Accounting and finance staffing appears to be entrenched in a period of relative calm, a recent survey of CFOs shows.
Eighty-nine percent of the more than 1,400 U.S. CFOs surveyed by staffing services firm Robert Half expect to maintain their current staffing levels in accounting and finance during the fourth quarter of this year. In the previous two quarterly surveys, at least 90% of CFOs said they planned to keep their staffing levels constant.
The consecutive quarters of relative stability contrast with the frantic activity that marked the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.
In the latest survey, 5% of executives said they plan to add personnel and 6% said they expect job cuts in accounting and finance. Compare that to the final quarter of 2011, when 12% of executives planned accounting and finance increases and 7% forecast decreases. Those numbers rose to 20% expecting to add staff and 11% planning cutbacks in accounting and finance in the first quarter of this year.
Finding qualified talent remains a problem in the sector. Fifty-eight percent of CFOs said it is challenging to find skilled financial professionals today, but that number shrank from 69% in the previous quarterly survey.
Ryan Sutton, Robert Half’s senior vice president for the company’s New England district, said clients in the Northeast are continuing to struggle to fill a lot of key positions.
“Whether it’s public accounting firms looking to add to their audit staff and tax staff, whether it’s public and private companies we’re dealing with looking to shore up their accounting team, there’s still definitely a strong demand in the technical side of accounting,” Sutton said.
Executives participating in the survey were substantially more optimistic about the potential of their businesses in the fourth quarter. Ninety-five percent of CFOs said they are at least somewhat confident in their firm’s growth prospects for the fourth quarter; that is an increase of 19 percentage points from the previous quarter.
According to the report, accounting and finance positions in top demand include:
- Financial analysts. The ability to identify opportunities and make strategic recommendations is key.
- Staff and senior accountants. CPAs with at least three years of experience are reported to be especially in high demand.
- Business systems analysts. Workers with a combination of finance and IT expertise are sought.
Sutton said that over the past year or so, he has seen a sort of dual job market emerge in accounting and finance. He said candidates who have high-demand experience working with the latest enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology are receiving multiple job offers and counteroffers. Candidates without those technical skills are having difficulty securing job offers.
“My advice to candidates … is to make sure your technical skills are beefed up,” Sutton said. “Be up to date in Excel skills. Be up to date in your ERP skills, and as much as you can stay on the front end of accounting and the trends. Don’t rest on the laurels of what you’ve done the last 10 years. Make sure what you’ve done the last 10 years and what you’re doing today puts you in a position to continue to excel in the next 10 years as accounting shifts.”
Employers, meanwhile, need to be more realistic in what they demand of candidates and open to hire-and-train scenarios, according to Sutton. He said employers must be willing to consider candidates who do not possess certain software experience that few job seekers are going to possess.
“The advice that we’re giving a lot of clients is: Really be open to a developmental program,” Sutton said. “And focus on who is the best candidate to hire that’s going to be the right employee and best employee for you for the next three to five years, not who’s going to come in and know your system from day one.”
—Ken Tysiac (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a JofA senior editor.