Six ways to recruit top talent for your accountancy firm
Job boards and recruitment professionals are go-to places to find top talent for many for small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs). But, as well as these mainstays, some accountancy firms are developing additional ways to grow their teams.
Every SMP is unique – with different needs, priorities and specialisms – so we asked a range of firms across the UK about some of the ways they have found new recruits to help inspire and inform your approach to developing your team.
Job boards and recruiters. These are the staple means to attract top candidates to your firm, but there are ways to make the most of these sources. Ad Valorem used job boards in the past, and these have provided plenty of applications. Director Nikki Adams says their focus on candidate profiling – and checking spelling – can really help to sift candidates.
Recruiters are also widely used, but many experts note that finding a trusted partner who understands your business and with whom you have a great relationship is essential. “I have a really good relationship with a few [recruitment] agencies,” says Katy Cobbold, head of HR at London-based accountancy firm Wilson Wright. “We have not pinched them on fees and I think that helps with the prioritisation of good candidates coming through the door.”
Secondments. Professional swaps have proved successful, according to Nathan Keeley, business services partner at accountancy firm MHA Carpenter Box. He recently had a secondee from a firm in Australia join the team on a short-term basis, bringing some valuable tech expertise and giving one of their employees an opportunity to work over there. The experiment paid off with the international professional deciding to move to the UK and work for the firm.
The initial secondment was established using Keeley’s professional contacts and he had set up further secondments for this year and next, though the Covid-19 pandemic has put these on ice for now.
Look abroad for tech talent. “A few firms have hired tech talent in South Africa or Poland. They work full-time as part of the team just not in the same geography,” says Rob Blythe, founder and director of specialist SME talent acquisition company Instant Impact. While these were not accountancy firms, Blythe adds that there is nothing to stop such organisations trying it: there are lots of talented professionals in these areas and the exchange rate and domestic salaries mean you can offer potential recruits a competitive package, he adds.
Looking abroad can also help to ensure you are at the cutting edge of tech. Australia and New Zealand are ahead of the UK in terms of development, according to Keeley. He finds that while lots of people in the UK put Xero on their CV, for example, when it comes to more complex client questions around tech – such as integrating software to make the finance and accounting function more effective – very few candidates can do that, whereas those from abroad are more able to. Furthermore, if they can, they are paid a premium as their own firm wants to keep them.
Acquisitions. When accountancy firm Ad Valorem wanted to build their tax department, they acquired a practice rather than hiring a senior manager. This might seem like a sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut situation, but the firm’s director Nikki Adams explains that if you are hiring a senior manager to grow a new part of the business – rather than simply filling a vacant position – an acquisition can be a great way to hire talent.
There are a few benefits, Adams says: you do not have to cover a senior manager’s salary while they build clients and they do not have the pressure of establishing that base. “Usually the R&D we find pays for the acquisition,” she explains, adding that generally the practices they acquire are not very cloud orientated so they bring immediate value to their new clients too.
Tap into your professional contacts. There are a number of ways this can help SMPs. Plugging into your specialist teams’ contacts is a particularly useful channel for hiring more specialists, says Keeley. Employees are always mixing with their peers – on courses or at events, for example – and they tend to stay in contact so this can be a great way to find other specialists in the sector.
Professional contacts are also important for hiring partners, according to Keeley. At this level personality really matters so knowing the individual is important, he says. MHA Carpenter Box has even given senior professionals in the sector – who are not recruitment experts – a monthly retainer to help bring partners on board. Such experts know the firm well and have many contacts in the profession, making them well-placed to introduce potential candidates.
Social media. In a similar vein to professional contacts, social media is a great way to source top talent.
For Keeley, LinkedIn is one of the main channels for this. “It is really easy to build connections,” he says. “I have around 15,000 connections on my profile so it is easy for me to find whoever I need. And, if not me, somebody else on there will have them [a potential recruit] as a connection so there are methods by which you can find people.”
Accountancy, advisory and business analytics start-up Flinder has focused on producing a library of content to raise their profile in the sector, particularly using video. “YouTube is completely under-tapped for accountancy firms,” says founder and partner Alastair Barlow.
Through videos, gifs, animations, podcasts and other content, Flinder lifts a lid on what it is like to work at the firm, for example employees talking about their working lives and progression, alongside other light-hearted insights such as the annual ski trip.
“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.”
Barlow and his fellow founding partner Luke Streeter also give insights into their beliefs, views of the profession, what an accountancy firm should look like – and a wealth of practical insights too. This content library is hugely valuable, says Barlow. “It has inherent value for attracting candidates, for attracting clients and retaining people, but also the inherent value for our business because of all those assets.”
The firm is now considering setting up a Facebook group for London-based young professionals who are training and working in accountancy. This would help them build an audience and nurture future talent, which may well save recruitment fees further down the road.
If you would like more information about the key messages SMPs can use to attract candidates, we have a guide here