Finding ‘untapped’ talent pools of CPAs

By Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA

The talent war for CPAs is far from over, especially with fewer students majoring in accounting in recent years, let alone sitting for and passing the CPA Exam.

With the Great Resignation in full swing and job seekers seemingly having the upper hand, hiring professionals need to go about their recruiting efforts differently than they did in years past. That means examining why some CPAs are still not being noticed, invited to interview, or ultimately offered jobs, and taking steps to widen the pool of applicants.

How talent gets overlooked

Hiring requirements that decide who gets invited to interview can impact how quickly open positions get filled. Some organizations' "must-have" or "preferred" skills derive from qualities and experiences their leadership had, instead of what's actually needed or would work well in the position.

In addition, many CPAs are choosing less demanding or nontraditional career paths. These include experienced CPAs who aren't looking to be further promoted, want to work just five to 10 years before retiring, have reentered the work force after an absence, or may prefer to work less than 40 hours a week. Since not all firms or companies offer part-time or reduced-hours opportunities, these CPAs interested in less traditional careers and working schedules may not know where to apply, nor are they necessarily invited to move forward in the interview process.

Allowing a CPA to work the hours that are ideal for them, even if that means needing to hire one or two more part-time or reduced-hours professionals to divvy up the work, could foster an environment of less burnout and fewer resignations.

Here's what you and your organization can do to increase your pipeline of professionals with less traditional candidates to interview and hire, and how to ensure their success at your organization.

Reaching less traditional candidates

  • Put aside preconceived notions about what experienced CPA job seekers are looking for in their jobs. At times, these professionals are not interested in traditional career trajectories and may not be looking to make as much money as a hiring professional may think. Instead, they may be seeking greater workplace flexibility, robust benefits, shorter commutes, or the ability to work remotely.
  • Consider CPAs who have had their license for a while, maybe even a long while, or decided to reinstate their license after letting it lapse. Professionals are proud of passing the exam and receiving their license, and, even if they've let it lapse, they tend to note such on their résumé and LinkedIn profiles. They may be willing to work toward reinstating their license if required. Also, you know that they passed the exam and likely met all the requirements to become a CPA. Consider also people who may have stepped out of the workforce for a time, perhaps to care for younger children or a family member, and are looking to return to work.

Determine must-have vs. preferred skills

  • Evaluate what skills and experiences are necessary to perform and succeed at the various roles and levels within your organization. If positions remain open for several months or longer, especially at CPA firms, it may be time to relax some requirements, especially those that can be easily gained, such as knowledge of particular technologies or specific industry regulations.
  • Redefine, or more clearly define, specific examples of criteria for hiring in job postings, including what skills are transferable in an applicant's background. As an example, you could specify that you are interested in a CPA who worked as an internal auditor at a publicly traded company or as a controller in the same industries in which your firm provides services. That person could be a good fit, especially if they have past experience working in public accounting.
  • Review the backgrounds of existing staff, including those who have been promoted over the years, to see if they have checked off all the boxes of a job description or an applicant wish list. Then have conversations with these employees to better understand what personality traits or skills they had prior to joining your organization that helped to make their career successful. You can then write more detailed job descriptions, including those to find candidates that will be a good fit.

Evaluate organizational culture

  • Make sure your organization provides an inviting and inclusive environment, including being welcoming to applicants from different generations and diverse backgrounds, and conveys that to potential applicants. Evaluate interview questions or techniques to make sure they don't discourage some interested in the job or leave an applicant walking away feeling that they aren't qualified or wouldn't fit in.
  • Evaluate whether your organization offers a great culture and adheres to the flexibility touted upon hiring. You can do this with periodic anonymous surveys.

Reassess training

  • Anyone joining your organization needs training, even if just to learn about workflows, strategic planning, and more. While an experienced CPA should adjust more quickly than an entry-level professional, there still is an adjustment period to get used to the specific ways your workplace operates. Examine the training process to ensure assumptions aren't being made during the onboarding period about what a new hire would need for success. In addition, realistic expectations should be set in terms of how much time to allow for a new employee to get up to speed.
  • Experienced CPAs can make great mentors to professionals they supervise as well as to those who manage them. Think of this as built-in on-the-job training. Résumés should be viewed during the hiring process with an eye for a professional's potential ability to share soft skill training. If your firm is not factoring this into the equation as part of its training strategy, maybe it is time to do so.

A talent pool of CPAs is out there with wide-ranging skills, experiences, educational training, and more. By broadening your search for candidates, you may be pleasantly surprised hiring from this untapped talent pool.

Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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