A group of people sitting around a table, young accountant interviewing for a job
Growing Your Firm

Expand the pipeline! Recruiting and onboarding non-traditional candidates

Many firms just wrapped up another intern season, which for many is an excellent opportunity to identify the next generation of talentor is it? As many know, the talent pipeline is currently not growing in size, diversity of thought, or experience. This can negatively impact the engagement of current employees, and deliverable quality and timeliness. As firm leaders, we can control only a few areas when solving talent shortages. Two specific areas we can directly impact are the candidates we are recruiting and the culture at our firms.

Accounting firms typically have a very structured (read: outdated) practice of hiring only accounting majors from four-year colleges with a certain GPA. As we will see, this approach can potentially hinder workforce planning efforts. As Client Advisory Services (CAS) has emerged, it has become evident relationship skills and real-life business experience are more indicative of success than a candidate’s college or GPA.

Thanks to evolving technology and abundant access to information, many leaders can teach accounting skills that open up the pipeline for candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in something other than accounting or finance. They could reasonably have an associate's degree, come from the private sector, or some other non-traditional route to public accounting with success. These non-traditional candidates may be mature in their careers and positioned to capitalize on their real-world business experience to grow the firm’s advisory offering.

quote image
As CAS has emerged, it has become evident relationship skills and real-life business experience are more indicative of success than a candidate’s college or GPA.

As CAS leaders continue to influence the other issues affecting the pipeline—for example, the 150-hour rule or the exciting internships CLA is exploring, there are ways to explore hiring more non-traditional candidates to scale their practices and differentiate your firm from other firms.

Why non-traditional staff prospects are good for your firm

The employee experience and the customer experience are closely intertwined; when your employees are engaged, your customers will thrive. An exceptional customer experience with your firm will be a differentiator and make word-of-mouth referrals easier to attain. By pursuing non-traditional candidates, specifically candidates from the private sector, you will improve the customer experience and create deeper advisory opportunities. You will also generate higher revenue per client because of the opportunities that will be uncovered by sharing deep customer knowledge and experience.

Hiring non-traditional candidates will also have a positive impact on employee engagement. Team members crave the chance to learn; non-traditional candidates introduce a unique career development opportunity. For example, hiring later-career CFOs and/or controllers will expand the opportunity for staff to hear the business side from people who have experience in specific areas of work. These candidates also are capable of having relationships and valuable conversations in the industry they are serving. The opportunity for less experienced team members to learn from these candidates and other advisors is critical to expanding advisory services. Engagement will improve, overworking decreases, and having more team support increases. Finally, pursuing non-traditional candidates will expand the talent pool, and ideally reduce the competition in the marketplace, reduce the time to onboarding, and expedite the time to new employees serving customers.

How to find the best candidates

We’re clear on why we should pursue non-traditional candidates, but who should we look for? In the CPA.com CAS Benchmarking Survey 2022, the authors highlighted that “CAS practices might also benefit by thinking outside the box when it comes to recruiting. One option is to reconsider the talent ‘profile’ for certain CAS positions.

For example, if your firm is aiming to improve customer experience and/or revenues in a current industry or a specific skill set, seek candidates from those sectors. For example, if you’re pursuing a skill, seek candidates such as accounts payable clerks and payroll processors from mid-market companies who are accustomed to multi-entity complexities. If you’re looking to support the restaurant industry, consider seeking candidates who have been a restaurant general manager.

The CAS Benchmarking Survey 2022 asked if “... an accounts payable specialist needs a four- or five-year accounting degree, or whether someone with project management or administrative coordinator experience wouldn’t work better in this and a variety of other CAS positions.” The reasoning for gaining CAS leader input is explained in the survey: “Because CAS practices reimagine what an accounting firm can do for clients, they open the door to re-envisioning what backgrounds and skill sets are best suited for CAS teams.”

When pursuing candidates with different skill sets, hiring managers will need to dig deeper into characteristics that every candidate should have. This is critically important to vet candidates from non-traditional roles or from other practice groups’ pipelines. Important qualities include the following:

