Coming out of Lockdown

I recently hosted a panel discussion (webinar) during which three experienced accountants talked about how they and their practices had adapted in the light of the lockdown. What was clear, as ever, was that no one solution or approach was right for all of them. Having said they also shared similar overlapping ideas and insights. 

The webinar

We discussed a range of topics and I will be expanding on one of these later in this blog post. First though, just to set some context, here is a quick summary of the way the discussion flowed.

We considered the biggest business challenges faced by each panellist, when we went into lockdown, and how they and their firms have survived and thrived since then.

This led to a discussion about the impact this is all having on their practice strategy. And then how they are planning to move on over the next few months.

There are lessons to be learned from all of their contributions. If you have yet to watch/listen you can do so here >>>

Recruitment issues

One key point that came out of the webinar seems especially worthy of addressing in this blog. It relates to how the lockdown is likely to lead to changes in recruitment-related practices.

The reason for this is that these changes are already resulting in new challenges and new opportunities too. The new challenges include:

  • Increased demands for home/remote working
  • Client confidentiality issues for remote workers
  • Online interviews
  • Online induction
  • Remote team building especially when new people join

The lockdown has also thrown up some new opportunities including, sadly, the number of people, at all levels who have been redundant and are therefore immediately available. 

And, of course, location is less of an issue now than it was before. If you anticipate that remote working is here to stay – then you may be able to attract and recruit people who live further away than previously or who might otherwise have found it hard to make a daily commute to your office. 

All of these recent changes may also mean that you are more interested in exploring the alternative solution which I have mentioned at the end of this article. 

First things first

I am often asked for tips on how to recruit good people into accountancy teams. I frequently make the point that the first stage is to ensure that you have an attractive proposition. It is rarely sufficient to just offer a job and hope those good candidates will apply. 

It’s a bit like attracting clients. Do you want just anyone or do you want your marketing and website to appeal to the right sort of client? If you are not sufficiently clear you’ll only attract clients with simple needs and whose primary concern is how low is your fee. 

In the same way, you want your vacancy to appeal to the right sort of candidate. If you are not sufficiently clear you’ll only attract people who are desperate for a job and don’t care who they work for or what lies they have to tell to get employed.

Person spec

Now, more than ever it is worth stopping to be clear as to why you are looking to recruit someone and what they will need to do – especially if they aren’t going to be in the office (much or at all).

It’s all too easy to decide that key members of staff who leave must be replaced. But, as you may have noticed in the past, no new employee will have exactly the same skills, experience or attitude as the person they are replacing. 

We are familiar with the idea of a job spec that sets out what the new recruit will be expected to do. But who is best suited to do this work? What sort of person? What experience do they need to have? What qualifications? What work ethic should they have? And what scope is there to tailor the role to suit the right candidate?

You should also be able to distinguish the ‘must-haves’ from the ‘nice to haves’ in terms of qualities and experiences.  

Think carefully about these. Do you need someone who has gained a specific personal qualification, or is their practical experience of more value? What specific experience are you looking for? The more precise you can be with regards to what you want and need, the fewer unsuitable people you will see and the less time you will waste interviewing them.

Would it be good to have someone with experience of working remotely and someone who enjoys it or someone keen to work in a real office again?

Job spec

Obviously, you will know what will be the primary responsibilities of a new team member. These are likely to be familiar to sufficiently experienced recruits. The more precise you are, however, the fewer unsuitable people you will see and the less time you will waste interviewing them.

But what about going a little further?

Perhaps the precise scope of the role will depend on experience, ability and attitude? It’s not always about the scope for progression. Some candidates will be able to do more than others from day one. Do you want to benefit from this or ignore it?

 Also, how about indicating how many clients they are likely to engage with? How many fellow team members and partners might they work with? How many online (and face to face to meetings) will they need to or be able to attend each day, week, month?

You know how the firm does things but a new recruit won’t. Managing their expectations at the outset can help with managing their induction down the line.

