How To Attract and Retain Stellar Talent In Your Public Accounting Firm

Attracting talent is a big challenge many public accounting firms struggle with, and it isn’t getting any easier. In a CPA Practice Advisor article from 2018, entitled The State of Accounting Firm Succession, the AICPA estimates that 75% of CPAs will be retiring in the next 15 years. This heightens the need for attracting talent to your firm…now. Talent that will play a key role in your firm’s survival and growth in a profession that is swiftly evolving with client needs.

I recently had an opportunity to pick the brain of a Millennial. What makes this Millennial unique is that he is the Founder and Managing Partner of a CPA firm (Roberts Accounting, CPAs, P.C.) that produces exponential growth every year since inception 9 years ago. His ‘secret sauce’ is his team and a technology solution he created to expedite the tax return review process. Pat Roberts is also the Founder and CEO of TaxExact. 

For this conversation, my focus was on how he built such a strong team and is easily able to find talent as he expands. 

So, my question to Pat was this…what have you done to attract the talent that continues to help your firm grow exponentially? This is what he told me…

1. Start with your vision. 

You should have a vision for every person you hire into the firm. That vision should align with that of your firm. If you read anything about what Millennials and Gen Z employees are looking for in an employer, you’ll notice that one common denominator is simply feeling like you are part of something and that your work matters.

2. Have a comprehensive training program in place. 

Give your team tools to learn their jobs and perform them more efficiently. Invest in their development to accomplish what your vision for them is within the firm. A couple examples of training we believe are important over and above technology and process protocols include:

Soft skills are some of the most important skills to train new accountants on for building confidence. Think about it- texting has become a central form of communication. In a professional environment, there are important skills needed that perhaps have never been learned. For example, you should have a process in place to teach basic client phone skills, how to run an effective client meeting, how to identify new business opportunities, and how to establish an individual professional brand online.

The tax code also has to be learned. While it seems logical to have new team members dive into the tax software and then for managers and partners to physically walk them through corrections, there is a much easier way to teach new accountants to become critically thinking trusted advisors. Here is one example of how a young accountant in Pat’s practice used TaxExact to gain confidence that the numbers were right in the 1040s he was preparing.

3. Invest in your culture.

Arguably, culture is your most valuable asset. It is the chemistry of your people and your business. Take the time to have fun together and contribute to your local community, and not just after hours. 

The possibilities are endless, and here are a few that have contributed to the positive culture at Roberts Accounting, CPA:

  • Nerf wars in the office during lunch.
  • Setting a productivity goal that means everyone goes home early if achieved- even during tax season.
  • Or, my favorite…giving everyone in the office a number of grocery store gift cards to give away to clients throughout the year that they want to express appreciation to, clients who need them, or who just need a ‘pick me up.” 

4. Empowering a team mentality. 

As Michael Jordan has been quoted saying, “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

The same is true in business. Everyone on your team brings something to the table. It’s up to you as a leader to foster an environment where everyone feels valued and that their contribution matters. 

Be purposeful about the culture you create, and protect it. Be intentional about who is on your team. If there is a person who consistently breeds negativity or even a partner who refuses to make change that is necessary for the firm to remain competitive – difficult decisions may need to be made. 

5. Your firm needs to look updated and polished.

You wouldn’t show up to an interview in your pajamas and a ball cap, right? You’re competing for very limited talent! People who can choose where they want to work…or even start their own firms. First impressions are critical if you want to get past first look from great candidates. 

Make sure your website is professionally done and updated. It’s not just prospective customers who check out your web presence- it’s the talent you are competing for as well. Put yourself in the shoes of your most desired hire- what would they think of your website compared to other firms that are courting them?

What does your LinkedIn presence look like? Do your partners and managers have professional and updated profiles? Are they well-connected in the profession? 

Don’t forget to consider the first impression someone gets when they walk into your office. Are they greeted warmly? Is the reception area comfortable and inviting? Is the office updated (including any publications in the lobby)? Clients, as well as talent that other firms are also competing for, will make judgements based on simple surface first impressions. 

6. Internships

Hiring college students as interns is a great way to build a talent funnel. Here’s why. 

It’s an opportunity to find people who appear to fit within your culture and give them a trial run. Assign them meaningful projects, not just grunt work. You’ll find out quickly if they fit in and can contribute to the firm. Give them a little responsibility in order to gauge their passion and initiative. And, make them part of the team.

The worst thing that will happen is you find they are not fit. Even those who aren’t will go back to school and talk about their internships. If they talk about having real projects they felt allowed them to contribute, and if they speak positively about their experience with the firm, word travels fast. It’s ‘social proof’ – just like a positive Google of Facebook review for your firm from clients. The next thing you know, you have a significant pool of candidates each year that want to be interns and/or turn into great hires.

At the end of the day, attracting talent to small and mid-size public accounting firms is really similar to attracting ideal clients. Just like creating a sales funnel that draws your ideal clients to your firm, you must also invest time and intention in building a culture that attracts stellar talent. 

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