manage employees

How to get the most out of your seasonal staff

It’s no surprise that tax-prep services’ employment peaks in February. What might surprise you is the ways you can get the most out of your temporary help this season, as well as lay the groundwork for the min-crunch of October and then next season. 

Challenges to finding staff remain constant year after year, such as low general unemployment, competition from other firms that also need help, and spotting the right skill sets – and commitment – just as the sluice run of the season starts.

Here’s how to make sure your seasonal staff does the best job possible for your practice.

What you need to look for

The good seasonal worker is a special breed. Not every candidate – including those who might be fine for a year-long position – is going to be right for a seasonal spot. Some preparers don’t even hire them, opting to work harder with existing staff and claiming seasonal preparers cause too many mistakes and are uninterested in cultivating client connections.

First, you must find an accountant who prefers public accounting over an in-house business position. They must have the necessary prep skills – they represent your practice, after all, and the client may never even learn they’re temporary – and must thrive in the long hours of a pressure-cooker job that probably offers no benefits and lasts only a few months. Lucky is the practice with a dependable stable of seasonal folks year after year.

You may also have to address candidates’ more familiar needs of a fitting culture and a competitive salary for a temporary accountant (an average of about $30 an hour nationwide, through certainly less in some areas and much more in others).

New among the needs might also be work location. Remote accounting is on the rise, according to Virtual Vocations, which reported a year-over-year 11 percent increase in remote accounting jobs posted to its database in 2019, including for seasonal preparers.

You should look for at least 10 years’ experience in a range of prep and advisory work. Hiring consultancy Robert Half recommends evaluating and hiring in a short time, and discovering the pay range beforehand. Set clear expectations, Half adds. Write a detailed job description before you bring the interim worker on board, go over it on the first day, and stick with it.

Professionals to handle the load of returns are the obvious need during the season, but don’t forget you may need seasonal staff in other positions, such as a receptionist. Consider who has to do the administrative follow-up in the flow of returns, and who has to answer all the calls about reform and pricing (these staffers might need a little extra training, or at least briefing on an accounting firm atmosphere).

Scrutinize resumes. Most candidates oversell their skill sets, experience, and qualifications. Remember, for this job you’re looking especially for the ability to work with little supervision and under long hours of pressure.

Run background checks, of course. Different jurisdictions have different laws about how you can use this information to hire. A good place to research your options is your state labor office.

And, as is often the case with clients, trusted direct referrals are often your best bet.

Note that employment laws relate to seasonal workers as much as to any other staffer, including regs covering safety and discrimination. If you need a refresher on federal employment law, see the “Labor Law Guide” at the U.S. Department of Labor.

How you can get the best work

Don’t think of them as “just seasonal help.” Try to include seasonal workers as much as possible with the rest of your staff. Include them in end-of-season bonuses (if any), and in periodic training to review developments in your practice and office operations and workflow. Invite them to firm-wide meetings and let them and your full-timers know how seasonal workers help the practice overall.

You know you’re likely going to need seasonal help again. Tips for after this season include:

  • Communicate with seasonal staff during the off-season, and include them in training opportunities for your full-timers that take place before next year.
  • Conduct post-season interviews to gather seasonal workers’ opinions about what went well and what didn’t during the season. This can be a truly fresh perspective, as seasonal workers might feel freer to speak their minds than your staffers would.
  • Reach out to local colleges and universities for accounting-student interns. You can start interviewing and onboarding them later this year. Reach out to state CPA societies and your own former staffers as well.
  • Pay referral bonuses to those who help you find next season’s help.

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