Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 25 seconds

For Sean Boyd, the best measurement for what goes on during tax season is not the usual. “One of my best marks was how many days I skied,” Boyd said during a session on hiring at the recent Thomson Reuters Synergy conference.

 

What those skis days means he has hired the right people, trained them and given them good incentives to be effective, allowing him to not be in the office during ski season. 

Boyd & Associates is located in Folsom, Sacramento County, Calif Boyd’s attitude was probably not typical of the attendees at the session, “Filling your People Pipeline”, conducted by Heather Sunderlin, a technical consultant at Thomson.

But all face a labor market which is being shaped by the fact the number of CPA candidates is the lowest it has been in 10 years and there has been a 4 percent decline in enrollment in accounting bachelor’s degree programs and a 6-percent drop in master’s degree enrolment since 2016.

So the session was devoted to some very obvious questions—how to find good people and how to keep them.

Boyd, one of the attendees with a plan, says he gives candidates and assignment to find an answer, for example what is the FICA rate for a particularly. The question is “can you give them an assignment and the find the answer themselves.”

Candidates are also given a stress test that asks them to complete four projects in 30 minutes. Those projects cannot all be completed and the person has to pick one.  “Why did they pick that one,” Boyd says. “We are looking for how they think.”

Sunderlin called for firms to create a formal recruiting plan. Knowing a firm’s capacity needs is critical, she says. Sunderlin says she will outline a plan in which “I need six interns; three for post-busy season”. That plan should incorporate projects of job gains, promotions and losses. “Putting on paper what your hiring and recruiting needs aree will help you to define your plan of attack.”

Sunderlin says her firms required candidates to have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and a major in in accounting and to be a sophomore or higher although “that is kind of negotiable,” she said. She wants candidates with a B or better in Intermediate Accounting 1 “and ideally Intermediate 2.”

“I want people who had a plan,” she says. “I want to know they are already thinking about how they are going to get their 150 hours.”

Sunderlin also says firms should understand the market for candidates.  “It’s important to identify what reasons there are for people to move to your area,” she says. People move to Roanoke because they are in the military, or for love of the area. “If you live in an area which is more remote, think about that.”

Military spouses are a good source of candidates.  “Military spouses are some of the best employees on the planet,” Sunderlin says. “They move every three or four years. They are willing to work for you from anywhere.

Overall, her approach is for a structured approach to the whole process. Companies should create an interview for use with all candidates. Once they are hired, they should have mentors and have feedback meetings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

 “I want them to get feedback from everybody they worked for,” Sunderlin says. “I want the mentor to be included in the feedback meetings.”

She urges firms to establish relationships with accounting professors from areas colleges. That includes inviting them to open houses. In addition, she advises them not to go for the top students as educators told her “the Big Four already has them.”  Instead she started targets the top 11 percent to 20 percent which resulted in a bigger supply of candidates.

Sunderlin includes the following points for interviewing:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                *Pull from all levels within the firm;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               *Have a Partner on the Team;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           *No Opting out of scheduled interviews. They are as important as Billable work.                                                                                                                                                                                 *Regroup after each interview to review

Firms should also provide their message:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      *The Partner delivers the firm’s story;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         *Provide targeted marketing materials;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             *Be prepared to answer/offer the answer to the “Typical Day in the Life of” question from all Levels

*Be prepared to share your reason for joining the Firm

Bob Scott
Bob Scott has provided information to the tax and accounting community since 1991, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. He is known throughout the industry for his depth of knowledge and for his high journalistic standards.  Scott has made frequent appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist and events serving tax and accounting professionals. He  has a strong background in computer journalism as an editor with two former trade publications, Computer+Software News and MIS Week and spent several years with weekly and daily newspapers in Morris County New Jersey prior to that.  A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Bob is a native of Madison, Ind
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