How to attract experienced accountants to your firm

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From showing the difference professionals can make to giving a behind-the-scenes look at the team, here’s how small- and medium-sized firms can put their best foot forward with potential recruits.

The biggest asset to any accountancy firm is the people working in it – without them, there is no business. That means that attracting the best possible talent is essential, whether you have a handful of employees or hundreds.

The ability to attract top talent to your accountancy firm is essential – whatever size it may be. As one professional put it: if you do not have a cohesive team in a people business, then you do not have a business.

As a small- and medium-sized practice (SMP), however, it is easy to see the huge resources the Big Four pour into recruitment and feel a little hopeless in comparison. But the sector is thriving: with the Covid-19 pandemic showing just how supportive, dynamic and essential these practices are for supporting businesses around the UK.

So we asked a number of SMP firms and start-ups about the messages they use to help attract the best candidates for their roles. 

If you would like more information on the channels SMPs use to find top-tier candidates, check out our guide here. Alternatively, if you are looking to recruit graduates or school-leavers, we have a separate guide here.

Build the firm’s profile within the sector more generally, for example winning awards or sitting on advisory committees. This does not just help bring in clients – it also attracts talent. In fact, accountancy, advisory and business analytics start-up Flinder says that building their brand has meant that in the last six months or so, candidates have started approaching them directly.

“The brand we have built using articles, panels, podcasts and speaking events – all those sorts of things – really attracts top tier candidates,” says the firm’s partner and founder Alastair Barlow. Even where a recruitment partner was used, branding has given the firm an excellent conversion rate as candidates are already excited about working there, says Barlow.

Profile-building is particularly important when trying to recruit well-known figures in the sector, according to Warren Baker, partner at London-based accountants Wilson Wright. When his firm started approaching sector heavyweights to join, they found that such figures really bought into the vision but struggled to decide about joining because they had not really heard of them.

“That was really one of the main reasons why we realised that we had to raise our profile,” says Baker. “And that was a key moment because since then, we really have not struggled to attract the right quality of people.”

Show off your client base. The calibre of clients at Wilson Wright is another selling point, says the firm’s head of HR Katy Cobbold. “There can be an assumption with people who do not have that much experience that the large firms get more interesting clients,” she says. But being comfortable about sharing the individuals and businesses they support – for example, through videos on their YouTube channel and website – has helped attract candidates, she adds. The reason those clients stay is that they want a personal service, says Cobbold – if you work for the firm, you also enjoy that more personal, family feel.

Demonstrate the difference professionals can make. Clients of Milton Keynes-based accountancy firm Ad Valorem range from start-ups to those with a £25m turnover, says director Nikki Adams. This means that the team tends to work with business owners unlike in large practices, she says, where employees are more likely to work with complex businesses that have in-house finance teams.

This changes the nature of the work. “It’s advisory in a different way,” she says. In big practices your clients tend to be other finance professionals so the work can be more technical, whereas supporting smaller business owners gives you a broader range of experience. You can also see the difference you are making, she adds. “That is really exciting for young professionals because they can immediately see the impact of their work on those companies,” Adams says.

Show what it is like to work at the firm before candidates apply. At Flinder, Barlow says that video has been essential to helping potential candidates get a sense of what it is like to work at the firm. This includes employees talking about their working lives and progression at Flinder (in the first week, three months, six months and year), showcasing their annual ski trip and a blooper reel that shows their light-hearted side.

“We are offering them [potential recruits] an opportunity to be part of a fun, progressive accounting firm and those two words do not always go together,” he says.

The firm has recently tried some new styles of videos with some of their latest recordings being more of a documentary, fly-on-the-wall style – rather than just a person talking to camera – so the audience gets a true insight into the firm. This has tangible benefits for Barlow. “Through our YouTube and Instagram people already feel what it is like to work at Flinder,” he says, “and the right candidate is already sold on it before they ever see us.”

Ad Valorem also uses videos and blogs to attract candidates: any professional worth their salt looks at a firm’s digital footprint, says Adams. A behind-the-scenes look at a firm has also been particularly helpful for recruiting during lockdown. In normal circumstances, candidates would be shown around the office to get a feel for what it would be like to work at Ad Valorem, but that is impossible during lockdown so the marketing team produced a video of the fun side of the firm for potential recruits.

Such a commitment to videos takes resource. “We spend a lot of money on marketing,” concedes Adams. But, she adds, “that attracts clients and it attracts staff.”

Flinder has one full-time, in-house marketing professional with a background in making videos – some investment given the firm has only 20-employees in total – and other resources such as a green screen. But, again, Barlow says the investment pays off: not only is the content engaging, he also sees it as an ever-growing intangible asset for the business.

The firm now has a library of videos, gifs and other content. So rather than a LinkedIn post about tax, he says, they can repost one of their videos or gifs about strategy that relate to a specific client, event or even film. “That is much more entertaining and engaging and likely to get someone to think ‘I want to work with these guys’,” he says.

In terms of content creation, anyone can do it, says Barlow. “Some stuff we do on the iPhone, some stuff we do properly with a green screen background, an SLR and lighting etc.” He also thinks that SMPs can compete with the Big Four in terms of creating content (though not at the same volume). “An SMP could do it,” he says. “Their audience is not as big and as vast as the Big Four – it is niche and they can dominate that.”

Other firms have also found that having a marketing team can really improve how professional a firm comes across to potential candidates. “From our job descriptions, to directions to the office, to the website and LinkedIn posts – that consistency says, ‘Ok, you might be small, but my gosh, you look professional’,” says Cobbold.

If you would like to read more about the channels SMPs use to attract top talent, read our guide here . Or, if you are more interested in recruiting young professionals, check out our graduate recruitment guide.

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