Accounting Today recently published partner Jim O’Malley’s article, “The Myths and Realities of Hiring ‘A Talent.'” Read the full article below.

Every accounting firm leader knows you are only as good as your talent.

Your team is the backbone of your reputation and your reputation is what brings in the revenue. It follows that you want to hire the best people possible; those commonly referred to as “A talent.” These are the folks with the stellar credentials—the shining stars at your competition and the rainmakers whose clients you’d love to poach.

Who can argue with wanting A talent, right? Wrong. In today’s competitive hiring environment, it’s time to shatter the myth that hiring A players is always the best plan. A singular focus on top talent is expensive, hard to accomplish and, frankly, often misguided.

So, before you commit to investing a lot of time and money determined to hire only top talent, ask yourself these three simple questions:

1. Does this position need to be filled by a star? Not all jobs require brilliance, especially if the rest of your team is strong. Additionally, that next level below is—by definition—above average and these professionals can usually be developed into A talent over time. A top performer may also be more difficult to retain over the long term.

2. Can I afford an A? Top talent will demand top salaries, as much as 50 percent higher. Also note that you may unwittingly be setting yourself up for a bidding war simply by initiating the recruitment process with an A performer. One of the golden rules of executive search is that candidates who are “passive” when you initially engage will inevitably respond to every other recruiter calling with an opportunity once that candidate declares him or herself “active.”

3. Will A talent consider this role or firm worthy? Be realistic about your employer value proposition. Will you be able to offer the A performer the cachet and career trajectory that candidates of this caliber expect?

Additionally, recognize that top talent is typically not looking to move or available when you need them. You have to work within their timeframes. Unlike a piece of fruit at the market that you can buy when you need it, top talent needs to be identified far in advance. Then, their interests and capabilities must be assessed and cultivated over time. It can be a long drawn out process where you must invest resources into engaging them well in advance of your needs. Or, you can follow the example set years ago by of the most progressive businesses and professional sports teams and hire top talent when it is available, not when you need it!

If you’re still not 100 percent convinced that hiring only top talent can be expensive at best or futile at worst, consider a “Plan B” and take a closer look at the relative advantages of hiring the next level of talent because:

1. You can fill open positions more quickly, with less expense.

2. You may find that this next level of talent is less ego-driven and will therefore work better as a team. (Note that this is a broad generalization that individual candidate interviews or assessments can prove or disprove.)

3. You may find “hidden gems.” These are professionals who, through no fault of their own, are overshadowed by A’s or held back by other circumstances, such as lousy managers, at their current firms. Given the right environment, such individuals can quickly become top performers

4. You may concur that “experience and education ain’t what they used to be,” as Dr. John Sullivan writes. Think of it this way: While the core principles of the accounting profession are static, approaches to problem-solving, client service and technology (not to mention a host of other tools of the trade) are changing. Those who are considered next-level talent due to inexperience, it can be argued, are far less encumbered by tradition and far more likely to offer the fresh thinking and innovation that your firm needs. As far as education, Steve Jobs, John Glenn and Mark Twain were all dropouts. And Orville Wright, as Sullivan points out, never held a pilot’s license.

Our needs are few but our wants are limitless, and human wants will always exceed the resources available to fulfill those wants, hence scarcity. We can all agree that there is a scarcity of talent in the profession today and it is compounded when all firms seek to hire those at the top of the A list. That’s why it’s important to set your expectations appropriately from the beginning and consider an alternate recruitment strategy—call it Plan B—that still gets you above-average talent in the roles where you need them, in the fastest and least expensive manner possible.

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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