How accounting employers can recruit and keep good people

By Ken Tysiac

Top U.S. accounting job candidates command starting yearly salaries well into six figures in an extremely competitive market for talent, according to a new salary guide for 2018 published by staffing services provider Robert Half.

Unlike past salary guides, the latest guide does not estimate how much salaries for various positions are increasing or falling compared with the previous year's guide. Instead, the salary benchmarking charts provide a range of salaries for each type of finance and accounting position, with estimated salaries for candidates in the 25th, 50th, 75th, and 95th percentiles based on candidates' experience level and skills as well as the job's complexity.

Paul McDonald, Robert Half's senior executive director, said in a telephone interview that accounting and finance is a candidate-driven marketplace, and he expects it to remain that way throughout 2017 and into 2018.

The top-qualified CFOs in the biggest corporate accounting jobs are commanding starting salaries just shy of $500,000, according to the salary guide. Meanwhile, top senior managers/directors for the most coveted jobs in tax services and audit-assurance services are receiving starting salaries in excess of $200,000, the guide says. The guide includes adjustments for geographical locations that range from plus-40.5% for New York City to minus-28% for El Paso, Texas.

'Keeping your network warm'

In this environment, McDonald advises that employers keep working to strengthen their recruiting program all year, even if they don't have a current opening. Employers who don't have a job available can continue to stay in touch with people in their networks, such as former employees and colleagues they have met at conferences.

"Make sure you're in touch with these people on an ongoing basis," McDonald said. "It's like keeping your network warm, because you never know. You might be one resignation away from having to fill a very mission-critical position."

It's also critical, McDonald said, for recruiters to move swiftly and diligently when they do find a candidate they are interested in for an open position. More than two-thirds (69%) of adults employed in professional environments in the United States said in a recent Robert Half survey that they would lose interest in a job if they did not hear from the employer within two weeks after the interview.

In recognition of this, McDonald said employers can speed up the process by using videoconferencing services such as Skype for the initial interview. He said reference checking and HR/compliance checks should be started and completed promptly. He said employers may consider making an offer before the background checks are complete, contingent on a satisfactory background check.

"Don't delay the process," McDonald said.

His other tips for successful recruiting and retention in this competitive environment include:

  • Maintenance of a list of possible candidates by the accounting/finance leadership. Relying on human resources for candidates may not yield the best results because HR may not have great contacts in this specialized field.
  • Contemplate a referral bonus for employees who deliver a new worker to the company.
  • Provide a competitive compensation package that spells out salary, a strong benefits plan, and any perks you might offer.
  • Focus on culture and build a team that current employees appreciate and candidates want to join. Regularly getting staff together away from the office can build morale.
  • Provide training and feedback/reviews to help staff and candidates understand that they can advance their careers with your organization.
  • Consider contributing toward CPE, and understand that if you don't, your competitors may.

What candidates need to do

McDonald said candidates need to develop a combination of hard and soft skills to land the position they desire. Technological skills are helpful; knowing Excel even as an entry-level candidate is a plus. McDonald encountered a recent college graduate who understood how to use Excel PivotTables and Access, which placed that person's skills in great demand.

Meanwhile, he said the availability of technology to handle the technical chores is providing accountants the opportunity to present information earlier in their careers. Thus, strong verbal and written skills are essential along with the underappreciated skill of listening.

"I like to say the résumé gets you the interview, and the soft skills get you the job," McDonald said.

Candidates with an understanding of compliance are particularly in high demand, McDonald said, as organizations implement FASB's new accounting standards for revenue recognition and leases. He said the lease accounting changes in particular are going to be a very big effort for companies, so individuals who understand those rules will have an advantage.

He said the future looks bright for job candidates in accounting and finance, and said it's important for employers to make employees feel appreciated and feel like part of the organization.

"As an employer, really pay attention to your surrounding competitive environment," McDonald said. "Because it really is difficult to replace good people."

Ken Tysiac ( is a JofA editorial director.

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