Recast Episode: This episode was originally published on June 7, 2018, but it’s a favorite among our Growing Your Firm Podcast community, so we’re bringing it back. Comment below to tell us if you’ve been listening to the podcast since the original airing of this episode.
- The Making of a Good Recruiter
- Trends in the Job Market
- The Four Questions
- Vision as Part of Recruiting
- Defining Your Company Culture
- The Importance of Retention
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Meet Jeff Phillips
Jeff Phillips, co-founder and CEO of Accountingfly, has been building and implementing talent and recruitment strategies since 1999. In addition to his CEO duties for Accountingfly, Jeff added another title as he stepped in as CEO at Padgett Business Services.
Jeff has been named among the Top 100 Most Influential People by Accounting Today four times, serves on multiple professional and community boards, and was the 2020 President of The CPA Consultants’ Alliance.
In this episode of the Growing Your Firm podcast, Jeff tells us how to attract 50X more qualified job applicants and retain them, because, in today’s firm, keeping your best staff is harder than ever before.
The Making of a Good Recruiter
Jeff knows that most business owners are not good recruiters. By his estimation, only about 15% are actually good at it, but even then there’s a caveat. “Even if you’re predisposed and have the personality set to be an excellent team leader, leaders are made. They’re not born; they’re trained.” As your firm grows, you will have less and less time for recruitment. That’s just the reality of it.
“Unless you have a trusted and proven system for people, whether it’s the hiring, onboarding, or retention system,” Jeff says, your hiring process will grind to a halt. As you get busier running your business rather than working on the business, stuff like hiring gets put on the backburner. The most pressing issues are the ones that arrest your attention, so having a system that helps you deal with the day-to-day issues is vital, especially one that yields repeatable, consistent results.
Trends in the Job Market
However, the job market has changed. It’s no longer a “seller’s market” whereas jobs are concerned. Demand for accounting talent far outweighs supply. We are certainly in a buyer’s market; prospective employees have the liberty to pick and choose between employers and negotiate better deals for themselves. “The race for talent is over,” Jeff says. “And the talent has won.”
He unpacked that by explaining that if you’re hiring, you are competing for the best available talent in the market. The hiring situation is such that the prospect is in the driver’s seat, so to speak. You have to sell prospective employees on your company and your job openings. “To sell a product, you’ve got to have a brand, something to trade, and something that sets you apart that causes them to send you their resume.”
Clearly, this is more than just a hiring issue, it’s a marketing challenge. One of the major problems, Jeff says, is the way we advertise job openings. “Have you ever seen a job posting that looks like an HR document, and it’s just got a list of 35 bullet points of what the qualifications are and what the duties will be?” This is exactly the kind of thing you want to avoid. Jeff did an A/B test of a job post for a client where he tested a vision-based job posting against a standard HR job posting, and he pulled in 50X more job applicants than the HR document.
So, when it comes to job postings, how do you build an attractive post? It really boils down to four questions that the company needs to answer for prospective employees.
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- Why should prospective employees give you a portion of their career?
- Why would prospective employees want to work in your size of firm?
- What is the culture of your business?
- A quick aside from Jeff, here: “You have a culture whether you know it or not. The answer to this question isn’t: ‘The culture here is we are a family.’ It might be and feel like a family, and that is incredible, but that’s the answer for a lot of firms when we ask that question. We have to go deeper than that.”
- What is the vision of the business?
Vision as Part of Recruiting
That last question is the most important in Jeff’s mind. Vision is absolutely critical. So, where do you start to build or define the vision of your company? It starts with the founder(s), and it all starts with why you started your company. Jeff asked a firm owner why he started his firm. His answer wasn’t about doing tax returns, it was that “He worked in public accounting, was tired of the grind, and wanted to start a firm where he took care of clients his own way without missing his kid’s activities.”
But why is vision so important in today’s culture? Jeff notes that the blog Going Concern is read by 180,000 accountants per month, and Going Concern has singled out millennials that read the blog. They survey those millennials to find out the best way to connect with them for job opportunities, and Jeff says it always comes back to vision. Your vision is a vital component in attracting the right kind of talent for your firm.
Defining Your Company Culture
One of the other major questions you need to answer for prospective employees is about your company culture. Jeff worked at Monster.com as a recruitment advertising salesman for seven years, and the first thing he learned in sales was “You sell benefits, not features.” What are the benefits for prospective employees if they decide to join your company? And we aren’t just talking about whether or not you offer medical or dental insurance, either. Sure, those are important, but people want to know the culture they would be walking into, and that’s rooted in who you are as a founder.
“What a wonderful opportunity to communicate and express what it is that’s unique about you, your team, and your company.” You have something unique to offer that prospective employees deserve to consider. The challenge is taking the time to work through this so you can readily articulate it to others, whether that’s your team, prospective employees, or the general public. Jeff points to Zappos as a great example of how to build out company culture.
Your company culture and vision are unifying forces. That doesn’t mean you won’t have vastly different people with differing opinions working for you — in fact, the best and most robust teams are composed of people just like that. But, what people line up behind is your vision — your company’s reason for existing — and your culture. The people who buy into those things will fall in line within your company, and those who can’t buy into them will be appropriately repelled. And that’s a good thing! Jeff says, “You want all of your turnover to happen in the recruiting process, not after you’ve hired them.”
The Importance of Retention
We are at a peak turnover rate in the public accounting industry, with 20% turnover being seen. Turnover is understandably bad for business, so how do we retain good people? Once again, you need to ask yourself several questions.
Firstly, what is your retention strategy? If you don’t prioritize how you retain talent and lead people, you will meet that turnover average. You must develop systems to assimilate new employees, lead them, and retain them. The most important thing in assimilating new employees is communicating their value to you and to the company — make them feel special!
Jeff tells a story about his own assimilation experience. When Jeff started working for a software company in Texas, they sent him his offer letter in a package that included a Tiffany pen to sign the letter with, a gift certificate to a local restaurant, CDs from local bands, and a packet detailing things to do and see locally. “I’m talking about something that happened to me 20 years ago,” Jeff says. “And I’m talking about it because a company had a system in place that made me feel great, that made me feel special and a part of the team!”
Find a way to make new hires feel special because they’ve chosen to spend a portion of their career with you.
Secondly, take time to train your people. Make a commitment to pour into those new hires. You need to have a training schedule that covers the core competencies of their job and the way things are done in your company. Someone has to train them, so make sure things are well documented. Whatever your system looks like, it needs to entail the functional work and the cultural work.
Thirdly, follow up with your new hires. Make sure they are getting settled in well and that the training is holding. Author Michael Buckingham actually analyzed the concept of follow ups and found that the most effective method was a weekly check-in where the manager asks the employee “what are your priorities right now and what can I do to help?”
Lastly, share some of the workload. Delegate some of your tasks to trusted team members. According to Jeff, “Proper delegation is providing crisp, clear results that every job should accomplish.”
By doing all of this, you are communicating value to your employees in a genuine way.
We covered a ton of great information in the podcast, so if you’re after more detailed information, be sure to check out the full episode! If you want to reach out to Jeff and ask about Accountingfly or just say ‘thanks’, email firstname.lastname@example.org.