There’s a heck of a difference between working for a sole practitioner or a single partner or manager and being responsible to multiple people, all of whom may want their work prioritised. Can you manage expectations and placate concerns here?

Salary and terms

The market has yet to recover from lockdown and furloughed roles. Both of these and increased flexibility to work remotely may have an impact on the salaries and terms you need to offer to secure the right candidates.

Might your vacancy start as a part-time role that could grow into a full-time one? Could it be a largely remote role or will a physical presence be required in the office initially, regularly or rarely? How flexible can you be?

You may need to seek input from specialist recruiters to get the salary offer right. You will generally struggle to attract suitable people if you haven’t decided upfront what the pay range will be. Equally, you could waste your time interviewing people who want significantly more than the non-specific ‘competitive’ salary you’re offering.

Recruiters generally only charge a fee when they secure a placement. The more experienced recruiters will give you honest unbiased advice in the hope of building rapport and a long-term relationship. It’s worth seeking their advice rather than guessing at what is a reasonable salary for the role, even if ultimately you are able to fill the vacancy without the recruiter’s help.

Advertising the vacancy

Keep in mind what is the primary purpose of your advert or online promo. It’s NOT to get a new recruit. It’s to get the right sort of people to look at the job/person specs and to apply – or to conclude that they shouldn’t be applying as this would waste your time (and theirs). 

It’s your interview process that enables you to get the right candidate.

Ask around your contacts, friends, family and anyone else if they are aware of anyone who might be suitable for the role. (Provide a copy of the job spec if asked).

If you have other staff, consider offering a finder’s fee if they introduce someone who subsequently fills your vacancy.

Remember that most suitable applicants will probably look at your website before deciding whether or not to attend an interview, so ensure that the vacancy is promoted on your website (if you have one); If you have other staff, you are in a good position to make your vacancy and firm more attractive than the alternatives.

Include quotes from them about how much they enjoy working at the firm, especially as compared with their previous roles in larger and smaller firms. 

The interview process

The next point to consider is how you are going to arrange interviews. At the time of writing this is likely to be online. 

Recruitment interviews are a two-way process; you want to find out if the applicant has the skills, talents and experience to fill your vacancy, but don’t forget that they are checking you out too. 

You may find this is even more challenging online than face to face. Make sure you remember to look into the camera lens so that interviewees sense that you are looking at them. 

Think about the questions they are likely to ask you and how you want to answer them. Avoid over-promising or giving an over-positive impression that could result in a resentful, miserable member of staff once the truth becomes apparent.

One interview is rarely sufficient in my experience. And there is no good reason for taking assurances re past experience and expertise at face value. You could include an online test, a case study style client scenario they need to resolve or any other approach that can reasonably predict whether the candidate is the right fit for your vacancy.

Induction

If interviewing candidates online is odd, so is inducting them into a team and the firm. 

During the webinar my acronymanical mind quickly suggested creating a VITAMIN: A Virtual Inclusion Team Actively Managing Induction for Newbies.

 Whether or not you like the acronym, have you thought about how you might need to rewrite your processes to induct new remote recruits, who will do this and what approach to encourage here?

 I have long advocated the use of an induction checklist. Now I suspect it’s more important than ever to ensure that new joiners get sufficient guidance and support to ensure they quickly feel part of the team, able to fulfil the responsibilities of their role and to contribute to the success of the firm.  

Alternative solution

Of course, you could always reduce the time and effort involved in almost every aspect of the recruitment process going forwards. If you are going to have new team members working remotely, why does it matter where they are based?

The more I think of it, the more obvious it is to me that using a reputable outsourcing company like GI could help avoid all the hassle and challenges involved in recruiting. Not only would it save a ton of time, but it would also be far more cost-effective too. 

 

 Mark Lee FCA

 Chairman of the Tax Advice Network

Posted in For Accountancy Practices, For Small Practices.