Accounting Today recently published partner Jim O’Malley’s article, “The 2016 Race for Accounting Talent.” Read the full article below.

What’s good for the overall economy doesn’t bode well for winning the race to recruit great accounting talent.

While the overall unemployment rate continues to hold steady at 5 percent, the unemployment rate within the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ category of “Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services” sector is now 2.5 percent, half the overall unemployment rate.

Costs are rising too. Robert Half predicts an average, across-the-board salary increase of 4.7 percent for accountants in 2016. Already hard-to-fill jobs, such as mid-level auditors, will become even more difficult to fill and talent is becoming more expensive.

In this highly competitive race for talent, savvy accounting organizations are re-evaluating their recruitment strategies to gain a head start. While every firm and accounting department is unique and should be assessing what works (and what doesn’t) within its own recruitment strategy, processes, technology and people, there are three overarching actions you need to take now:

1. Strengthen Your Employer Brand

Simply put, your employer brand is your reputation as a place to work. To attract great talent, especially rising stars from the millennial generation, it makes sense to look at what you can offer beyond salary, including perceived “softer” benefits such as your overall culture, training, career progression and flexible work arrangements, to name just a few.

Many organizations paid little attention to their employer brand when they were shedding, not hiring, people. Now is the time to refocus to help you both retain current employees and attract new ones.

Just be sure to be authentic. With employers and candidates alike in “sales mode” during the recruitment process, impressions about culture and fit can be (intentionally or not) miscommunicated and therefore misaligned.

This cuts both ways. A stellar MBA candidate may sense that you really want to hire her so she communicates a lack of interest to get more negotiating leverage. Conversely, your recruitment team may make unrealistic promises about work-life balance to get candidates over the finish line, only to have to deal with retention issues later when reality reveals itself.

When playing these games, all parties fail to be true to themselves. So, stop deceiving yourself and the candidate on what working within your organization really is like. Wouldn’t you rather have talent that is attracted by your culture, the people you have working for you and/or the projects? And, please, stop with taglines like “We work hard and play hard.” That really is no way to describe your firm’s culture.

2. Get Better at Candidate Sourcing

Your accountants are constantly bombarded by enticing calls from your competitors’ recruiters offering them their next great career opportunity. Likewise, it’s fairly certain that your organization’s recruiters court the same soon-to-be graduates at college job fairs and that your job postings appear right next to those of your competitors on electronic job boards. Today, successful candidate sourcing goes beyond the traditional recruitment process and requires creativity.

The firms who are most successful in getting the best talent borrow a page from marketers and provide recruitment content in ways that are much more strategic and fruitful than verbiage on the “careers” page of a website and the “dial and smile” tactics still used by some. While social media is one of the top ways to disseminate information to passive candidates, you must remember that “content is king.”

Consider that the average graduate typically has multiple opportunities to weigh before he or she makes a decision. Top accounting organizations are distinguishing themselves by consistently and frequently providing high-quality, engaging information about what it’s like to work there, what the people (both clients and colleagues) are like, and what type of training, mentoring and opportunities the firm offers to help its people grow and develop.

These are the top reasons why candidates are attracted to your firm. You need to get creative about telling your story in an appealing fashion.

3. Involve Your Partners and Executive Team

Don’t wait. Get your leadership involved now to develop relationships with future hires outside your organization. Your internal team often has excellent networks built through previous jobs, professional associations, client or alumni relationships so be sure to leverage them.

This is not always easy. Executives tend to be protective about their personal contacts or are too busy to make time for networking events. However, given that employment for the profession is growing faster than the average for all occupations, recruitment needs to be a top priority.

My experience as a former in-house talent acquisition leader at several large accounting firms showed that almost every executive job at the firm could have been filled simply by tapping into the partners’ networks. Convince your team that by sharing their networks with you, you will help them and help the accounting firm long term. If you are a good business partner, they will likely not have a problem sharing. If they don’t share, then they are telling you something…

J. James O’Malley

About the Author

Jim has spent 25 years on both ends of the table, developing HR and talent solutions to align leadership, talent, and business needs.

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