To handle new business, public accounting firms are looking to add to their workforce. Many still need to fill positions left vacant during the downturn and take some of the burden off their current teams.
But a large number of employers believe that a recovering market means there are plenty of candidates to choose from and wages can remain static – these businesses are in for a surprise. The opposite is true for accounting jobs, according to the latest Salary Guide from Robert Half. The current unemployment rate for accountants and auditors, as recently reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 2.4 percent, less than half the general unemployment rate, and salaries are on the rise.
Here are some hiring and compensation trends to watch for in 2015:
1. Firms are hiring for experience in key areas
Public accounting firms had to let many senior accountants go at the height of the recession, but now they’re refilling these positions. The most in-demand candidates are the ones with at least three years of experience, especially in tax and audit.
Some of the greatest increases in accounting salaries are for senior managers and directors. Senior directors of tax services at firms of all sizes are projected to see a 3.7 percent increase in their salary. Management-level professionals specializing in audit/assurance or management services will see their pay rise up to 3.9 percent.
2. Accounting firms seek in-demand skills
Public accounting firms are searching for professionals with broadening skill sets. Although technical accounting and auditing skills and financial software proficiency will always be needed, public accounting firms, like organizations in other sectors, are also putting a premium on nontechnical skills, including writing and presenting. Experienced accounting professionals who can show that they have initiative, enjoy collaborating with colleagues, and work well with a team are the ones getting multiple job offers.
Firms also are placing a premium on staff with expert knowledge of financial regulations. Firms big and small need to stay on top of legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, the Affordable Care Act, anti-money laundering mandates, capital requirements and consumer protection. Regulatory and compliance demands aren’t expected to ease up, and neither will the demand for accountants with this expertise.
Businesses that expand onto foreign soil need the services of bilingual/multilingual accountants who have a handle on different countries’ regulations and reporting requirements, as well as International Financial Reporting Standards.
3. Wanted: Fresh talent
Though public accounting firms, including local and regional ones, will continue to vie for experienced candidates, they’re certainly not overlooking top accounting students. Many firms are actively recruiting juniors and seniors in college, even signing them on before graduation. Applicants who have less than a year of experience will make nearly 3 percent more than their peers a year ago, the Salary Guide research found.
4. More than money
Accounting and finance wages across the board are on the rise, but money isn’t everything. In addition to raising public accounting salaries from 2.7 percent to 3.9 percent, according to the guide, firms large and small are enticing candidates with extra vacation days, flexible hours, telecommuting options, compressed work weeks and other perks to promote a healthy work-life balance.
The future looks rosy for the public accounting sector. Business has picked up, firms are hiring, and the vast majority of accounting salaries are climbing ahead of inflation. Whether you’re recruiting or being recruited, consult the Salary Guide and Salary Calculator to make sure your base pay keeps up with market trends.
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.