Three Ways to Make Your Firm Attractive to Employees (Future and Current)

Originally featured on Accounting Today…

I’m amazed—maybe, by this point, I shouldn’t be—at how often the topic of recruiting and retention comes up when talking with clients. I could be working with a client on how to redesign their compensation system or admit a new partner, and without fail, somehow we get onto the topic of finding and keeping staff. If there’s one thing the last two years have taught me, it’s that retention is not just a hot topic. It’s a necessary one.

A newspaper with a jobs wanted ad circled

Over the years, we’ve seen how unattractive the public accounting industry has become to college students. The latest AICPA 2021 Trends survey indicates a 2.8% decline in students enrolled in undergraduate accounting programs across the United States in the 2019–2020 academic year compared to the two years before. What’s more, accounting degrees awarded declined by 6.3% from the 2018–2019 academic year to the 2019-2020 one.

Equally as challenging as finding talent is keeping it. Without a retention strategy, employers risk losing their most important asset, their people. Without enough employees, firms struggle to keep up with workloads and deadlines, and inherently create a more stressful environment for the remaining employees.

Here are a few things to think about when trying to attract and retain talent:

1. Benefits

Compensation (dollars) has traditionally been a large motivating factor when candidates are looking for jobs. Recent surveys have shown that the newer generation of talent is less focused on dollars and more interested in other benefits; particularly, flexibility (whether that be having a hybrid/remote option or flexible schedules), wellness stipends, and access to mental health resources.

If you’re unsure what benefits candidates are looking for, ask them! Another way to get this information is to look at your competitors’ websites or employer review websites such as Glassdoor. This will give you a general idea of what your competitors are offering.

Lastly, don’t forget about input from your current employees. Utilizing employee satisfaction surveys or stay interviews to ask what benefits they wish the firm offered is easy.

2. Workloads

Reassessing the workloads of your employees each year is something your employees and you will appreciate.

There’s a scenario I see far too often: a firm hires an employee who turns out to be a top performer and is well liked by the managers and partners. In turn, those managers and partners staff that employee on all their engagements. While the managers and partners see this as a “thank you” for performing so well, that top performer gets overloaded and quickly burns out.

Be careful when assigning staff, and especially your superstars, to engagements. Find that delicate balance between rewarding them with development opportunities and putting them on your top clients and piling too much onto their plates to the point they become bitter and quit. Check in with your employees frequently to see how they feel about their current workload ,and make feasible adjustments to keep them happy.

3. Training and development

While this could technically be considered a benefit and included in the first bullet point, it’s worth addressing on its own.

An article featured in the Spring 2022 issue of HR Magazine notes: “In response to the competitive job market and the widening skills gap, many employers are choosing to develop needed job skills by investing in training for current employees or offering training as an incentive to attract new employees.”

Employees want to know their employer cares about them and is willing to provide resources to help them grow in their careers. Whether this is training, mentoring, or leadership development opportunities, I would recommend that firms have a least some form of one of these—ideally, all of them.

A training program engages your employees and boosts their confidence by making them feel better equipped to do their job well. Employees also crave mentorship—someone they can count on to provide advice and help navigate career situations. You’re doing yourself and your employees a disservice if you don’t offer mentorship at your firm, whether it’s formal or informal.


Finally, it’s important to develop the future leaders of your firm. For those employees who have expressed wanting to climb the ladder up to a management role, work with them to outline goals and expectations for getting there while progressively increasing their level of responsibility. Frequent check-ins to discuss their development are key to ensuring they are progressing at the appropriate rate and for them to know the firm is invested in their development.

Attracting and retaining talent is a common dilemma for firms of all sizes. While it can be frustrating to fix the problem, the three pieces discussed above can serve as a starting point when assessing your current strategy and ways you might want to tweak it. Even small, inexpensive changes can go a long way in terms of retaining current employees and attracting future ones to your firm.

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