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5 Ways To Avoid A Bad Hire In Smaller Accounting and Bookkeeping Firms

Giles Pearson
Posted by Giles Pearson on Jan 3, 2023 12:45:00 AM

In your public accounting life, you’ll likely be involved in lots of hires. Some are just awesome, many are ‘ok,’ and a few will be downright miserable.  For firm owners, the latter are the ones you remember, the ones that stress you, the ones that cost you, and the ones that make you wonder why you entered public accounting at all.

A lot has been written about the cost of bad hires. We developed our own model based on 25 years in public accounting and are excited to share our best tips! You can adjust to your own firm based on things like whether you use a recruiter, your assessment of how long you might take to deal with poor performance, etc.

We know accountants have a reputation for being slow at making the hard decisions to either terminate employment or even start a performance management process.  Whatever your view, it’s likely to cost at least 100% of the starting salary – an unpleasant amount to deduct from your bottom line. We've developed a Bad Hire Calculator to help you understand the impact on your bottom line when you make a bad hire. 

No one is perfect, and you’ll never make universally perfect hires, but here are a few tips for small or mid-sized firms without a dedicated recruiting capability.

1.    Hire for the right job 

Ask yourself, “Do I need to hire at all?” Should I look to outsource, offshore, or hire remotely? Most importantly, what is the best structure for my team, and is this hire helping to get closer to that? Fit the new hire into your firm strategic plan and involve your team in the process of drawing up both the job profile (what does the person need to do?) and the person profile (what skills do they need to have?). Determine what’s vital on day one vs. what’s useful and what can be taught. If you’re simply replacing like for like, you’re probably off to a bad start.

2. Learn how to interview

Make sure you have your interview process locked in and consider forming an interview panel.  An interview panel is 2 or 3 people, all of whom should have intimate knowledge of the role. Here are some tips to make the most of candidate interviews:

  • Have your questions organized. This Indeed article can help you develop some great questions.
  • Probe deeper when answers are not in-depth enough
  • Use a scoring template and take notes.

It’s really surprising to us at Accountests how many firms fail to do any of this. 

3. Don't trust the resume.

The resume more often tells you what the candidate would have liked to have achieved in their various roles. Interview questions will help uncover what they really did, and testing their skills will give you evidence of their technical capability. Make sure the tests are fit for purpose and relate well to the technical capability required in the role. You need to be able to look at the results and make an objective assessment of whether the candidate has the skills to do the job you are hiring for.

4. Make sure of team fit

Your firm has its own culture, driven largely by your way of working and how the team interacts. Making sure the team is involved in the interviews is a great way to gauge personal fit. Using a good quality personality test before the final interview will also highlight the preferred working style of the candidate and will help to identify areas requiring more probing.  Even better, a good personality profile can help you uncover whether a candidate has the natural capability to progress in client-facing and new business areas.  

5. Move fast

If you have a good process and ready access to the tools you need to progress a hiring process quickly, you’re ready to make fast and good decisions. Candidates have options, and if they apply for your job, they are probably applying for others. Your task is to identify the good ones quickly and close the deal fast. Ask at the end of an interview if a candidate would accept the job if offered.  Make offers with deadlines.  Your candidate will likely get a counteroffer from their current employer – learn how to manage that.  Call the referees yourself.  Don’t compromise on speaking to their current manager, as that’s the most valuable conversation you’ll have. Testing and interviewing will have highlighted areas you need to ask about specifically.  Always ask the “Would you hire them again….?” question and be alert for any hesitation. There are great resources online to help, and you need to be ready.  

Accounting firms make their money by providing business acumen to their clients.  If the accountant or tax professional can’t add value based on their experience and knowledge, the client might as well ask their neighbor for help – and that advice will be free!  Technical knowledge and the experience of working with many other clients are what make accountants uniquely able to provide quality, impartial advice.  But our experience is that when hiring for their team, firms tend to be slow and under-prepared. It's time to add some hiring acumen to your business acumen.

Do it right - Hire fast – with confidence.

Topics: Human Resources


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