Talent-Tempting Web Sites

Increase your recruiting power in the digital age with an online presence that resonates with today's college crowd.
BY PAUL GLADEN AND TERESA BEED

  

 
 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
CPA firms have long sought answers to problems in recruiting and staffing. Some have used their Web sites to attract and inform prospective hires by adding features and content that highlight aspects of a career there.

A survey of Web sites of the 50 top U.S. accounting firms revealed that most could do a better job of providing information relevant to job seekers and presenting it in ways that emphasize originality and flair. They can make their career pages more appealing and useful by keeping content fresh, opening avenues for one-to-one online communication and by giving more specifics about benefits and other career information.

Web sites should give young people an idea of what it’s like to work at the firm, preferably through videos and other multimedia presentations highlighting young people who are there now.

Firms can embrace new technologies for tailoring content to individual interests such as podcasting, RSS feeds and blogs. Young people already share their impressions of firm culture—favorable or not—via Facebook and other online communities.

Paul Gladen is CEO of Muzeview, a research and consulting firm in New York City. Teresa Beed , CPA, Ph.D., is a professor of accounting at the University of Montana at Missoula. Their e-mail addresses, respectively, are paul@muzeview.com and teresa.beed@business.umt.edu .


We all know crucial first impressions are formed quickly, but researchers say people tend to judge a Web page in just one-twentieth of a second. Thus, potential recruits may be sizing up your Web site—and your firm—in less than the blink of an eye. Do they like what they see? And will young job seekers who linger there be rewarded with insights about prospective employment at your firm? The question isn’t just academic, given the well-known talent shortage accounting firms have been grappling with for years.

We surveyed 10 CPA firms in the northwestern United States about the state of the recruiting marketplace. They all said the market is very challenging. One respondent said conditions were “as tough as I have seen in my 20-plus years involved in trying to hire people in this region.” And the demographic reality of retiring baby boomers will only compound the need for new talent. Yet despite all the soul-searching within the profession, most accounting firms overlook how the Internet can host friendly introductions and convey favorable impressions.

Muzeview, a professional-services research firm headed by one of this article’s authors, evaluated online approaches to branding and recruitment by the top 50 firms in the 2006 Public Accounting Report. Most sites fell short both in providing essential information and in offering it up appealingly to Net-savvy recruits. We identified six common weaknesses:

Sites frequently lack details about key areas of interest to potential recruits, such as job or role descriptions, career development paths, training, or specifics of compensation and benefits. For example, many firms claim they offer a competitive compensation package but provide no specifics. While revealing salary levels may not be appropriate, firms such as Crowe Chizek and Co. LLC (www.crowechizek.com/crowe/Careers/Campus/Benefits2.cfm) and Moss Adams LLP (www.mossadams.com/careers/benefits.htm) describe components of their benefits packages.

Careers are often touted with phrases such as “an employer of choice” or “you are more than just a number,” yet many firms fail to back up the claims with facts and examples.

Many sites look the same. Format, content and language are largely interchangeable.

Content is static. Few sites update their career information regularly enough to prompt a visitor to return.

Some firms don’t describe the recruitment process. They can learn from Parente Randolph (www.parentenet.com/careers/recruiting.htm), which outlines what to expect at each stage.

Sites don’t make it easy for potential recruits to contact a person at the firm. They use generic e-mail addresses such as careers@xyzcpa.com. RubinBrown LLP takes a different approach (www.rubinbrown.com/Careers/Recruiting.aspx). For each college campus from which it recruits, RubinBrown gives an e-mail address for one of its experienced professionals and encourages students to get in touch with that person.

  Ways to Improve Your Chances of Attracting the Best

Review your entire Web site—not just the career section—through the eyes of a potential recruit. Does it engage and inform? How does it compare with other firms’ sites?

Provide as much detail as possible about service areas, job roles, career paths, work environment and culture, compensation and benefits, and the recruiting process. Even details such as whether the firm provides employees with laptops, cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are important to today’s recruits.

Consider using audio, video, podcasts, RSS and blogs to create a more dynamic impression and offer fresh content.

Put a personal face on the firm’s professionals and recruiting team by including names, pictures, profiles and contact details.

Avoid “marketing-speak.” Today’s recruits are skeptical and are looking for firms that are transparent and authentic. If you make claims, back them up with specifics and real examples.

Personalize your online communication with prospective recruits. Have someone in the firm write a personal reply to each inquiry.

