Why firms in the accountancy sector need to seek talent in more effective ways

There’s no doubt that the accountancy and finance sector is facing a dearth of talent. In fact, recent research has revealed that over 60% of employers in this field anticipate at least a moderate talent shortage during the remainder of 2018, and over half of CFOs believe that Brexit will only exacerbate this. This apprehension is further fuelled by the additional skills needed in light of the sector’s increasing incorporation of technology. Understandably, hiring managers in the sector are concerned about how they will find the right talent to meet their firm’s needs in the area. However, many are failing to consider how they are exacerbating this issue through the use of outdated, inefficient recruitment processes.

Tired and ineffective hiring methods 

With close to 30,000 recruitment agencies in the UK, it’s no surprise that many accountancy businesses turn to them when they look to fill their vacancies.

After all, these firms dominate the search market, so many hiring mangers assume that they are the most effective way to find talent. However, this simply isn’t the case. In fact, I recently commissioned independent research which asked over 1000 people who had used recruitment agencies in the past year, either as employers or as job seekers, about their experience of the process. Shockingly, over half of all respondents did not feel they were dealt with honestly.

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In my opinion, a significant problem is that the sector has no barrier to entry and is unregulated, meaning that agencies can get away with all kinds of dubious practice and, consequently, service levels fluctuate wildly. For example, there are cases of recruiters making up fake roles just so they can get jobseekers to register with them – something which is damaging to their clients’ reputations, as well as their own.

Juliet Eccleston
Juliet Eccleston

 The research also revealed that it’s not uncommon for hiring managers to enlist the services of a recruiter, only to find that they draw up a shortlist of entirely unsuitable candidates. While there’s no doubt that finding the person who is the best fit for the job is a key priority for any accounting firm, over 90% of respondents said that they didn’t believe they could trust a recruiter with the specific task of “making sure the job is right for you.”

It’s my belief that part of the issue is that almost all recruiters are working on a commission basis, meaning that it’s in their own interests to encourage an employer to hire a candidate, even if that individual isn’t quite right for the role. What’s more, some don’t have enough industry knowledge to really understand what firms are looking for, so just aren’t equipped for the complex and nuanced task of matching expertise and attitude to important vacancies. 

So, with the research revealing a lot of dissatisfied customers, it’s even harder to justify the fact that the agency model comes with fees which can be eye-watering. Typical rates are between 10-30% of a candidate’s annual salary – significant sums – and there isn’t always enough of a value-add to warrant them. One respondent, a hiring manager in financial services, complained: “Can you really trust recruitment consultants? No. Not in my experience. They are very, very fee driven. Once they have their money you don’t tend to hear much from them.” Give that all business owners want to recruit in a way that is efficient and cost-effective, surely it makes no sense for them to pay a premium in return for mediocrity.

Disruption is long overdue

It’s my firm belief that hiring managers have put up with poor levels of service for too long. The existing recruitment model is broken and doesn’t meet the needs of modern businesses. However, the growing skills gap and need to future-proof the accounting and finance industry makes it more important than ever for firms to source talent in the most effective way and provide applicants with a positive candidate experience. After all, failure to do so could mean an employer loses out on talent both now and in the coming years. Employers seeking finance and accounting professionals need to drive long overdue disruption to the hiring industry and take a completely different approach to finding talent.

During my own career, I found that the most successful appointments I made came when I asked those in my network of contacts if they knew any individuals with the requisite skills. Rather than relying on recruiters to appraise applicants based solely on their CV and a quick meeting, this approach meant that professionals were recommended to me by people who had worked with them and could vouch for their skills and abilities. The result was a much more efficient way of recruiting – and it came without the steep fees associated with using intermediaries.

We live in a digital age, where it is quicker and easier than ever to connect and communicate. There’s simply no need to pay agencies to do what we have the ability to do ourselves, provided we tap into our networks.We have already seen the likes of Purplebricks remove the need for people to use estate agents, and Airbnb has done the same with travel agents. With a collective approach, employers across the accountancy and finance sector can do the same with recruiters and transform the way that we hire for the better.

By Juliet Eccleston, Co-Founder of peer recommendation hiring platform AnyGood?.