CPA INSIDER

Struggling to hire? Improve the interview experience

Make a great impression on job candidates.
By Troy Ashby, CPA

Firms and employers are having an especially difficult time hiring accountants. In the AICPA's 2017 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues survey, small firms with employees named "finding qualified staff" as their No. 1 concern.

The high demand for accounting talent can be closely tied to continued growth of the economy. Job growth for accountants and auditors between 2016 and 2026 is predicted to be 10%, which is faster than the projected national average of 7% for all occupations.

While there's no silver-bullet solution for alleviating the frustrations being felt by CPA firms and organizations seeking to hire accounting talent, one way to begin is by improving the candidate experience across the recruitment process — starting with the job interview.

In short, the candidate experience can be defined as the attitude and behaviors aspiring candidates have about the recruiting process, including the stakeholders involved, the positions they're applying for, and the organizations they're applying to. The role the candidate experience plays within the recruiting process is monumental. It affects your ability to attract talent and influences your organization's brand and its bottom line.

To deliver a compelling candidate experience throughout the interview process, you must first take into full account the high level of sophistication this candidate pool has. Know what's important to them and be prepared to proactively address — and even advocate for — what they want.

For example, privately held companies may want to give candidates an accurate impression of the company's overall stability and viability in the market. CPA firms might want to address what the average partner track timeline looks like (for local and small regional firms, reference recent partner promotions). You'll also want to hit on billable-hour averages and community involvement.

Let's drill down into the phases of the interview process and ideas for improving the candidate experience in each one:

  1. Pre-interview: As hiring managers, we expect candidates to have done a proper amount of research on the employer, position, and even us personally. But in this market, it is an absolute must that hiring managers be prepared going into the interview as well. Gone are the days where we can spend the industry-average six seconds looking at a resume. Candidates have choices, and if you spend a little more time tailoring your interview to prospective hires, you will leave them with a better impression. Something as simple as referencing where a candidate attended college without glancing down at the resume can let them know you are interested in them. Referring to a not-for-profit they support as mentioned on their LinkedIn page can take the emotional experience to a new level. Another way to impress them during the interview is to mention something you know about their current or previous employer — indicating you have done additional research.

  2. The interview: One-sided interviews are no longer effective. Candidates are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them (if not more). Interviewers must relinquish control and look at the interview as a conversation, and one that requires enthusiasm. Make the experience "real" by branching outside the four walls of the interview room and conducting an office tour that shows the candidate what a day in the life of an employee looks like. Lead with items that can be used as attraction tools rather than retention tools, such as positioning the job's growth potential by talking the candidate through the org chart and discussing what previous individuals in that role have accomplished and moved on to do.

  3. Making an emotional connection by involving the team in the interview process will allow the candidate to understand the office dynamics, while also instilling trust (this is even more critical when conducting video interviews for a virtual office environment). Showcase your organization's culture and benefits, highlighting any unique perks, and setting real expectations (in a recent LinkedIn survey, 44% of professionals said benefits like health coverage and paid time off would likely keep them at their current company for more than five years). Honesty is also key; the worst thing you can do to a candidate is not tell them something they should know.

  4. Post-interview: It's important to remember that there are a lot of unknowns after a candidate walks out of an interview. Staying connected via email, text, or phone over the course of the process can continue to build upon the rapport you've developed. This includes responding to the thank-you note. Beyond that, set realistic expectations for candidates while also being aware of what you can do to keep the process moving. This includes finding ways to reduce your process to less than two weeks (you must move quickly to take advantage of the right candidates and not risk losing them to the competition). Lastly, when it comes to communicating rejections, be timely. Rejection is tough whether you are being rejected or are the one delivering the rejection, but candidates will respect you for your timeliness in the long run. Best-case scenario: a candidate may come to realize they weren't a fit and refer someone who is!

As a hiring manager, the impact of the role you play is highly significant and should be championed inside your organization — and embraced by you! You are on the front lines and have the opportunity to positively influence the candidate experience throughout the recruiting process, from attracting and sourcing to onboarding. The interview is a key piece of that process, and an area where you can make a great impression on job candidates.

Troy Ashby, CPA, is founder and president of Benchmark Search, a Dallas-based firm specializing in direct hire recruiting, executive search, and temporary staffing for accounting and finance professionals. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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