Recruiting Made Easy


A talented recruit may be your next partner.
You never know.

Porter Keadle Moore LLP established a comprehensive campus recruiting presence on eight college campuses to recruit hires directly from schools. That way it can train staff in its unique processes from the very beginning.

A first step for developing a successful recruiting campaign is to think through what it should accomplish. It takes a well-designed series of initiatives, not simply a one-time event, to interest the best students year after year and bring them into your firm.

Campus recruiting activities include career fairs, participation in student clubs, developing relationships with professors and advisers, and internship programs. The more of them a firm does, the better.

A firm participating in a career fair for the first time will need several weeks of lead time to write, design and order all printed materials, brochures, giveaway items and banners. If there is no marketing director, a freelance designer or marketing consultant can help.

Students seek out professors and advisers for advice. It is wise to make friends by inviting them to lunch, showing them around the firm, introducing them to partners, volunteering to teach a class and inviting a student group to the office. CPAs who respect professors’ programs and develop relationships with them may get referred to potentially great hires overlooked during a career fair or campus interview day.

Internships give students the opportunity to experience what working for a public accounting firm really entails. The firm can evaluate interns’ work capabilities and discover whether they have the right qualities to assimilate into the office culture.

Recruiting experienced hires is much harder to do, but those referred by existing employees have a high success rate. The referring employee knows the recruit and how he or she likely will fit the firm. Offer employees a bonus for referrals.

Deborah J. Sessions, CPA, is a partner and the chief operating officer at Porter Keadle Moore LLP, Atlanta. She has more than 20 years of experience in finance, accounting, operations and human resources. Her e-mail address is .

f numbers are the problem, then people are the solution. Most CPA firm leaders agree that if you have the right people in your firm, the productivity and profitability numbers work themselves out. The challenge is that few managing partners have the luxury of working exclusively on the people issues—getting them, keeping them happy, promoting them and setting up creative benefit packages to keep them. So it makes sense to maximize resources by hiring the right people from the start. Here’s the model we developed at Porter Keadle Moore LLP. Put it into action at your firm to cultivate excellent hires.

Competition for Staff
Is on the Rise

Accounting and finance starting salaries are expected to increase 3.1% in 2006.

Source: Robert Half International, .

One of the best ways to get good people and train them in the unique aspects of your firm from the very beginning is to hire them directly from the source—colleges and universities. In the more than 25 years Porter Keadle Moore LLP has been in practice in Atlanta, it has established a comprehensive campus recruiting presence on eight college campuses. The program has brought in outstanding people who fit our staffing profile and improved our retention, too.

It takes a well-designed series of initiatives, not simply a one-time event, to interest the best students year after year and bring them into your firm. Such programs require tremendous energy and commitment and need to be refreshed continually. Once organized, however, a campus participation and recruiting program can be scaled up or down to suit almost any size firm.

The first step for developing a robust recruiting campaign is to think about what you want it to accomplish for the firm. It is

Growth and succession. Successful recruiting is a major factor in growing services and developing new partners. Where do you want your firm to be in 10 years?

Bringing in people with more technical skill who also can develop and service clients. Look at more than just recruits’ skills and grades. Personality is a big factor, too.

Reinforcing the firm brand. Recruiting efforts should have a consistent look and feel. Everything is part of your firm’s message.

Communication training. The recruiting process is an excellent way to train young staff in networking and communication skills.

Keeping the firm’s culture fresh and lively. Recruiting should be creative, to attract new hires and keep existing staff interested in the firm.

Once you determine your firm’s recruiting focus, the next step is to organize activities, including campus career fairs, participation in student clubs, developing relationships with professors and advisers and internship programs. Use all of them or only one or two. The more you do the better it works.

One highly visible piece of the recruiting puzzle is the on-campus career fair, especially the ones that focus on accounting. It’s not enough to just show up and set up your firm’s booth in an exhibition hall. Plan your approach to get the attention of as many students as possible. Early in the process, decide

How many representatives will attend (often the school specifies this).

What professional niches they will represent.

What they will wear (business or casual), and what image of the firm they will convey.

The key points they will communicate (such as how many people the firm is looking for and whether they will be interns or tax and audit staff).

What marketing materials such as brochures and/or logo-imprinted promotional items they will give away.

While you’re at the career fair, focus on what really attracts students to come over to talk to you. Is it your booth’s “presence,” giveaway items, contests or raffle drawings? One draw we’ve found to be very successful is to offer students a chance to win a DVD surround-sound system in exchange for answering a short multiple-choice questionnaire about the profession, ethics and their career hopes. We’ve seen other firms get their attention with prizes and games such as ring toss or guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar. Consider anything you’re comfortable with that you think will attract students to your booth.

