Attracting young people to public accounting

Featuring Johanna Sweaney Salt, CPA, CGMA, a partner at Gray, Salt & Associates LLP in Claremont, Calif.


Finding and maintaining our talent pool is really important, and making this profession — public accounting — attractive to our young people and continuing to do that because many of our 20-somethings are burning out on public accounting and they're moving to industry. I know industry needs CPAs too, but we’d like to keep some of them in public accounting.

One of our strategic imperatives at our firm is that we hire straight out of college, and we don't have a formal training program like some of the bigger firms do, but it's really hands on, and we hire excess capacity to make sure that they don't burn out. Our staff accountants had to work every other Saturday during tax season. That's it. That was all the overtime that was required. We give them the space to be able to study for and sit for the CPA Exam. Give them the goal that — the only thing they really need to accomplish within that first year is passing the CPA Exam. We don't really care about much of anything else. If they learn a little bit about client services and tax and accounting in the meantime, that's awesome.

Our goal is to try to make it attractive to show that you can have a family and work in this profession. We do have in place a mobile work policy, where you can work remotely one or more days a week and really give an emphasis on community involvement. We expect our staff to be involved in the outside community. We don't tell them where. They can walk a dog or feed the homeless or whatever — that's up to them — but we found that to be really a high value as well. But at the end of the day, public accounting isn't for everyone, and sometimes it's just not a personality fit, but we have made it a real high value to make working in a small firm as attractive as possible.

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