  • Are they a team player? Evaluate a candidate’s eagerness to learn. If they are more senior in their career, what is their willingness and readiness to mentor? Probe previous experiences with coworkers or what role they typically play in a team environment. Specifically listen for self-awareness and the ability to give and receive feedback.  
  • Do they exhibit deep customer empathy? The ability to understand the challenges facing a customer and stand alongside them is critically important to the customer experience, but also to growing opportunities at your firm. At Intuit, we care deeply about customer empathy, so during our interview process, we use questions to calibrate a candidate’s empathy.
  • Are they technology-forward? While you don’t need to hire “early adopters” of technology, it is important to evaluate how a candidate uses technology, and what they’ve learned about themselves when faced with a technology challenge. Their ability to successfully navigate a technology change is critical to their career success at the firm, as well as support their customers through inevitable technology changes. To evaluate, inquire about what technology they are using and the last technology change they experienced. If you’re hiring for a leadership role, you could inquire about their decision-making process when making and implementing technology changes. 
  • Can they manage multiple projects? When hiring from outside public accounting, it’s crucial to evaluate the candidate’s ability to manage multiple clients at once. Since their world typically revolved around one clienttheir employersometimes shifting to the firm environment is a bit of a culture shock. While it’s difficult to assess this quality, creating a multi-level interview team to explain the complexity would be valuable. In addition, inquiring about intercompany reconciliations and reporting could offer insight into their ability to handle client complexity.
  • Do they have customer service acumen? This may seem obvious, but how many times have you heard that customer service is in decline? Ask situational questions that help to uncover the candidate’s core values related to customer service. For example, can you share a customer service example that was memorable to you? What made it unique? Listen for how they describe the situation and the resolution, and whether it was positive or negative. If negative, ask them how they would have resolved the difficult situation.
  • Are they current on industry knowledge? If your firm is leaning into advisory, it’s likely you are searching for controllers and CFOs with specialty knowledge. So be intentional about testing that knowledge. If you have industry leaders in your firm, include them in the interview and hiring process. Not only will you get better candidates, but ideally, your growth will jumpstart because they will also be excited to join the journey on which you are embarking.
quote image
While you don’t need to hire “early adopters” of technology, it is important to evaluate how a candidate uses technology, and what they’ve learned about themselves when faced with a technology challenge.

Try these steps for success

So if you know who to look for, where do you start? There are some tactical steps hiring managers must complete to be successful in pursuing non-traditional candidates.

Step 1: Start with refreshed job descriptions and postings

Partner with customers and recruiters to curate job descriptions that will meet the needs of your practice, all while highlighting the great culture and opportunities that your firm provides. Next, talk to your customers or recruiters about the qualities you’re looking for in a candidate. Work with your network to seek candidates who may be from an industry you have not historically recruited. Keep in mind that the recruiting process is the best time to ensure you’re seeking diversity through experience and background. In addition, your time-to-hire process is critical in this talent search. Keep in mind hiring from the non-traditional talent pool will have you competing with potential employers with less rigid processes. Hiring managers can accomplish this by partnering with organizations in your community or professional networks that champion diversity. 

Step 2: Onboard for success

Fast forward 2-3 months. You’ve done the hard work, expanded your pipeline, and found amazing talent! These non-traditional candidates have become your non-traditional new hires, so onboarding is paramount to their successful transition to public accounting. Assimilation to the necessary workflows enables successful acclimation into the culture of your firm, including the risk management filter. While many of us grew up in the system, it can be a culture shock if coming to this work through a different path. Sending your new employee through traditional onboarding could be a recipe for disaster. Therefore, ensure the program has been updated to include how to educate and onboard non-traditional candidates. Thankfully, there are many avenues to support you and your practice as well as this new employee.

Step 3: Implement job shadowing

Education without action is simply entertainment, so when onboarding a non-traditional candidate, develop an action plan. The practical application approach is for each candidate to have a job shadowing plan. Identify the objectives they need to learn, the team members best fit to teach each objective, and then follow the process of “first I show you, second you show me, and third do on your own.” When creating the job shadowing plan, consider leaning towards clients who are similar to the new hire’s experience. This is important to give the new hire to assimilate the new information with their experience for quicker learning.

For example, you’ve recently hired a young marketing grad who has run her own online retail business, but has not had any luck finding a marketing role that met her needs. She is going to join your team as a staff accountant in the outsourced accounting space. One of her objectives is to understand the purpose of bank reconciliation, and how to accurately and efficiently complete it. The result: Pair her up with a senior staff member on an online retail business account. The senior staff member knows the objective, and will not only teach the “why,” but also teaches the tips and tricks to be effective.

Step 4: Integrate your software vendor relationships

Work with your software vendors to let them know when and who you will be onboarding. Curate a training plan using these resources in the context of your needs for this new hire. At times, a custom plan may be necessary due to the size of the group you may be onboarding. Your trusted software vendors want you and your firm up and running quickly, so many will support the onboarding to free you and your team up to strategically run your CAS practice. As you curate a training plan, supplement the plan with the job shadowing noted above.

For example, Intuit offers numerous avenues for education. The ProAdvisor program has a training tab in QuickBooks Online Accountant. On the tab, your team members have an opportunity to gain CPE through product certification and personalized learning paths, and can sign up for live webinars. Look for new additions to the ProAdvisor program in fall 2023, including client communication templates, tax product training and discounts, and accountant-approved third-party app recommendations.

Maya Angelou once said, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” With the strategies and steps above, you’ll be on your way to creatively solving the talent pipeline for your firm, all while creating a beautiful and strong organization.

Recommended for you

Get the latest to your inbox

Get the latest product updates and certification news to help you grow your practice.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

Looking for something else?

Get QuickBooks

Smart features made for your business. We've got you covered.

Tax Pro Center

Expert advice and resources for today’s accounting professionals.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.

How can we help?
Talk to sales 1-800-497-1712

Monday - Friday, 5 AM to 6 PM PT

Get product support