Invite your recent hires to be “digital ambassadors” for the firm and representatives within it for the concerns and interests of potential recruits.

MAKE THE FIRM AND THE OPPORTUNITY REAL
Perhaps most of all, firms fail to bring the career opportunity to life. They offer little explanation of the job’s day-to-day responsibilities, how practice areas differ or what the firm is like as a place to work. Opportunities for building a career there are hard for a young person to assess.

A few firms, however, use two powerful storytelling tools: profiles and multimedia presentations featuring employees and young recruits. For instance, Cherry, Bekaert & Holland LLP (www.cbh.com/c_cr_meetteam.php) and Eide Bailly (www.eidebailly.com/testimonials/index.aspx?type=Staff) provide staff profiles and testimonials that help put a face on the firm. Among the Big Four, Ernst & Young (www.ey.com/Global/content.nsf/US/_Careers_-_Student) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (www.pwc.com/bringit)—the latter with stylish design and Flash animation—offer profiles and interviews with young staffers and interns. Other sites with video and text interviews introducing the firm and employees include Beers & Cutler (www.beersandcutler.com) and Schenck Business Solutions (www.schencksolutions.com/content/careers/why_schenck).

Firms also need to understand that recruits will be looking at other areas of their site. Research papers, newsletters, upcoming events and client success stories, while essential to a firm’s client marketing, also help recruits understand client issues and the expertise recruits can develop at the firm. Again, many firms are missing opportunities by not frequently updating general content.

DEAD AIR ON PODCASTS
Another missed opportunity, given today’s tech-savvy graduates, is firms’ scarce use of podcasts and RSS (Rich Site Summary, also known as Really Simple Syndication—see sidebar, “More Ways to Connect”), which can deliver convenient and engaging news and insights. Of the 50 firms reviewed, only three featured RSS feeds for their Web content, and only four produced podcasts. Web logs, or blogs, can add a dimension of personal contact. We found no “in-house” blog among the firms surveyed, although a handful of partners and employees are blogging, such as Michael Rhodes of Citrin Cooperman & Co. LLP.

  More Ways to Connect

Podcasts. Digital audio files that can be downloaded from a Web site and listened to on the user’s PC or digital audio player such as an iPod. Podcasts could provide details about the firm or interviews with clients, partners or recent recruits.

Blogs. Short for Web logs, Web-published personal journals with regular entries covering topics of interest. They allow readers to add comments, stimulating discussion between blog authors and their audience. Accounting blogs include Greg Price’s (www.fromgregshead.com) and that of Reed Tinsley, who specializes in health care (http://rtacpa.blogs.com).

RSS (Rich Site Summary, aka Really Simple Syndication). Users subscribe to a Web site’s RSS “feed” that automatically sends updates to the user when new information is available. This saves the user from having to continually check the Web site for anything new. It is ideal for disseminating press releases, event information or other messages.

THE NEW GRAPEVINE
Lacking useful information, prospective recruits will judge firms the old-fashioned way—by hearsay. But scuttlebutt now travels faster and farther, thanks to its online transmission. Students are well-connected to their predecessors already inside accounting firms and are trading notes via e-mail, instant messaging and online communities such as MySpace and Facebook. The latter claims to have around 8 million collegiate users of its 13 million total and an 85% participation rate in the colleges it serves. So one way or another, a portrait of your firm as a place to work—warts and all—may already be on display in cyberspace.

Of course, credibility is earned by delivering on your firm’s promises to young recruits. But putting some pizzazz into your firm’s online introduction may be one of the most fruitful ways to open your door to the most promising graduates.

 
 
AICPA RESOURCES

JofA Articles
“Understanding the Best and the Brightest,” Nov. 06, page 41.
“Recruiting Made Easy,” May 06, page 31.
“Staffing Update: Issues, Trends, Initiatives,” Sep. 05, page 87.

Publication
For an example of award-winning design and a youth-oriented introduction to careers in accounting, see Start Here Magazine, a publication of the AICPA’s Start Here, Go Places student recruitment program, and its Web site, www.startheregoplaces.com.

OTHER RESOURCES

Recruiting
“Nine Best Practices for Gen Y,” ERE Media Inc., http://tinyurl.com/yrj3f7.
“Student Recruiting Outlook 2006,” WetFeet Inc., http://tinyurl.com/yszun4.

Web Tools and Design
“Everything You Need to Know About Web 2.0,” The CompuMentor Project, www.techsoup.org/toolkits/web2/.

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