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Talent treasure hunting - how to find the best team | AccountingWEB | drawing of a person with binoculars
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Talent treasure hunting: how to find the best team

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Traditional recruitment approaches often fall short when it comes to engaging a diverse pool of candidates. To find the best people, accountancy practices must learn how to search all talent. 

27th Jun 2023
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“Let’s face it, we’re running businesses, we’re busy, which means when it comes to recruitment, we somehow expect the best candidate to magically appear in front of us from an advert we put on LinkedIn and Indeed. That’s the extent of most people’s recruitment… and it just doesn’t fly anymore.” So said Lucy Cohen, co-founder of Mazuma Accountants.

Job adverts are, typically, dull. But it is also likely that your job ads uses language that would deter a more diverse pool of applicants, without you even realising it. That’s something every business, regardless of size, can easily fix.

Kayleigh Graham, is head of partnerships & growth at Telleroo, a fintech company that specialises in automating supplier and payroll payments. She finds some of the job ads for the accounting profession “shocking”. 

She said: “There was a firm that said to me, we’re hiring for this job and everyone that has applied is between 30 and 40 and a white male… We don’t know why that is.

“We went through [the job description] and the way they’d written it, it was like it was a boys’ club. It said, ‘We are hard working, we work long hours, we are a team, we go to sporting events together.’

“They’re actually a really diverse firm internally, but the way it had been written, you would not have thought it. If I read that, as a young woman of colour, there’s no way I’d apply for that job. And so we rewrote it, they posted it back out and in the 24 hours after, they had a whole bunch of more diverse candidates apply.”

Gender coding

There are free online tools that will help you check whether your job advert has subtle linguistic gender coding that can have a discouraging effect.

The job description Graham shares raises another question around pervading attitudes when it comes to recruitment: cultural fit. Cohen thinks choosing candidates based on their cultural fit could mean you are limiting your options and missing out on exactly what your business needs to progress. It can lead to homogeneity and hinder innovation. 

“We talk about cultural fit but if you’re going for people who just fit in with your incumbent culture, you’re just going to get more of the same. If you’ve got ambitions for your business, and you want your business to progress, and you want it to thrive and diversify in all areas. You can’t do that with the same stuff.

“We want a diverse workforce in all areas, because it brings richness and talent into our company.”

Diverse perspectives bring fresh ideas, creativity, and varied problem-solving approaches, enriching the workplace environment. To foster diversity of thought and experiences, organisations must challenge their existing cultures and actively seek individuals who bring different backgrounds and perspectives.

Female progression

Bishop Fleming has around 500 employees and recruits a more or less 50/50 split of men and women but it is addressing specific challenges around attracting women into more senior roles in particular and their ongoing progression within the profession. It is looking at initiatives to support female progression, like maternity coaching and parental support groups to help people navigate the challenges of working and parenthood.

It has also partnered with organisations like Bristol Future Talent Partnership to offer work experience placements, targeting students from socially deprived areas and ethnic minority backgrounds. These initiatives aim to provide exposure and opportunities to individuals who may not have considered a career in accountancy otherwise.

Bishop Fleming’s people director, Anna Averis, says: “That’s had huge benefits for our firm – that we’ve got different people from different backgrounds to deal with different clients. Being able to bring their backgrounds and their expertise into our organisation for the overall benefit is also the right thing to do.”

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Inclusive workplace

Bristol-based FD Works is a very different practice in terms of scale, but under the leadership of founder Jonathan Gaunt, it too has prioritised creating an inclusive and exciting workplace, promoting diversity and challenging misconceptions about the industry. 

Kim Slater, the firm’s brand strategy and operations manager said: “When [Jonathan] started the business over 10 years ago, he’d worked in corporate a long time and seen how people were treated as numbers, and he really aspired to building a business where it was a great place to work.”

It too uses school outreach programmes and mentorship clubs, to engage with students at an early stage, debunking myths and showcasing the variety of roles and career paths available within the field.

