4. Create a formal program for new hires. After the firm extends an offer, there should be a consistent process in place that helps the new hire adapt to the firm culture, attain new skills, and progress toward professional goals, such as sitting for their CPA exam. Having milestones at one month, three months and six months can help ensure that new hires are receiving the guidance and support they need to become more effective in the firm workflow and client services. Mid-sized and larger firms should implement a mentor/shadowing program, as well as have more structure regarding CPA Exam preparation and CPE tracking for credentialled staff. In the age of COVID, of course, most of this onboarding and development will need to be virtual.
5. Consider an accounting staffing firm. For firms that may not have the internal resources for extensive HR and skills assessments, professional staffing agencies that specialize in accounting are a great resource, particularly for firms seeking the highest caliber recruits.
While new college graduates rarely come into an accounting firm with day-to-day operational knowledge of how to manage services for multiple clients and the different points of contact at each, they do have a solid foundational understanding of the same basics you likely started with. Give them good structure - even if it is virtual for the time being - and make sure their manager is available for advice, guidance and encouragement. These kids are ready to add energy to your firm and enhance its success.