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Firm Management

How Small Accounting Firms Can Compete for Top Talent

Most small accounting firms do not have the financial resources to attract workers like the bigger firms do, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the race. Here are five ways you can beat out even the biggest competitors when hiring.


Most small accounting firms do not have the financial resources to attract workers like the bigger firms do, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the race. Here are five ways you can beat out even the biggest competitors when hiring.

1. Promote professional development

In a Robert Half survey, more than one-quarter of workers said that besides salary, opportunities to learn and grow were most important for their job satisfaction. When recruiting accounting professionals, make them aware of your career development program. It’s mutually beneficial when employees attend classes and conferences to stay up to date with the newest accounting practices, software and trends and share their knowledge with the rest of the team. To help them grow professionally, your firm can also provide individual coaching, mentoring and job-shadowing opportunities.

2. Perk up

Because your firm has fewer workers, you may have the flexibility to come up with some attractive and personalized benefits for your staff. For example, many employees seek perks like flexible hours and telecommuting, all of which contribute to a healthy work-life balance. Some small businesses allow workers to bring their well-behaved pets. You can also offer equity incentives, buy everyone drinks at 4 p.m. on Fridays or bring in a massage therapist to ease the stress during tax season.

Be creative – and don’t forget to mention these benefits in your job postings and when networking and interviewing.

3. Talk big about being small

Sure, many large accounting firms have name recognition and attractive compensation packages, but there’s plenty they can’t offer. Here’s a short list:

  • Access to a broader range of opportunities – Your staff can try out new roles and take on diverse responsibilities. There is usually not that range of flexibility in a large firm. For example, accountants in small firms could develop their proficiency in tax, audit, business valuation and consulting, whereas many large firms want their workers to specialize in one area.
  • Open door to management – Your employees can get more face time with firm leaders. Healthy communication is vital in the workplace, and having open channels between departments and within the office hierarchy helps boost productivity and morale.
  • Visibility and a voice – In a large accounting firm, staff can feel like they’re a cog in a big machine. In a small business, however, it’s easier to be heard and make a difference. Because small firms’ layers of management are often shallow or nonexistent, employees get a closer look at how business is done. Staff will clearly see how their contributions benefit the firm, and all this valuable exposure and experience will serve them well in their career.

4. Out-network the big players

When hiring an accountant, make good use of your network. Tell everyone you know about the technical skills and personality fit you’re seeking. Start with those in your office – they know the work culture better than anyone – and consider offering a bonus for every new hire they refer.

You can also tap the networking power of recruiters who specialize in accounting. Since they commonly have real-world accounting experience and know the industry inside and out, they have access to valuable connections, industry alliances and insider tips – not to mention job candidates with hard-to-find skills.

5. Go back to school

The fastest-growing generation in the workplace, the Millennials, will soon take over the workforce. You can attract younger members of this talent pool, in particular, by targeting students and recent grads. Don’t wait until the end of the academic year to visit colleges that have solid accounting programs, though. Lay the groundwork early:

  • Participate in campus job fairs.
  • Establish relationships with accounting professors, career counselors and the alumni office.
  • Set up meet-and-greet sessions.
  • Present on accounting topics during classes or accounting-related activities on campus.
  • Offer internships to talented students so you can test-drive their abilities and cultural fit before making a hire.

Small firms have plenty to offer in-demand accounting professionals. To beat big competitors when hiring an accountant, be sure to highlight the advantages of working in a more intimate environment. With a little thought and creativity, small businesses can level the playing field when battling for the best.


Paul McDonald is senior executive director with Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Over the course of his 30-year career with the company, he has spoken extensively on employment and management issues based on his work with thousands of companies and job seekers.