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Best Practices for Hiring Accountants: An Expert’s Take

Ever wanted to know how many applications it takes to fill an accounting job? Or how to write a job description or job posting that drives applies? Or how to avoid losing good candidates after they’ve applied?  What are the best practices for hiring accountants?

As Accountingfly’s Director of Fulfillment, Beth Dierker has seen it all. From perfect hires to absolute disasters, Beth’s been there, done that. In part one of our interview, Beth talks about job descriptions, common hiring mistakes and the state of the current hiring market.

Editor: Good morning, Beth! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Beth: All right, well, I am the Head of Fulfillment at Accountingfly, and while I wear a lot of hats, the majority of my role is leading a team to help our clients hire the best-fit candidates.

I always start by meeting with the client to find out exactly what they’re looking for, understanding the roles, who makes a good fit, what the firm culture is, so there’s a learning on both the cultural and the technical side, and then making sure that the job description that we are advertising actually fits what our clients are looking for.

I also do a lot of the actual recruiting myself. And that involves reviewing resumes, making sure that the job description is bringing in the right kind of candidate, interviewing candidates, and then creating write-ups that describe to our clients what the candidates could bring to them.

When we get close to the finish line, I become a facilitator. I advise both clients and candidates to help them make a deal if there’s a deal to be made.
Editor: Sounds like you get really hands-on with the process, which means you must see a lot of absolutely awful resumes.
Beth: There is quite a variety out there. [Editor: That’s Beth being polite. She sees a lot of terrible resumes.]
For all the resume “secrets” out there, the key for candidates is that they really need to find that Goldilocks place in the middle where you’re giving just enough information to convince the recruiter to call you.
And that also holds true for creating job descriptions and maybe this is a question for later on down the road, but I think oftentimes employers may have been burned, and so their job descriptions are three pages long, and they include everything and the kitchen sink. That can be really scary for job seekers to read and they think “Oh my gosh, there’s no person that can do all of this in 40 hours a week.”
And then they don’t apply for that job.
Editor: How many resumes do you typically review for every candidate that you choose to refer to a client for an interview?
Beth: It really depends on the role. A properly promoted cloud bookkeeper job will generate 200 plus resumes. So, for something like that,we’re going to have to review a lot before you dial down to your 8-10 that look like a good fit.
The more skilled roles that require a CPA or higher-end experience are going to have a lot fewer applications from the get-go. Those are definitely the type of skill sets that require more advertising and screening resources. A job posting doesn’t always just do it. You’ve got to go the extra mile, dig into networking groups, advertise in the right places, and perhaps spend a little bit more on the advertising itself to target the right people.
Editor: So, it sounds like it could be, best case, you’re looking at 30, 40, 50 resumes to fill a job and worst case it could be 200 or more?
Beth: Correct.
Editor: For a single position?
Beth: Correct.
Editor: Wow.

Beth: Which is super time-consuming for a busy firm. Oftentimes at a small firm, it’s the firm owner that’s responsible for reviewing all those resumes. So, when they see hundreds of resumes coming in for their position, they wave the white flag.

In those situations, hiring a recruiter is really time saving investment, because they don’t have to trudge through the people who simply aren’t qualified.

Editor:  Let’s talk about best practices for hiring accountants. You talked a minute ago about job descriptions and how to start the process off right.  What are some keys to success at the start of the process – the groundwork to make sure things don’t go off the rails later?
Beth: Job description is so important. I like to think about the job description chunked out into a couple main general headings.
One, I always love to include a snappy headline about the firm. You have to make the candidate want to apply to your firm. Every firm has its own thing. What makes the firm special? Is it opportunity for career growth?  Fridays off?  The opportunity to grow a practice or to work remotely?
What it is, encapsulate that in a heading. Make it be the first thing that somebody reads. Tell the job seeker what’s in it for them and entice them to read further into the job description.
Editor: I’m sorry to interrupt, but you’re saying that the job description is really a marketing document.

Beth: It’s very much of a marketing document. There is a talent war. It’s very much a job seekers’ market. And right now job seekers have a lot of different options open to them. So, you want them to know that your firm is special and to entice them to want to learn more.

Being concise is important. I think bullet points work really well. This is not the place for big blocks of text. It should be scannable and not overwhelming to a potential candidate.

Editor: What are the other key components to a great job description?

Beth: The other chunks of information, I think, fall into responsibilities, qualifications, and benefits.

In terms of responsibilities, don’t aim for massive amounts of information. Pick six or eight things that are really reasonable. [Editor: For an SEO checklist, headline writing tips and more, check out Accountingfly’s Ultimate Accounting Job Posting Guide.]

I think I said earlier, if you try to include too much, you’re going to scare people away. They’re going to think that they could never handle everything that you need done. So, the key is to be reasonable and to manage expectations as well.

The qualification section again, just a few bullet points. Tell them roughly how many years they need experience working in the field, and again, any type of educational requirements. What are your must -haves? Is a CPA required or nice to have? Is an EA an acceptable alternative?

And then a section about benefits. At this time, a great benefit is not having to commute. I have seen the remote or work-from-home option become less of a novelty and more of an expectation in the current environment. It’s a real bonus for employees to not spend hours in the car driving to and from work.
Editor: Are there other areas where you see firms stumbling or making mistakes in the hiring process?

Beth: I see firms trying to lowball salary ranges and having unrealistic expectations.

Maybe expecting somebody to handle too many clients – instead maybe two people should be doing the role rather than just one. In today’s market, you have to be competitive on salary and have realistic expectations if you want the top candidates.

Also, sometimes employers will think that they want a particular position, and then they get halfway down the road and they change their mind. Maybe they start off hiring for a senior level job and then they realize that a staff accountant will have enough experience to handle the work.
And for a job search, with or without a recruiter, that’s a total reset button. That means taking down the initial job description. That means tweaking it, so it’s going to attract a different kind of candidate. And all the work that’s already been done is not very useful. So that can really cause delays.
Editor: So, changing your mind halfway through the process, not a good idea.
Beth: Not a good idea.
Editor: Understood. Once the job description has been posted, what are some other mistakes that you see firms making?
Beth: When you see a candidate you like, you need to jump on it. My most successful clients will look at their calendars and make room. They will clear out another meeting that maybe doesn’t take precedence, just to meet with a candidate that they like sooner rather than later. So maybe their next opening is Friday, but they make room for the candidate on Tuesday.
Editor: What kind of turnaround time do you recommend? In today’s market, how fast do you need to reply to a candidate to get them in for an interview?
Beth: From the recruiter side, we really need to be responding to candidates within 24-48 hours after application. By the time we vet them and hand them over to the employer, they should be also trying to set a meeting within 24 to 48 hours, or at least making contact with that person saying, hey, we want to chat with you. Start that dialogue happening right away.
Editor: And if you don’t?
Beth: You lose good candidates. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Oftentimes, these candidates, the good candidates, have their resume out to multiple different firms, and it’s sort of a race to the end. So, you could very well be missing out and if another firm is going further down the road more quickly, you risk not getting your hat in the ring.
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Part 2 of our interview with Beth will run soon. Stay tuned for more on best practices for hiring accountants, including the scoop on skill and culture assessments, background checks, and lots of good other stuff.
If you’d like to talk about having Beth help with your next job search, you can set a call with us by clicking here.
Beth Dierker
Beth Dierker

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