Finding financial talent Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

Since Sarbanes-Oxley legislation was passed in 2002, companies are faced with stricter regulatory pressures, elevating the demand for sound corporate accounting and financial skills. Such skill sets are not always easy to find.

“The most significant challenge is finding qualified talent at appropriate experience levels,” says Kristen L. Backo, CPA, director of recruiting at Resources Global Professionals in Pittsburgh. “Businesses seeking financial talent must show that their opportunity will enable the job seeker to make a valuable contribution and grow professionally.”

Smart Business talked to Backo about the most efficient avenues to explore when in need of accountants and other financial specialists.

Where might a company find financial talent?

You can either look within your current organization, or you can look beyond your organization and industry and hire for growth potential.

First, don’t let people move out to move up. Most job seekers cite a lack of growth opportunities within their current organization as the No. 1 reason they are exploring the market. Career development is extremely critical to finance professionals, yet many companies prevent them from pursing opportunities in other areas of the company. If you institute career development programs, you can help employees grow their career while remaining with you.

If you do not promote from within, you may not have the luxury of hiring talent with very specific skill sets and the corresponding industry experience. I personally have followed the ‘best-available-athlete’ model for hiring. When labor markets are tight, I want to hire the best available athlete with the greatest potential for growth.

Making good hiring decisions goes beyond just checking off boxes of skills and prior systems experience. Hire the professional who has the nonquantitative attributes that you believe will make that person the most successful in the role.

What are some creative strategies for hiring in a tight labor market?

Finding the right financial talent needs to go beyond running ads and searching job boards. The best hire is usually someone who isn’t even looking but listens to the right opportunity when it presents itself.

  • Use your network. Making the people you know and value in the business community aware that you are searching for a new employee may yield unexpected results. Someone you thought was completely happy with his or her organization may jump at the chance to learn more about your opportunity or what your firm offers.

    Asking for referrals is another great way to uncover passive job seekers. Your contact might have worked with an outstanding professional years ago who might be the ideal fit for your role but might not even be thinking about making a job change.

  • Go beyond professional organizations. Look to alumni organizations, graduate programs, trade affiliations and local business organizations to tap into even more professionals.

    Retiree groups are an ever-expanding source of talented professionals who can be tapped on an interim basis or who can rejoin the work force in a less demanding role. These relationships allow them to be productive while enjoying the free time that a demanding career did not afford.

  • Institute referral bonus programs. Referral bonus programs have long been a practice of professional service and public accounting firms. They are designed as incentives for current employees to provide leads to other professionals of the same qualifications. Latest trends have companies expanding those referral bonus programs to friends of the firm or any person who provides an introduction to the right talent that results in a hiring decision.

  • Offer creative work solutions and hiring bonuses. To attract the best talent available, many companies have instituted hiring bonuses for tough-to-find key skills, such as technical accounting or SEC reporting. Companies should also consider more flexibility in the workplace in the form of compressed workweeks, work-from-home options or part-time schedules. Additionally, many firms, such as ours, can provide creative work solutions to help professionals manage their work-life balance.

  • Create a strategic recruiting plan. Hiring professionals in a reactionary mode always results in pressure situations where companies could sacrifice standards to ease the pain of unfilled key positions. So create a strategic recruiting plan that makes hiring financial talent a top priority of managing the finance function. Ensure that the right activities are included in your plan. Make recruiting an ongoing business process of your organization. Utilize professional service firms that can help fill any key positions within your finance organization on an interim basis while allowing you the time to conduct a thorough search.

KRISTEN L. BACKO, CPA, is director of recruiting for Resources Global Professionals in Pittsburgh. Reach her at (412) 263-3304 or