How to Recruit and Keep Great Talent in Public Accounting

Recently, Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People opined on the most pressing issues facing our profession. Many of them talked about issues around talent. In fact, talent came up a lot. Here are some that got our attention:   

–Joe Adams, Managing Partner & CEO, McGladrey:
In addition to firms taking individual action to enhance their work experiences, I think it is also important for us to continue to work together as a profession to promote public accounting as an exciting career opportunity for students and young professionals to ensure we have a strong pipeline of talent in the future.

–Joanne Barry, Executive Director and CEO, NYSSCPA:
College students still see value in an accounting education, but there has been a significant drop off in the number of candidates sitting for the CPA Exam. While some of them may still not realize it, firm managing partners are in the midst of generational disruption, with college grads entering the profession on their own terms. Members of this entrepreneurial generation are hungry for opportunities and experience. If they don’t like a firm’s culture, they’re not going to adapt to it, and wait in line to become partner (if being partner is even important to them), they’re going to leave and create a culture of their own…

–Gary Bolinger, President and CEO, Indiana CPA Society:
And the most important piece of [recruiting] is the need for the profession to make a serious, focused commitment to improving diversity among CPAs and aligning the profession with the population’s demographics.

–Sarah Cirelli, Marketing Manager, Interactive Marketing, WithumSmith+Brown:
Attracting, developing and retaining young leaders will make or break a firm in the coming years.

–Rita Keller, President of Keller Advisors:
Currently, I am becoming more and more concerned about the negative impression that many young people, and others, have about a career in accounting

–Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group:
Talent and growth. Call it the circle of life, but firms with great talent are providing great services to great clients who pay great fees, which allow great firms to pay top compensation and also make the critical investments today for a greater firm tomorrow.

–Mark Koziel, Vice President of Firm Services & Global Alliances, AICPA:
People, people, people would be the issue for any firm with 2+ CPAs. Finding and retaining staff is back as a significant issue

Our take:

Take these comments as warnings. Every one of these folks, and the rest who mentioned talent, are correct. We’re slowly losing a generation of accountants because we’re not offering great places to work. And if you really do offer a great place to work, then you’re not telling your story clearly enough. We must get to work.  

If you work at a firm, I offer three requests to help bring in, and keep, great talent in public accounting:

First: Find out what it takes to improve your workplace so that young, high-performers want to join your firm and stay there. Caveat: they may not stay there forever — in fact most young HP’s switch jobs after two years. But, be the kind of place that boomerangs want to return to. That means having a great workplace, embracing the latest technology, flexing on facetime demands and trusting your team to get the job done. In short, be the kind of beacon workplace that young professionals would love to join…and return to.  

Second: Recruit all the time. Stop “posting and praying”, and commit your organization to recruiting talent. It works for Uber, and frankly, it’s non-negotiable. Have a big sign out front that says, “if you’re good, if you are talented and willing to work, we will talk to you today.” Even if you don’t have a specific job opening.  

Third: Help us tell students and young professionals about your noble profession. Join Meet the Firms Week and with a show of force of firms across the country, tell students that you want them to stay in public accounting; you want them to return to public after trying out that in-house gig; you want them to go to midmarket firms, or start their own firm, if they join a Big 4 out of school and decide to leave.  

Finally, if you have a story to tell, we’d love to feature you in a future webinar. It’s no secret young accountants are leaving public accounting for private opportunities. Let’s work together to educate them about their career options and the best types of organizations to join. We want them to know why they should pursue a CPA and become partner. If you have a unique point of view, and would like to present to our community, email me at

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