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How to Think About Hiring Public Accountants During Busy Season

If you’ve ever tried hiring a public accounting candidate between December and April, you know it’s nearly an impossible feat. From late December through mid April, public accountants are swamped with busy season duties. They barely have time to go home and sleep, let alone transfer to a new job. As a general rule, recruiting public accountants during this time just isn’t the best idea BUT sometimes it has to happen. In this article, I want to give you a few tips we’ve learned for finding the light at the end of the tunnel during busy season hiring. Although some auditors’ busy seasons occur later in the year due to 6/30 or 9/30 fiscal year ends, the majority of candidates are on a 12/31 schedule. They start the planning process in early December, so if you haven’t identified your candidate and made them an offer before then, it’s going to be tough to hire them in Q1. By the time most public accountants start their planning, they feel committed to their engagements and don’t want to leave until they’ve seen them through. If possible, identify the skill sets you’re seeking during the late summer and plan to conduct the interview process in the fall (something to plan for next year). You want to make your offers before the middle of November, which leaves new hires plenty of time to give their employers notice. Otherwise, they may not feel comfortable leaving their current firms until after March. It’s also beneficial to strategize around the August/September bonus season. Public accountants will often stick around for the summer to receive their raise and bonus. These are typically not huge amounts, so you may be able to buy out a candidate if you really want to hire her right away. It’s just another step to consider in the complex public accounting recruitment dance. Hiring public accountants at this time may be difficult but it’s not impossible, so let’s look at how you can recruit effectively in a challenging environment.

Put it in Perspective

If possible, your hiring process for the following year should start in August, which means you’re scoping out great candidates year round. They may not be willing to abandon ship for your company during busy season, but that doesn’t preclude them from taking meetings with you. Before sitting down with prospective employees, I always encourage hiring managers to pause and remember what it was like to be a public accountant during the first few months of the year. The 80-­hour weeks, working through lunch, working through your takeout dinner until 10 or 11 o’clock at night – you may be beyond that reality now (thankfully), but your candidates aren’t. They essentially put their lives on hold to deliver for their clients during these months, and that includes their job searches. Most won’t even take calls from recruiters. There are the few who keep their irons in the fire, however, and they’re usually willing to meet as long as it’s on their schedules. Given the incredible demands on their time, there’s no way they can accommodate you during “prime time,” when it’s typically most convenient for you and your team. Their partners and audit managers expect them to be visible 24/7, so you must meet them whenever they can spare 30 ­ 45 minutes, typically before or after normal business hours. Don’t expect them to call in sick just so they can come in for multi­hour interviews with in your company. Plan to meet several times for shorter periods and know that while it’s inconvenient, it’s also necessary if you want to recruit during busy season.

Flexibility Wins the Day

The typical start date for a new hire is two to three weeks after an offer is made, which is one reason why most public accountants don’t even consider new jobs during busy season. If you’re willing to delay the start date a couple months until they’ve delivered on their client responsibilities, you’ll expand the pool of candidates interested in your organization. Being flexible in the interview and onboarding processes is key to getting on people’s radars early in the year. The best candidates are committed to their firms at least until early April; they’re not going to leave in the middle of an audit. However they might still be interested in making a move as soon as busy season is over, so make it easy for them to say yes to an interview or a quick exploratory chat. At BVOH Finance & Accounting Search, we’ve found that being able to tell candidates that a company is open to a delayed start date is a distinguishing factor in their considerations. Not only is this more convenient, it also signals something attractive about the company’s culture. Considering that it takes at least seven to eight weeks start to finish to fill a position under the best of circumstances, extending the start date to early April or May when you’ve begun recruiting in mid­December isn’t that big of a leap. You just need to overcome the mental hurdle of thinking that’s too long a gap between offer and start date. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by only agreeing to interview people who are available to start right away, or with a typical two week notice. Again, the best public accountants feel a sense of loyalty to their firms and clients, and they’re not going to check out when they’re most needed. By staying flexible on the start date you’ll open up your search to the best and the brightest ­ the candidates who are committed to their firm and clients will show the same commitment to you and your company when you bring them on board. Being both realistic and flexible with your timeline ensures you’ll have access to high-­quality candidates. Changing jobs isn’t going to be a good accountant’s priority during busy season. But with the right mentality, you can change that perspective and move the needle in your favor.

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