Accounting and finance hiring expected to be flat in Q2

BY KEN TYSIAC

Hiring in accounting and finance is likely to be flat in the second quarter of 2012 in the United States even though CFOs are confident in their business prospects for that period, a Robert Half survey shows.

Ninety-one percent of CFOs said they don’t expect to change their accounting and finance staffing levels in the second quarter; 4% plan to add staff; and 5% plan to reduce staff. The net decrease of 1 percentage point marked the first time since the third quarter of 2010 that the percentage of CFOs planning to reduce staff outnumbered those who expected to add staff.

This occurred even though 27% of respondents said they were very confident and 64% were somewhat confident in their second-quarter business prospects. More than 1,400 CFOs responded to the survey.

Brett Good, a senior district president with Robert Half, said the slight downturn in finance and accounting hiring plans wasn’t surprising after three straight quarters of increases.

“Especially if you were to look at Q1 of this year, that had been the most robust level that we had seen really over the course of the last several years, really since the recession started,” Good said. “And it’s not uncommon as you transition from Q1, where there’s a lot of hiring and a lot of activity in accounting departments, you hit Q2 … that there’s a little bit of a pregnant pause in hiring before companies begin to ramp up again.”

Among industries, the wholesale sector is expected to see the largest increase, with 15% planning to add financial staff and 5% forecasting cuts in finance professionals. Transportation and retail were the least optimistic about financial staff job prospects. Two percent of transportation CFOs planned to add financial staff, while 7% forecast cuts. In retail, 3% predicted adding finance professionals, with 8% planning reductions.

Finding qualified job candidates remained a concern for CFOs, as 62% said it is at least somewhat difficult to find skilled financial professionals. Positions in top demand are staff and senior accountants, financial analysts, and business systems analysts.

Good said hiring managers are getting lots of applications because technology has made it easy for job seekers to send out hundreds or even thousands of resumes at a time. But finding applicants with a multitude of accounting or finance skill sets is more challenging, and Good said that gives qualified candidates leverage.

“We are certainly beginning to see, for specific skill sets, it’s not uncommon for a candidate now to receive counteroffers, to receive multiple offers, and [they] are now having more negotiating power,” he said. “… Certainly if you’re dealing with an organization that has hired in the last six or nine months, I think they’re savvy enough to understand the transition that has taken place in the market.”

The Mountain and East South Central regions are most promising for accounting and finance hiring. Nine percent in the Mountain region predicted hiring, while 4% planned cuts. In the East South Central region, 6% forecasted adding staff, and 1% predicted cuts.

Job prospects were least favorable for accounting and finance in the South Atlantic region, where 11% predicted reductions and 5% planned to hire.

The accounting and finance hiring forecast was slightly less optimistic than the overall professional employment predictions in a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. executives. Across all industries, 5% predicted professional staff increases, and 3% forecasted decreases.

Ken Tysiac ( ktysiac@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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