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Annie Hayes



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A quick guide to HR for your accountancy firm


As recent postings on sister site AccountingWEB suggest recruiting high calibre staff is a challenge for any business. Within the accountancy profession specifically, the need to find talented and loyal employees is more important then ever. This brief guide helps accountants get to grips with the basics.

Recruiting outside the Big Four
Small and medium firms have traditionally struggled to implement the kind of strategic recruitment and retention campaigns that the Big Four have the budgets for. Expensive recruitment consultants, interviews, assessments, training and inductions all cost time and money. However, by joining the UK200Group, firms of all sizes can access expert help while also learning from the success stories within the Group.

Identify your HR need
The first step to take when faced with any problematic business area, is to clearly identify your needs.

  • First, check that you have considered all options, such as internal promotion, re-structuring or secondments.
  • Prepare a job specification outlining the details of the job, and a person specification that identifies the knowledge, skills and attributes that are essential and desirable.
  • Ensure your advert reflects your job and the type of person required. Use it as a chance to promote the image of your business.
  • Ensure the name of your organisation appears in all recruitment advertisements.

It is essential to look at past recruitment methods to ascertain where you may have been going wrong. Did you pay £2,000 for an advert in the local press but received no applicants? If this is the case maybe you should look at trade press, or vice versa. You should also consider the style of your advert – stick to one which has been successful in the past. All this may be generic advice, however there are other factors specific to the accountancy profession you should also be aware of before you embark on a recruitment campaign.

Current issues
The changes being brought about by issues such as Sarbanes Oxley, IAS and IFRS have increased the need for technically competent accountants. At the same time, the rise in the audit threshold means accountants need to be more commercially minded in order to sell a wider range of services.

Advanced technology within accountancy means that firms no longer need to recruit a large number of trainees each year. However, this has not made the task any easier. Instead of having more recruits to choose from, firms now have to be even more selective as trainees have far more complex responsibilities than they did ten years ago and so need to be far more advanced and business minded.

Recruiting as a small/medium sized accountancy firm

Getting in front of the right people
Recruiting outside the Big Four does naturally present challenges. These firms boast larger training and recruitment budgets which enable them to get in front of the right people. And it’s getting in front of the right people which is the key to recruitment. Many small firms can offer attractive salaries and pensions, however, graduates need to be aware of these opportunities, just as they are aware of those available from the Big Four. As a result the smaller firm should look at more innovative methods. Once you do this many graduates see the tremendous start in business and accountancy you can offer.

Ways to recruit trainees
It’s important to utilise more innovative methods in order to get in front of the right people. One such example is the use of gap years. Students on sandwich courses spend a year placement with your firm and have the option of returning to work for you full time after their studies. This is a technique used by Price Bailey, a medium sized member firm of UK200Group. It finds that the majority of students return to the firm once they’ve completed their studies. During the year they get to know the business and see the opportunities available.

Bailey also looks beyond universities to find university calibre students straight from college or school who can also be employed, usually by offering them a quality training programme.

Recruiting qualified staff
Of course it’s not just at trainee level where firms recruit. Senior managers and potential partners are also often highly sought after by any growing firm.

Seeking qualified and experienced staff can present its own problems. Many come from the Big Four looking for a smaller practice, however this often means they have a very different background. Accountants in small firms such as those in the UK200Group will handle the whole range of services for clients, and often deal with the owner. However at Big Four firms accountants deal with such huge companies they tend to specialise in one area and would probably never even meet the owner. It’s important to therefore look for a broad experience base and excellent communication skills.

However, you must also embrace this difference between your firm and the Big Four. This can often be the very reason why accountants looking to come to smaller firms in the first place. So you can use this to actually help with your recruitment, rather than seeing it as a hindrance.

Using your skills within the practice
As the role of accountants continues to change, being clued up on recruitment and HR issues can do more than simply improve your own internal procedures. HR is an area where many accountancy firms are now heading into as part of their wider business advisory services. Therefore you can use your new found expertise to benefit your clients. Price Bailey has set up its own HR division which came about through client demand. It now forms part of their complete business solution while internal HR staff can work with the HR client service providers in order to share best practice and keep up to date.

Top tips for recruitment from UK200Group

  • Develop a strong employer brand.
  • Try to understand what individuals in your target candidate pool seek from their working lives.
  • Use the most appropriate media for advertisements
  • Devise a good interviewing technique
  • Consider offering performance-related pay
  • Offer work/life balance and more flexibility
  • Embrace the differences between your self and Big Four and promote the different benefits you can offer rather than trying to compete

Useful links

Established in 1986, UK200Group is the UK’s leading mutual professional association of over 130 UK quality assured accountant and lawyer firms as well as 36 International Associate member firms around the globe. UK200Group provides network services and products that are designed to enhance the business performance of its members and their clients. Telephone 01252 401050 Email [email protected]

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Annie Hayes


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