Navigating a candidate-driven recruitment market

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The war for talent in the accounting and finance profession is well documented, as too are the key headwinds —the widening void left by people leaving the profession, concerns around its public perception, attracting and keeping young talent.

This all means that candidates entering the profession or established professionals seeking or being courted for a move are firmly in the recruitment driving seat. How long this will last is unknown given the economic uncertainty in many parts of the world. If there are sustained recessions, then trimming headcount is a fast-acting and easy way to cut costs in an economic squeeze. 

‘This usually happens in the bigger corporates first (as they have more fat to trim) and then filter down to the SME market,’ says Gareth Cowan, founder of accountancy specialists Trace Recruitment. ‘However, we are still seeing that businesses are under-resourced, so I think there’s still a way to go before post-pandemic teams are up to size and the workforce is settled.’

So, what to do if you’re a practice or business owner, a CFO, a hiring manager?

Work on retention

‘What a company does to support their staff in a downturn will say a lot about them as a business and inevitably will help with retention and attraction in the long term,’ says Cowan.

‘Pay your employees what they’re worth, support them, develop their careers, and give them more responsibility, and go the extra mile to make sure they’re happy and engaged. Make it a great environment to work in and reduce the likelihood of your best people resigning’

To this end, James Manders, managing director at recruiters CassonX, says you need to really sit down with staff, see how they’re feeling and make them feel valued, this could be the difference between losing and keeping a valued employee.

‘How often do you sit down with them and really talk, not just about their career, but also how they are and how they're finding their employment. Don't wait once a year and give them a letter that says they’ve underperformed. Sit down every one, two, three months and say, “look, I think we can do this. I think we can do that. How do you feel? What are you trying to achieve?” Make them feel like they've got a career,’ he recommends.

And then give people real opportunities. ‘Get people swapping desks. “Do you want to learn something new? Well so does that person over there, shall we see if we can swap?”. That's a great thing,’ he says. ‘It's not just promotions and pay increases. After six months of hiring someone, ask them if they’ve found their role as you sold it to them in the interview. Then find out what they want next. What can you do to keep them engaged?’

Don’t make counter offering part of your retention strategy

And as for counter offering — the act of trying to keep an employee who has put in notice to leave by offering them an improved package — Manders says to simply avoid it. ‘A counter offer might be a quick and easy solution, but research shows that a person who takes a counter offer and stays is still likely to leave within a 10-month period, because fundamentally their reason for leaving hasn't changed.

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‘If that person is in the mindset to hand in their notice, then unless they're doing it deliberately, to play an advantage perhaps, they're already out the door. There is already something wrong, so just don't counter. I know it's time consuming, but you’re better off getting someone fresh and who's genuinely dedicated.’

Do the work to be selected

Time consuming, maybe, but well worth it if done well. So, before you even sit down with candidates, get your brand polished and in the market, and give the recruiters you use something remarkable to work with. ‘Trust your recruiters, value them, give them feedback and give them time to find great people,’ says Cowan. ‘A good recruiter really wants to do a good job for you and to build a relationship with you for the long term, so engage with them properly and treat them well. They will find you great candidates if you do.’

Equally, having a good brand will make it easier for all involved in the recruitment process. ‘Deciding what companies to work for has become very much a virtual decision, so make sure your website is up-to-date and relevant, have great benefits, offer equality and diversity, be visible, drive good reviews and content and engage better with those who now find their jobs in front of a screen,’ says Cowan.

‘Because of the huge amount of choice in the market, you need to make your job attractive. Candidates are not just motivated by money, many are not, so put your best foot forward and make the job as interesting and enticing as you possibly can. If your brand does not stand out, the job vacancy most-definitely should.’

To no one’s surprise, flexibility is more than a buzzword since the pandemic, so take it seriously. ‘You will be in the vast minority if you do not offer hybrid working, flexibility and trust to your workforce. You are seriously limiting the talent pool if you insist on people working four or five days a week in the office,’ says Cowan.

Finally, benchmark your competitors and the market. ‘If you underpay, or under-bonus, or under-benefit in the general marketplace, you may well be fighting a losing battle before the bell has rung,’ says Cowan.

Good hiring practices

How you hire, the interview process, the engagement and communication, the speed nowadays need to be top level, or slick, as Cowan says. ‘Have a clear interview process and don’t involve unnecessary layers of interviews. If you are slow to get through a process, you will lose people. Look at holiday schedules, diaries, and your ability to make an offer quickly before you even start interviewing.

‘Make interviews engaging and involve your best people in the process. Give candidates a good experience because if you don’t, they will not come back for a second interview or accept an offer.’

Then when you come to offer, do it right, give your best offer straight away to try to avoid the scourge of counter offering, continues Cowan. ‘A good candidate will get counter-offered and will have multiple job offers, so it’s worth thinking about what their counteroffer will look like, what their upper salary expectations are, and give your best offer based on that.’

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