Survey: CFOs Anticipate Hiring in Accounting and Finance

CFOs expected to hire more accountants and other finance professionals early next year. But many were having a hard time finding skilled professionals to fill the positions, according to a survey by staffing services firm Robert Half International.

Twenty percent of 1,408 CFOs at U.S. companies said they expected to increase accounting and finance staff in the first quarter, according to the survey, which was released Wednesday. That’s up from a forecast of 8% for the same period a year ago.

An overwhelming majority of CFOs—87%—expressed at least some confidence in their companies’ business prospects for the first three months of 2012. That’s down a percentage point from the year-ago period.

The optimism about business prospects and hiring, though, was accompanied by growing concern about a difficult hiring environment. About two-thirds (68%) of CFOs said finding skilled financial professionals is challenging. That’s up from 50% a year ago and 59% in the fourth-quarter survey.

“I hate to say it’s ironic, but you’re going to have clients who are just as frustrated and hiring managers who are just as frustrated, within reason, as the candidates who have been looking and can’t find the appropriate work,” said Ryan Sutton, Robert Half senior vice president for the New England district.

Meanwhile, 11% of CFOs expected to reduce accounting and finance staff in early 2012, up from 6% of CFOs surveyed before the first quarter of 2011.

Sutton said accounting and finance job seekers may help themselves by taking courses in specialized, marketable areas rather than general disciplines in order to establish the skill sets employers want.

Robert Half released the survey on the same day as another report with promising news on jobs. Payroll service firm Automatic Data Processing reported Wednesday that employment in the U.S. nonfarm private business sector increased 206,000 in November over October on a seasonally adjusted basis. During the same period a year ago, employment grew by 93,000.

Robert Half surveyed CFOs at U.S. companies on accounting and finance positions as part of a larger survey that included more than 4,000 senior executives and leaders from a variety of fields throughout the United States.

Across all fields, 16% of executives expected to increase professional staff during the first quarter of 2012, up from 10% a year ago. Meanwhile, 6% anticipated reductions in personnel in the first quarter of 2012, up from 5% a year ago.

Recruiting challenges were reported by 67% of respondents across all sectors, which include legal, information technology, advertising and marketing, human resources, and sales and development. That’s up from 51% a year ago.

In accounting and finance, Robert Half’s data indicate that positions in top demand by employers are financial analysts, staff and senior accountants, and business-systems analysts. Sutton said staff and senior accountants are in demand because, as business picks up, the workload often increases at the middle level of the finance team.

Financial analysts and business systems analysts are attractive to employers because firms are trying to get more out of data and computer systems, Sutton said. For example, he said firms may have implemented reporting tools without integrating or customizing them.
“Getting better reporting and getting better data is helping them drive, really, the (return on investment) of that head count,” Sutton said. “Business systems as a whole, we’re seeing a really solid drive from our clients where they want more out of their data.”

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