“We wanted to get in front of people as early as possible, to let them know that accountants probably aren’t what you think. We don’t spend all day doing maths. Actually, in a lot of our work it’s problem solving, even people management, relationship management,” said Slater.

Both FD Works and Bishop Fleming provide apprenticeships, with Bishop Fleming one of only three accountancy firms in the UK that are a registered employer provider of apprentices.

This means it is Ofsted registered and also has to demonstrate the quality of learning, the governance of its programme and safeguarding. But that investment is paying off for the firm – around 35% of its employees are apprentices, a number that has increased year on year.

Averis said: “We’ve really pushed our school leaver programme as an alternative entry point into an accountancy career, which means those students who can’t afford to go to university or don’t want to be lumbered with debt can come to us and typically qualify as an accountant earlier than they would do if they went off to university and then came into the profession at that point.”

Slater is a big fan of the apprenticeship framework too. “During that recruitment, we don’t really look at grades. Sure, as part of the story, but we’re much more focused on attitude – we can teach you everything that you need to know.” 

So the next time you hear your team lamenting that you can’t recruit anybody because there’s no talent around, check your approach – is it just that you are not looking in the right places, in the right way, or even that you are prioritising the wrong criteria?

This article is an extract from our new editorial special report: “Alternative guide to solving your skills crunch”. Download the free guide to discover practical strategies and real-life examples for recruitment, retention and using outsourcing and automation as alternative solutions.

 

Replies (4)

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By Taxedtothemax
27th Jun 2023 17:26

Enjoyed the second part of this article, great to see there is some effort being made to develop generations of future accountants.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
27th Jun 2023 18:07

“During that recruitment, we don’t really look at grades. Sure, as part of the story, but we’re much more focused on attitude – we can teach you everything that you need to know.”

You can only teach everything that they need to know if the party to be taught knows how to learn, if that skill it missing you might try to teach but not succeed.

Grades, to a degree, show that the learning skillset is not totally absent (though of course they may have been spoonfed how to pass the exams rather than how to learn).

Whilst grades are not everything they can and do say something, if they don't what is the point in aspiring to pass anything at school or university?

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By Hugo Fair
27th Jun 2023 21:05

Speaking from one of my many ex-backgrounds (that of owner of a recruitment consultancy and of a headhunting service), I wholeheartedly endorse many of the examples here - in particular those that focus on (1) the individual and (2) their attitude & aptitude, rather than extant knowledge (roll on the apprenticeships).

However I cannot see any connection between these basics (in theory or in the practical examples above) and the attempt to shoehorn 'diversity' into it all as the primary goal.

By definition, a focus on the individual without allowing irrelevant factors to affect your choices (not just in recruitment but later in development and onwards) is not merely 'good' but sensible.
However there's more than one way in which to avoid "prioritising the wrong criteria" ... and if you make 'diversity' your primary beacon then you will simply perpetuate a new set of blinkers.

One of the small ways in which I trampled on some holy writs back in the '80s (yeah I know another story from the dinosaurs) was to invert the approach being applied to psychometric profiling (16PF for anyone who remembers).
Whatever you think of the fallibility of the profiling itself, the tool was being sold as a way of ensuring a fit of homogeneity with 'your corporate culture'.
I successfully argued that this was a way of building in slow decay (i.e. that you needed fresh blood and ideas to challenge the accepted norm and represent a wider range of perspectives like your customers) ... but could only get corporations like IBM to give it a try by creating a fancy label - 'team dynamics'.
Lo and behold it worked (the teams hired this way produced the fastest 3-5 year international growth).

It takes courage to stick to your principles and time to prove their validity ... but in an age of increasing automation (with its de-humanising impact), it is more important than ever to stick to the best bits talked about above but avoid the shibboleth of diversity as an objective in itself.

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By Glennfletcher
04th Jul 2023 12:16

Grades, to a degree, show that the learning skillset is not totally absent (though of course they may have been spoonfed how to pass the exams rather than how to learn).

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