Hiring/compensation trends Featured

5:42am EDT January 3, 2007

Financial and accounting professionals have more negotiating power than they think. This year’s Employment Dynamics and GrowthExpectations (EDGE) report found that while there is currently a talent shortage in these professions, employees are cautious about thejob market and are less willing than last year to negotiate for higher salaries. The survey and report were developed by Robert HalfInternational (RHI), the world’s largest specialized staffing firm, and CareerBuilder.com, the United States’ largest online job site.

The survey, which included responses from more than 1,000 hiring managers and 3,000 workers, was conducted to determine which grouphas more clout in the current job market. “What is interesting is that both sides — the employer and employee — see the job market as challenging,” says Andrea Dunn, division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting, which specializes in full-time placement in theColumbus area.

Smart Business spoke with Dunn about this curious discrepancy, and what it means for both workers and employers.

What are some of the highlights of the report?

On the employer side, 55 percent of hiring managers said that it was difficult finding qualified candidates a year ago and 81 percent saidthat it was as or more challenging moving forward. Of those, 52 percent of hiring managers attributed the difficulty to an overall shortage of skilled workers. That’s up from 47 percent last year.

On the employee side, 37 percent said the job market was more difficult than a year ago; that’s down a little from 42 percent from last year.Nearly one out of five workers said they are less likely to ask for more money from a potential employer in the upcoming year, and the numberof those who were more likely to negotiate for a higher base salary dropped significantly from a year ago.

Can you explain why those in the finance and accounting professions are not seeing the fact that they are a hot commodity?

Clearly, employees have more of an edge than they think. There may be a bit of a lag in employees knowing they have the upper hand,but that tide may turn in 2007. The reality is that there is a talent shortage in finance and accounting and it is only a matter of time untilboth employees and employers realize this fact and compensation levels rise accordingly.

One reason that this awareness has not filtered to the worker is that with rising fuel and housing costs many workers see the economy as worse than it actually is. Many employees feel lucky to even have a job, which is keeping them from asking for more money orseeking more lucrative opportunities.

Could you explain the reason for the talent shortage in finance and accounting professions?

There are three factors contributing to the shortage. The first is business expansion: many businesses are booming and are expanding— leading to an increased need to fill staff and upper level jobs.

The second factor is the increased need for these professionals to help businesses with corporate compliance in an environment ofincreased regulations.

The third is the fact that baby boomers are entering retirement age and there are fewer professionals available to step into their shoes.

Why else are employers are finding it difficult to fill these slots?

Many firms are behaving as though there is not a talent shortage and are overly selective when looking for the ‘perfect’ hire — that is, a person who can contribute immediately, has a diverse skill set, and can hit the ground running. The problem is that because of the shortage of talent, companies often miss the boat when looking for this idealized hire and often miss a great candidate.

Many companies don’t have streamlined recruitment strategy and put candidates through a long and inefficient interview process. Thisworks when there is a surplus of candidates, but it does not work when the talent pool is tight, like it is currently in the finance andaccounting professions. When a company is ready to make an offer, that candidate often has taken a job somewhere else.

What should employers do?

Employers not only need to streamline and speed up their recruitment process, but also look for innovative methods to retain the staff theyalready have in place. Employers also need to realize the fact that the task of attracting and retaining will not be as easy as it has in the past.The tried and true methods — salary increases, bonuses and flexible work schedules — are always good to implement. But another importantway to keep good employees is to make them feel valued. Most employees won’t jump ship over a modest salary increase if their work environment is pleasant and they feel that what they do is valued and appreciated.

ANDREA DUNN is a division director for Robert Half Finance and Accounting, specializing in full-time placement. Robert Half International has more than 350 locations throughout NorthAmerica, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com. Reach Dunn at (614) 221-9300 or andrea.dunn@roberthalf.com.