Yes, Hiring Accounting & Finance Consultants Actually Can Be A Positive Experience

If you’re a business leader at a high-growth company, you’ve likely considered hiring temporary accounting or finance staff. Maybe your organization is experiencing 20-40% growth and your permanent team simply needs more help, or you’re bringing in a new accounting system and need someone to backfill your senior accountant while that person works on the system implementation project. No matter your situation, even the busiest leaders still struggle with the question: is hiring a consultant really worth the time and energy? If you are considering interim help for your accounting team, here’s how to find and onboard the right candidates quickly and get the most out of the experience.

When You Should Hire Temporary Employees

Growth Spurts

Companies hire consultants for a number of reasons. If yours is going through a significant growth spurt, you may want to hire one or more consultants to help the company catch up on a backlog of work. The Bay Area, in particular, has a lot of fast-growing private companies, particularly ones that have recently gone public and most of them have hired interim staff to do everything from close the books to do technical accounting research to help get them through multiple years of audits. Also, growing businesses often bring in consultants, so that they can have more time to decide how many permanent employees they’ll need while they assess what level of permanent headcount they want to budget for in the coming year.

Seasonal, Transactional, or Medical Reasons

Even if your business isn’t growing that fast, you may want to hire a temporary accounting or finance professional to get you through a busy period such as year-end or quarter-end close. If your company has been acquired, employees may leave before it’s ideal for the employer, thus an interim hire can be the perfect solution because the books still need to get closed. Sometimes an employer wants to fill a permanent position, but they need a contract worker in the meantime. A staff member may be out on maternity or other medical leave, or taking a sabbatical, so hiring a temporary consultant can give you the breathing room you need to not over-burden the existing team and risk losing additional employees working more hours to cover for the person on leave.

Implementing New Systems and Processes

A company might hire consultants when they are implementing a new accounting system. Temporary employees can step in to handle normal operations while staff members focus on learning the new systems and processes, enabling them to retain stronger knowledge of the system than if they had purely used consultants for the implementation project.

Are There People Who Choose to Do Consulting Work?

Yes! There are absolutely people who choose consulting as a career path, for a number of reasons. Many have been consultants for many years, so they are well versed at coming into a new company, adapting quickly and making a dent in the workload. They can even bring best practice ideas from their other consulting engagements.

“If you meet a candidate you like, don’t take your time reaching out. If a consultant is looking for a new project, they’re ready to work.”

Some people find that consulting is the best way to get the flexibility they want from their work situation — for example, if they have small children and don’t want to work long hours. Some people love the variety, and the chance to work in different settings. Also, some find the experience of helping a company through a tough time to be rewarding.

Creating a Win/Win Situation

1. When Hiring a Consultant, Meet the Candidates in Person

There is no substitute for meeting the candidates face-to-face. It’ll help you decide if there is the right rapport to work with them on an interim basis, and you’ll always learn so much more from an in-person interview than a phone call and reading a resume.

2. List Three Requirements for the Position

Three is a perfect number of requirements for a temporary role. Two requirements will probably lead to a broad, inefficient search, and four or more requirements are often too restrictive for a search for temporary hires.

3. Act Quickly

If you meet a candidate you like, don’t take your time reaching out. If a consultant is looking for a new project, they’re ready to work. Someone who’s well qualified will probably get multiple offers. The Bay Area continues to show impressive job growth, so it’s no surprise that good people get snatched up quickly.

4. Don’t Worry Too Much About Culture Fit

Culture fit is important, but it’s less so for a temporary position. This can be especially true if you’re looking for a consultant who won’t be managing people. Give it some thought, but don’t get too hung up on it. Concentrate more on each candidate’s skills.

5. Ask for References (and Check Them)

Your goal is to ask questions that give you a sense of what it’s like to work with the candidate. One thing I suggest is asking if the reference is advice for onboarding the consultant. Other questions include: – How committed was the candidate? – What would you have done differently in managing the candidate? – Was the candidate invested, or were they low energy, with one foot out the door? – Can you describe the candidate’s interpersonal skills? – What are some areas for growth for this candidate? Since you have to hire quickly, it’s best to know the right questions to ask references, so you don’t waste time on the wrong fit.

6. Determine How Committed the Candidate Will Be to the Project

Ask references about this, but also discuss it with the candidate. Be clear about your expectations. Does the person enjoy consulting, or is she looking for a full-time job? If she’s hoping to find something full time, she may leave in the middle of her work term if she gets an offer for full-time work.

“The more you make your consultants feel like they’re a part of the team, the more invested they’ll be, the better work they’ll do, and the more likely they’ll be to stay through the duration of the project. “

One of the most frustrating situations that can arise with hiring consultants is when they leave before the project is over — especially after you’ve invested time and money onboarding and getting them up to speed.

7. Communicate Your Expectations Both Verbally and in Writing

Discuss when she should show up to work, when she can leave, deadlines, and deliverables. Document your expectations in case they’re ever called into question. This step formalizes the setup for both the employer and the consultant and reinforces her feeling of being part of the team.

8. Check-in Regularly

I suggest a short daily check-in during the first week or so. After that, you can move to weekly check-ins, as long as things are going well and you think that’s all you need. But this topic is very subjective. Go with your gut and set the schedule you think is best.

9. Give Feedback

Even though this person isn’t a permanent employee, it’s still worthwhile to provide both positive and constructive criticism. Sometimes with temporary employees, the manager may feel it isn’t worth giving constructive feedback to someone who won’t be there long. However, if you’re going to go to the trouble and expense to hire someone, also make the effort to be sure they’re giving you what you want. If they’re doing something wrong, give them the opportunity to course-correct. It may be awkward, but it gives both of you the opportunity for a more satisfying work experience.

10. Treat Them Like They’re Part of the Team

To whatever extent you feel is appropriate, include your consultants. Sure, there may be some meetings or trainings where it doesn’t make sense to include them in. But the more you make them feel like they’re a part of the team, the more invested they’ll be, the better work they’ll do, and the more likely they’ll be to stay through the duration of the project.

Do What’s Best for Your Permanent Team

The thought of hiring temporary staff can be a little daunting, but if your company has the need, and you approach it in the right way with realistic expectations, it can be a rewarding experience. You can unburden your permanent workers a bit during crunch times (and help prevent burnout), and it can be a great resource management for your company. If you give your process some thought, the pros can easily outweigh the cons.  

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