Continued rise projected for accountants’ starting salaries in 2017

By Ken Tysiac

Starting salaries for U.S. accounting and finance positions will continue to rise in 2017, reflecting high demand for skilled professionals, according to a new salary guide.

Increases in starting salaries will range from 3.0% to 4.3% in 2017, depending on the position, according to the Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide. The guide was published Tuesday.

The prediction trails the unusually high forecast for 2016, when the guide said starting salaries in accounting and finance would rise 4.0% to 5.3%, depending on the position. But the magnitude of the projected increase for 2017 doesn’t indicate a decrease in competitiveness in the job market, said Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

“We’re not seeing any slowdown by any means,” Hird said in an interview. “And, if anything, we’re seeing companies flex their muscles a bit more as it relates to the negotiation process and recognizing that they have to do things differently.”

The forecast for 2017 is more in line with those provided in salary guides for 2013 through 2015. Those ranges were:

  • 2.9% to 4.4% for 2015.
  • 2.9% to 4.5% for 2014.
  • 2.7% to 4.5% for 2013.

Robert Half’s description of a competitive job market mirrors that of another staffing services firm. The 2017 Salary Guide published by Accounting Principals, which focuses on salaries in general rather than starting salaries, predicts continued escalation in pay. The Accounting Principals guide forecasts a 2.8% increase in pay for 2017, up from previous predictions of a 2.4% rise for 2016 and a 1.2% rise for 2015.

Meanwhile, management accountants from across the world expect their salaries to increase by an average of 6% in the coming year, up from 5% in 2015, according to a Chartered Institute of Management Accountants survey.

Generally, the guides and data agree that salaries will increase because of a shortage of job candidates. Competition for highly skilled candidates can be fierce, according to the Robert Half guide.

“Companies have to be competitive,” Hird said. “They’ve got to pay competitively, and compared with a year or two ago, companies are open to having negotiation with candidates, in particular when candidates have multiple job offers.”

The Robert Half Salary Guide is available for download at the firm’s website.

Job functions with the largest projected increase in starting salaries include:

  • Controller.
  • Financial analyst.
  • Business systems analyst.
  • Audit/assurance services positions.

Which skills employers most want in accountants

Certain skill sets are particularly in demand for accountants, Hird said. He said accounting job candidates will generate the most interest if they possess a combination of technical accounting skills, IT proficiency (such as Excel, data analytics, and enterprise resource planning), and soft skills that help them communicate effectively with colleagues and clients.

The technical proficiencies Hird described as in highest demand include financial controllership, financial analysis, business analysis, and senior accountant skills. The business analysis skills are particularly being driven by business process-improvement projects related to technology, Hird said.

Accounting employers, meanwhile, are most successful recruiting if they embrace a number of strategies, Hird said. The willingness to negotiate is one key, and a streamlined hiring process is another. Hird said companies and firms that subject candidates to a lengthy hiring regimen are losing potential employees who have multiple job offers.

Efficient onboarding programs for new hires and concrete plans for individual employee development also are helping employers with retention of the people they do hire, Hird said.

“It’s just taking that long-term outlook,” he said. “What does a candidate want to do right now, in five years, and 10 years? And really building the career progression for the individual, tailored for that individual; not just a cookie-cutter program for all staff, but building around the individual and what they want to do, and encouraging that.”

Ken Tysiac ( is a JofA editorial director.

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