CPA INSIDER

How to attract a talent pool diverse in experience

Make sure you’re not overlooking older job candidates.
By Anita Dennis

When practitioners are asked to identify their chief concerns for the PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, staffing is typically a first choice for most firm sizes. That's why it's so important to avoid hiring practices that may be putting off some highly qualified candidates.

Many organizations make a concerted effort to build diverse and inclusive cultures, but even the best-intentioned ones may inadvertently exclude more experienced workers. Employers can take a few key steps to ensure they continue to draw from this critical segment of the talent pool. 

Recognize the value of older workers. There are many incentives for organizations to hire professionals with a range of experience. "Age-diverse teams develop innovative solutions that a non–age-diverse team, such as a team consisting of a single generation, cannot," said Lori Trawinski, age diversity initiative lead at the AARP Public Policy Institute. "By working together, mixed-age teams often come up with new solutions that take into account both old and new approaches. This ultimately results in a better solution."

In addition, many organizations are seeing large numbers of Baby Boomers heading into retirement. For those companies, "mixed-age teams provide an opportunity for training new hires and for facilitating knowledge transfer — a critical need for many organizations," she said. 

Changing demographics also contribute to the business case for age diversity. "Your hiring criteria should be driven by what's in the best interests of the organization," said Greg Grant, who chairs the employment law practice at Shulman Rogers in Potomac, Md. Given an aging population and a tight job market, employers should be open to all types of applicants, he advised.

Examine your assumptions about experienced workers. Don't assume that a job applicant with a lot of experience will be overqualified for or unhappy with a lower-level position. "It's important to remember that not everyone's ambitions are the same," said independent recruiter Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA. For example, an experienced accountant may be comfortable supervising others and bringing in new clients but not necessarily want to be a partner, she said.

Those who have lost a job during a corporate downsizing may be happy to start at a lower level in a new organization, she pointed out. Or a professional who has had a long career and is heading toward retirement may be willing to take a lower salary for a job that better suits his or her current lifestyle. Berk recommended that employers identify and eliminate the assumptions and stereotypes that can creep into the hiring process. 

Sometimes employers pass on experienced workers because they assume they are close to retirement and won't stay in their position that long. However, as Grant pointed out, workers of all ages are having shorter job tenures than they used to, so hiring a younger candidate is no guarantee they'll be with you for many years.

"You can't count on longevity with any worker, no matter what their age," he said.  

Make sure you're not accidentally sending older candidates the wrong message. Take a look at your recruitment landing page, advised Trawinski. "Does it show a photo of workers across the age spectrum?" she asked. "You will probably see several types of diversity depicted in the photo, but often age is not one of them. If potential job applicants do not see themselves in the photo, they are not likely to apply."

Similarly, avoid language that hints at or flatly states a preference for younger workers. Examples include calls for "energetic young professionals," "recent grads," and "maximum of x years' experience." Such restrictions "are self-limiting to a fault," said Grant. Instead, he recommends that job postings focus on required skills or experience rather than time on the job or other less relevant factors. He also advises organizations to consult their legal counsel or a seasoned human resources professional for advice on relevant employment laws in all aspects of hiring.

Consider changing your applicant review processes. Blind résumé reviews that strip out information on the dates of different jobs or dates of birth or graduation can allow for a more equitable evaluation.

Hiring personnel can also use structured interviews conducted by a diverse range of people, Trawinski said. In structured interviews, hiring managers ask the same questions of every candidate to ensure a consistent approach.

Be open-minded about who will fit into your culture. Don't assume that an experienced worker won't fit into a tech-savvy firm, for example, and favor newer professionals instead. Concentrate on the skills that a candidate brings to the organization rather than on details — like length of time in the workforce — that don't relate directly to the job.    

"We now have five generations in the workplace, working side-by-side," Trawinski said "A multigenerational workforce provides organizations with an opportunity to leverage the value of diverse perspectives, various experience levels, and organizational knowledge." When organizations include age diversity in their diversity and inclusion efforts, they're better able to make the most of the value of a multigenerational workforce.

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. 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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