To home in on which giveaway items will be a hit, poll your younger staff about what they found useful as recruits. College-age family members may have good suggestions, too. The ideal choice is a cool item that will have a prolonged shelf life because it is something students actually use. In the past we’ve given logo-embossed leather bookmarks, pens, highlighters and small backpacks. Enter gadgets and gizmos in an Internet search engine to see what catchy items are out there.

To give your booth “presence,” you will need to purchase trade-show-type banners or displays. If you don’t have an in-house marketing director to assist with this part, consider hiring a freelance designer or marketing consultant. Note: If you are participating in a career fair for the first time, you will need several weeks of lead time to write, design and order all your brochures, giveaway items and banners. To find out about costs, manufacturing requirements and a production timeline, talk to a graphic designer, a printer or a printing broker or enter trade show banners in a search engine. Set a budget based on how many students you expect to meet and how many career fairs you plan to attend.

You also will need a code to note whom you saw and whether you think they may fit your firm. With hundreds of potential hires coming and going, it is easy to forget who’s who. Usually discreet symbols (for instance, < for no, > for interested, >> for very interested) or abbreviated comments on resumes work. After the fair send follow-up letters to invite desirable students to intern or interview with you. Ask them to participate in an online survey to provide feedback on your career fair presentation.

The Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) student accounting organization is active on many university campuses; other schools have similar organizations with accounting society or club in the name, to which your firm can actively volunteer. Working with and through these organizations is a great way to get name recognition for your firm. Participate in their meetings and events to increase your firm’s visibility among students.

Regardless of your firm’s size, it’s a good idea to develop relationships with professors and school career advisers. Those are the people students seek out for advice, and they are very influential. Relationships with professors and advisers can lead you to potentially great hires you might have missed during a career fair or campus interview day. To woo these valuable contacts,

Invite professors and advisers to visit your office.

Introduce them to partners and managers.

Take them to lunch.

Volunteer to teach a class (discuss content with them first).

Invite them to bring a student group to the office.

Send press releases and newsletters by mail or e-mail to bring them up to date on the firm’s latest news and innovations.

If you show professors and accounting school advisers the benefits of working at your firm and demonstrate respect for their programs, they often become your best advocates with students.

Our intern pool is our most successful source of new hires. Internships give students the opportunity to experience what working for a public accounting firm really entails. They let us evaluate young people’s work capabilities and whether they have the qualities necessary to assimilate the firm’s culture. We offer jobs to those who do well at the conclusion of their internships. (For more on internships, see “ Road to the Future, JofA , Jul.04, page 41; “ Professional Practice Accounting, JofA , Jul.04, page 44; “ Staffing Update: Issues, Trends, Initiatives, JofA , Sep.05, page 87.)

Our program has been in place for more than 20 years. In fact, one of our partners began here as an intern 20 years ago. He left to work for a large national firm, then went to work in industry. But he came back to us when he realized that public accounting was where his heart was and that the culture of our firm was a perfect fit for him (see “ Where the Heart Is ,” below). You never know what the impact of hiring an intern will be.

  Where the Heart Is

David Wood, CPA
Porter Keadle Moore LLP Partner

remember very clearly the University of Georgia accounting career day where I met CPAs Bill Porter and Tim Keadle in the fall of 1984. I was a wide-eyed 20-year-old with a lot to learn about the public accounting profession and the opportunities that awaited me. Little did I know that 16 years later I would become Bill and Tim’s partner at Porter Keadle Moore.

Most of my summer of ’85 internship was spent in the tax department of PKM’s predecessor firm, but I also spent time on benefit plan audits and other audit engagements. That internship gave me many valuable experiences and convinced me that auditing in a public accounting firm was dynamic and where I wanted to start my career. I often tell people an internship is “like a dress rehearsal for the career that awaits,” and I still share many of those early experiences with recruits to illustrate what they can expect as PKM interns.

When I began working full-time, I chose one of the then Big 8 firms. I was feeling my way about what to do with my career, and I had an idea about possibly relocating or traveling abroad. I enjoyed my period of employment with the large firm. But as I progressed I wanted more control over my professional and personal life. I wanted to become an owner of the business.

