Recruiting new staff can be a real challenge; these top tips could help you.
We have consistently heard from our practices that recruitment and retention are the greatest barriers to growing a practice. Some have had some success in this area and this article shares some tips that may help you. A follow up article will look at tips for retaining those great team members that you’ve worked so hard to recruit.
Have a clear marketing message
Nikki and Nigel Adams set up Ad Valorem in 2001. In Nikki’s experience, many practices do not treat themselves as businesses – yet recruitment is a vital part of any business and you need the right people. Absolutely essential for good recruitment is a clear message for potential candidates on where the firm is going.
‘Ad Valorem was not getting the right mix of talent that we needed initially. We had to take the time to figure out who we were as a firm. Once we had that clear message developed and communicated to our recruitment consultant, we started getting the right candidates in front of us. Our consultant now knows exactly the sort of person Ad Valorem wants to recruit and contacts me whenever he has identified “an Ad Valorem person” for us to consider.’
Profiling can then identify whether that candidate is suitable and also identify the right role in the practice for the candidate. There are many profile systems out there – Nikki uses an online system called Truity which costs £15 per report. The report gives a reasonable idea of the type of work a person will enjoy so you can place the right people in the parts of the business where they will thrive.
Alastair Barlow – co-founder of ACCA practice flinder – agrees that a clear marketing message is crucial and has taken their marketing message onto social media. flinder has a dedicated Instagram account and YouTube playlists showcasing ‘life at flinder’ and their unique culture; with MTV Cribs style videos of the office and their annual ski trip, it’s all strategically focused to recruit the right candidates that fit with their values and culture. It helps potential candidates to get a feel for the vibe of the practice to see if it would be a good fit for them.
Alastair commented: ‘While recruitment will always be a challenge in the profession, especially when looking to grow at pace, we’ve found opening our doors and showcasing our culture has been transformative; it’s self-selecting before candidates even come on our radar and those that do tend to be the right fit. Overall, this marketing-led approach has really enabled us to continue to grow at pace.’
The application process starts with potential candidates sending in a 90-second video of themselves; if potential candidates are put off by that then flinder is unlikely to be the right fit for them.
‘At flinder, our culture is super important to us; we live and breathe our values through everything we do. It comes as no surprise that we also assess candidates against our values during the recruitment process to ensure we have a good fit. After the 90 second video clip, the first interview is very much a values and cultural fit interview – clearly technical skills are very important, but as we coach and develop our team in our very specific flinder ways of working cultural fit is actually the greater and more important hurdle and the harder one to develop. We seek evidence through questions focused on each of our values.’
As with Ad Valorem, flinder works with a particular recruitment consultant who understands what flinder is about and whether a potential candidate is likely to be suitable well before they see them; this is clearly working for them as they have grown from a team of four to 17 in under 10 months.
Their digital marketing associate Jamie Whiffen sums it up: ‘Marketing is simply attracting those you want and repelling those you don’t want. A common mistake is to think it’s better if you cast a wider net – it’s not. Niche marketing is the key.’
Unique selling points
Your marketing message should include your unique selling points (USPs). A common USP that smaller practices use relates to the training that a potential recruit would get at the practice.
ACCA member Kerry Hopper worked in a practice in the south west of England and recalls how they used their USP to recruit to great effect. ‘The package for a trainee did not offer a huge salary but we found that key to recruitment was how we sold the training that they would get. Trainees work together with the whole team and are not segregated into tax or audit which would happen in the big firms. They’ll develop a wide-ranging skill set and a broader experience across tax, audit, payroll – everything. Plus you’ll get experience of different clients and types of work. These are all things that trainees are not likely to get working for a big practice and we were able to sell that to potential recruits.’
Many practices have started going down the apprenticeship route, seeing it as the future of the profession – from a training point of view it is cheaper than taking a graduate. It also offers the ability to mould a recruit to the practice’s culture rather than bring in someone who has more formed ideas about how a practice should run – the ‘grow your own’ concept.
There have been some bumps along the road for those using the apprenticeship route – administration by providers was patchy when apprenticeships were in their infancy but is improving. Employers must commit to 20% of each week being given over to the apprentice to study which needs to be factored into project management, but the benefits are significant.
Agencies, local sixth form colleges, advertising on student forums, referrals and tuition providers are all sources of apprentices. More and more young people are looking to go straight from school to work so that they do not saddle themselves with university debts, so the pool of recruits is growing.
Age is only a number
There are a number of great reasons why practices should consider recruiting older team members. A small practice may only be able to offer a limited career path and not on-going opportunity and progression - which could make retention of young aspirational trainees difficult. A mature candidate may be less interested in career progression and value staying with a practice that is flexible with its work practices to fit in with personal commitments such as parenting or elder care.
Including older candidates will expand your potential pool for recruitment – this could be particularly important in more rural areas where the lure of jobs in big towns or cities can severely restrict your recruitment pool.
A more mature candidate will still require training but some practices have found it easier to train such candidates because their life experiences have already provided grounding in the working world. They are also likely to be more experienced in exercising judgement.
One final benefit is that you may find that some clients will relate more easily to an older team member.
If you want to ‘try before you buy’ then there are some ways to see if a potential candidate would be a good long-term recruit. These opportunities are not as common as they once were but include work experience from schools, summer placements from schools or universities, and placement year candidates from universities.
Edinburgh is a university town and Mark Edwards – partner in ACCA practice Mitchell Edwards – is constantly inundated with applications from university students keen to get some experience. ‘If after the first summer they’re good enough to be invited back for the second summer then you can start thinking about offering them a permanent position when they graduate. Those that have shown real interest have come in over Christmas as well. Occasionally they come in a day a week during term time – it’s better than bar work and the hours are more sociable. But the structure needs to be there. It is very labour intensive to do a summer placement – it needs to be decent work or else it is a waste of everybody’s time but that requires commitment from the whole practice.’
The next article in this series will look at tips for retaining those great team members that you have worked so hard to recruit.