CPA Firm Talent Crisis: What Can You Do?

Amanda Lilley works alongside Kristen Rampe and Marc Rosenberg on practice management projects. She is a CPA and licensed HR professional and is based in Portland, Oregon.


The talent supply crisis for CPA firms in the United States has reached unprecedented levels. For an industry that has traditionally seen a steady flow of new job seekers entering the market, the talent pools have dried up over recent years and experienced a severe drought with the pandemic.People looking in desert for new talent.

Many factors have contributed, from the baby boomer generation retiring in large waves to less interest in the public accounting jobs once highly sought-after by college graduates. The competition to get any candidates is undeniably fierce. So how can your firm find the candidates out there and get them to come to you?

Anytime demand outpaces supply, you must think about how you’ll recruit talent. How is your value proposition going to seal the deal? What would make candidates say yes to you over another firm? Here are some tips on how to find great talent and get them in your door:

1.     Leverage your current employees for referrals

Establishing an employee referral program is one of the top ways to source potential candidates. Your current employees know your firm the best and can share with their peers why it’s so great to work at your firm. In all aspects of life, the best way to make a decision – any decision – is to hear a suggestion from a credible source. This is a win-win for the employee and the firm. Not only does the firm not have to work to source these candidates or pay a third-party recruiter, but the employee with the referral typically gets a nice stipend if that candidate ends up getting hired. We’ve seen a range of stipend arrangements including paying a designated amount for each year of public accounting experience the candidate has (up to a max, of course) to paying a flat stipend based on the level of an incoming candidate.

2.     Start sourcing early for entry-level positions

Many times, we see firms begin their recruiting efforts for entry-level positions at four-year colleges. While this seems adequate, I’d encourage you to start even earlier. Get into local high schools that offer business classes and talk to their students about what a career in public accounting is like. Or start providing technical presentations at local community college accounting classes or accounting clubs. Often college students will start at a two-year community college to get their 100/200-level classes completed at a cheaper cost. Those students then transfer to a four-year university to complete their undergraduate degrees. Keep in contact with those students you meet at the high schools or community colleges and build a relationship with them. Invite a group to visit your office, learn something and enjoy a pizza lunch. By getting these earlier touchpoints, you have a leg-up on the competition when recruiting at four-year universities. These candidates will not only remember you but also remember the time and interest you’ve already invested in them.

3.     Rethink your value proposition and benefits

This point is especially important for small and mid-size firms. It is not uncommon to struggle with brand recognition and the inability to match the benefit offerings of the larger firms. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you might not be able to match all of what these larger firms are offering candidates, I encourage you to focus on what you CAN match or do better, and tailor your recruitment messaging to that. Maybe it’s being able to offer a variety of work instead of having to declare a specialty upon your start date, offering highly desirable benefits such as wellness rewards or a hybrid work option, or having greater work-life balance at your firm compared to your competitors. If you can’t offer the highest paycheck, look at what else you can offer. A welcoming culture, a variety of traditional and non-traditional career pathways, solid training programs for all levels, working closely with partners or an exceptional recognition system are just a few possibilities.

There’s no magic answer to the question of how to get candidates to pick you over your competitors. It takes a holistic approach to ensure you create an appealing value proposition and can entice candidates with your firm’s culture and leadership models. Staying cognizant of and nimble to new ways of attracting talent will help ensure your pipeline doesn’t dry up and talent keeps coming your way.

For more information on how we can help your firm with HR needs, check out our HR Consulting page.

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