Not coincidentally, I had stayed in touch with Bill and Tim over the years so when I spoke to them about my career path, the conversation quickly turned to me returning to work with them. I did so in the fall of 1997, and I really enjoy the spirit of a more regional firm. I still work on the types of engagements that I worked on at a larger firm, but in a much more familial environment. I often describe the size and character of our firm as “big enough that I don’t have to do all the work, but small enough that I know everyone in the firm.”

Each year we select successful junior-year interns to serve as our “on-campus representatives” to spread the word about our firm on our primary recruiting campuses. We give them business cards and pay a weekly stipend in return for their coordinating social activities on behalf of the firm at their universities. We invite the on-campus representatives to all PKM firmwide meetings and events to keep them in the loop until they come to work full-time after graduation.

Recruiting experienced people is a completely different ballgame. Many leave public accounting for jobs in industry, and how to entice them back is the ongoing magic question. When we posted job listings on a career Web site and ran ads for experienced recruits in our state CPA society publication, we got a large number of resumes—but few that matched our specifications. Even headhunters and search firms have little to offer in our market. Next we plan to advertise in metropolitan areas harder hit by the poor economy in hopes that professionals in those areas might be interested in a move to our city.

Most of our experienced hires come to us through existing employees. Those leads have a high success rate for two reasons: The referring employee knows the recruit and how he or she likely will fit our firm’s culture; and we pay the employee an incentive bonus of up to $10,000. Getting paid to work with people you like is an excellent deal.

To encourage more employee referrals, our firm recently introduced a program called MINE, which stands for “market, inform, network and engage.” It is a peer-to-peer activity to learn what other firms are doing successfully and seek out potential candidates. At least three times a year we have all our employees meet with their counterparts at other, local CPA firms for informal lunch or dinner meetings (for which we reimburse them). Employees report what they learn, and the information goes into a database the partners can access.

Practical Tips
To woo professors and advisers as contacts,
Invite them to visit your office.
Introduce them to partners and managers.
Take them to lunch.
Volunteer to teach a class.

To woo prospects,
Use the Web and other interactive technology to convey information to young recruits.

To tie all your recruiting efforts together, a cohesive marketing communications plan works best. Include your firm’s brochures, public relations activities, Web site and other communications vehicles. Take a fresh look at your materials and bring both the content and delivery method up to date. Enter Porter Keadle Moore recruiting in an Internet search engine to see how we do things on our Web site.

Tailor your media to the age of your prospects so your communication is convenient, interesting and entertaining to them. That means using the Web and other interactive technology to convey information to young recruits. For example, we’ve found that testimonials are more credible than marketing claims so we videotaped former interns, current employees and clients discussing why it is great to work for and with our firm. We distributed the clips on CD-ROM to schools and interested organizations and incorporated segments on our Web site so recruits can hear about our firm from credible sources besides us.

You don’t need to update everything in a single year. Our firm has undertaken one major project in each of the past three years. In 2003 we revised our Web site at a cost of $18,000. In 2004 we spent just over $11,000 developing an interactive CD-ROM. This past year we updated our recruiting brochure and booth banners at a cost of $11,000 and $4,000, respectively. Each year we also budget about $1,000 for promotional giveaways. Traditional items such as pens and notepads serve multiple recruiting and business development purposes.

Public-relations activities also play an important role in getting the attention of potential hires. You cannot overestimate the value of positive publicity. Send out press releases to publicize the news when your firm receives an award or your partner contributes to professional publications or volunteers to participate on boards. Get acquainted with editors. Let them know about experts within your firm. If they need information about something you know, take the time to talk to them (see “ Meet the Press, JofA , Jul.02, page 39). You’ll make a friend.

As with any undertaking, we’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but our firm has learned and grown, too—from a staff of 35 to 65 in the past 10 years. All you have to do is get started. Once your recruiting program is up and running, it will hum like a well-oiled machine.


AICPA Practitioners Symposium
June 12–14, 2006
Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas

AICPA/Advisory Board Forum on Recruiting and Retaining Staff
July 16–18, 2006
Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, Chicago

Journal of Accountancy: Staffing Update: Issues, Trends, Initiatives, ” Sep.05, page 87.

Management of an Accounting Practice Handbook, loose-leaf version (# 090407JA); e-MAP, online version (# MAP-XXJA).

Promoting Your Talent by Nancy Baldiga, a guidebook for women in accounting (# 872566JA).

Web sites
For more information on how to help aspiring CPAs learn more about the accounting profession and the career opportunities available, go to .

For more information about careers and work/life opportunities, go to .

For more information about CPA careers, go to .

For more information, to register or to make a purchase, go to or call the AICPA at 888-777-7077.


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