Recruiting for Small Firms

The war for talent continues, and it's up to each small firm to create opportunities to find talented employees who will appreciate a small firm environment and prosper in it. It's often difficult for small firms to find the resources necessary to fuel a recruiting system that will fit their needs. The AICPA's Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) provides the following tips on recruiting best practices for small firms:

R Articulate your firm’s unique differentiator. All firms have their pluses and minuses. The question is: What sets you apart from the rest? Ask your team members that question and use their responses to define your firm’s unique selling features. Be sure to articulate this on your Web site and in marketing materials. According to the PCPS Small Firm Advantage Center’s recruiting strategy brochure Why a Smaller CPA Firm is a Great Place to Work, differentiators might include easier access to firm owners, greater variety in assignments, respect for work/life balance, ability to create individual career timetables, and a family environment.

Conduct a firm needs assessment. Firms should take the time once a year to look at current employees, gauge the anticipated needs and internal promotion possibilities for the upcoming year, and then calculate future needs. This also is a good time to reevaluate the firm’s job qualifications and descriptions to make sure they align with the firm’s vision.

R Have a strong college and university presence. On-campus recruiting isn’t reserved for the largest firms. Candidates need to know there are several firm options, and it’s up to them to figure out which firm makes the best fit based on size, culture and career growth opportunities. Small firms should be present at university professional nights, on-campus interview sessions, internship program activities and accounting club functions. Even in years when smaller firms may not anticipate a need, the firms should still have a presence on campus so that underclassmen see what is available to them two to three years down the road. Employees involved with on-campus recruiting need tools such as behavioral- based interview questions, sample letters and scripts.

R Develop a formal internship program. With a strong campus presence comes the need for a strong internship program. Firms should consider having at least one intern per year for every anticipated open position in the firm. This gives the firm and the student the opportunity to “kick the tires.” Firms should be careful, however, to make interns’ work meaningful to give the intern and the firm the best opportunity to determine whether the fit is a good one.

Create a prospecting list database. Firms should get their younger team members involved in high school visits to increase interest in the profession. This in turn can be the start of a prospecting list that the firm can use to track students and keep in touch with them during their college years. This not only increases the potential pool of candidates, but the on-campus involvement gives your younger team members a lesson in business development. The PCPS and many state societies provide presentation assistance and other resources for employees who are visiting campuses.

Look for nontraditional ways to find experienced recruits. If you haven’t been tracking your candidates from oncampus recruiting, start capturing that data now. Firms can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to track recruits. The sheet should include how the person did in the initial interview, personal contact information including cell phone number, and where that recruit ended up working. Use that tracking list to go back three to five years and call people who previously were interested in your firm. Also, revisit your firm’s alumni list of previous employees to see if any are looking to boomerang back to public accounting. In addition to tracking tools, Web tools such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook or MySpace can make it easier for firms of all sizes to keep in touch with recruits and alumni.

—The PCPS Human Capital Center is available at


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