Filling vital support roles

It is crucial for firms to hire and retain quality administrative staff.
By Cheryl Meyer

High-quality administrative employees are a huge benefit to any public accounting firm. Support staff experts offer tips for hiring and retaining a strong administrative staff:

Polish the job description. Before launching the process for a new administrative hire, ensure that all individuals involved—partners, executives, and managers—agree on the responsibilities of the position and the qualities desired in a new employee.

Tap various sources for candidates. Competition is stiff for potential hires who are qualified to handle the demands of administrative jobs. Speak with current employees or others in the profession to gain referrals, and use websites, social media, and professional organizations to find applicants.

Do your due diligence. Screen candidates thoroughly, making sure they are proficient in your software programs and have a general knowledge of bookkeeping and financial terms. Develop a list of questions to ensure the new employee will meet your needs.

Ask the experts. Your own administrative staff may give some of the best input about potential job candidates. "With exposure to many different project groups and departments, administrative professionals are the eyes and ears of the organization," said Melinda Alison, regional president for OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company that helps place temporary staff.

Ascertain attitude. While skills are important, a candidate's can-do approach is equally vital. "That is the most important thing above all, to roll up your sleeves and have a ready-to-pitch-in-type attitude," said Michael Feeley, CPA, HR director with consulting firm StoneTurn Group.

Offer good pay. First-rate administrative help can be tough to find, so offer competitive compensation. "We compensate them at market," Feeley said. "If the firm does well and admins accomplish individual initiatives, we share the success with them."

Hire for retention. Ensure the candidate is flexible and a good match for your culture and is savvy enough to interact with the rest of your staff. "You want to hire an administrative professional who views this position as a career move, not just a job to pay the bills," said Lori Niederlehner, CPA, shareholder and COO, Strategic Operations and Advisory Resources at BeachFleischman PC.

Keep them engaged. Jobs can become mundane, and not all administrative jobs lead to promotions. So keep your support staff engaged. Meet with them regularly to give constructive feedback.

Treat administrative staff equally. It's easy and not uncommon to have a disconnect between professional staff and administrative professionals. Treat administrative staff as you treat all employees. "Include them in firm meetings, not just to take notes but to contribute," Niederlehner said.

Editor's note: This checklist is adapted from "How to Get—and Keep—the Best Administrative Staff," CPA Insider, Sept. 26, 2016.

—By Cheryl Meyer, a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this column, contact Chris Baysden (, senior manager, newsletters at the AICPA.

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