Small Firms Can Be Successful at Recruiting: Learn How

Marc Rosenberg, CPA / Dec 8, 2014

recruitment-150x150A frequent subject my Chicago-based small firm roundtable group has addressed over the years is the difficulty they have in recruiting staff with the talent and ambition to eventually take over their firms.

At a recent meeting I posed this question in a deliberately provocative manner, as I sometimes do to elicit a spirited response, telling them: “I don’t understand how ANYONE would want to work for your firms.”

Later that day, Tom, one of the members, sent me an angry email:

“You have TOTALLY insulted everyone in our group. I personally find that remark EXTREMELY insulting. In fact I had a difficult time controlling my anger when I heard you. I have worked hard to create a practice for 29 years and I am PROUD of what I have accomplished. Further, I have difficulty even understanding the reason so many young professionals are not ‘banging down my door’ for the opportunity to take over my firm and have the opportunity to be their own boss and make over $500K per year.”

I sent Tom this response:

“I apologize for insulting you, that was certainly not my intent. My statement had nothing to do with judging whether or not any of our firms were worthy employers. Instead, I was articulating the accounting firm labor force’s perception of where THEY see the best career opportunities. They believe there is more career opportunity working for larger, multi-partner firms than sole practitioners and 2-4 partner firms. They may not be right, but that’s how they see things.

Why do new college grads and experienced staff have such a strong preference for working with “larger” firms than small firms? Because they perceive large firms offer them better advancement opportunities, more challenging work, better training and a more prestigious name to put on their resumes.

It’s unfortunate but true that we live in a world where perception influences people more than reality. There is no question that young people should be banging down your door, Tom, but the fact of the matter is…they aren’t.

So again, I’m sorry about insulting you. Keep your feedback coming!”

Tom’s response:

Thanks for the thoughtful email and apology. I really appreciate it.

“Young professionals are not totally wrong with their bias against smaller firms. Though many small firms struggle to make themselves attractive to recruits, there are a minority of smaller firms (like ours) run by talented, entrepreneurial professionals who are highly successful and offer great opportunities for staff.

Once I got over my own ‘hang-up’ about being so secretive about my income, and started dropping a few ‘hints’ to prospective employees about my firm’s success, I was able to hire two very bright, talented individuals. So, while most small firms should deservedly struggle to find staff, I believe some of us can find top talent.”

Finding top talent and developing future leaders is the most important step to creating your firm’s succession plan. But that’s just the beginning. Our monograph CPA Firm Succession Planning: A Perfect Storm demystifies the questions all firms will be forced to one day confront.

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