Accounting firms: The recruitment riddle


In the second part of his two-part series on people strategy, Kevin Reed talks to five senior partners about their firms’ multi-layered approach to recruiting. To read part one on retaining and developing team members click here.

People strategy is a central theme for all three firm of the year categories in the Accounting Excellence Awards 2019. Entries to the awards are open: click here for more details.


Recruitment, above all else, can be the thorn in the side of any practice looking to develop and grow. So practices are developing a series of ways and means to bring in the people they need.

Top 100 firm Grunberg & Co sees the people it is looking to hire as ‘brought up’ with the internet – therefore that’s the place to attract them. The firm uses LinkedIn and social media to attract talent, pushing the ‘AmazingCareer’ hashtag. Its busy and detailed recruitment web page is full of information about benefits, the firm’s attitude towards corporate social responsibility, staff support and three unusual features: details about its financial performance; a range of staff’s career timelines; and recruitment FAQs.

“When people visit accountancy websites they’re usually dull,” says managing partner Robert Bean. “If we were applicants, we’d want details about how we’d be supported, gender balance, internal promotion details and career timelines.”

But as the accounting profession looks to automate compliance and develop people as advisers, who are these firms recruiting?

Robert Holland, managing partner of James Cowper Kreston, has seen recruitment evolve from technical data entry to a broader and more human range of skillsets. “We would have recruited processors who would migrate into being advisers…we haven’t recruited a processor for a couple of years,” says Holland.

While finance professionals are still sought (“You can’t substitute human eyes, that assurance is required”), the need for interpersonal skills and adaptability means its recruitment process has moved on. The firm undertakes graduate selection days, where potential recruits undergo a number of different interviews and tasks, watched over by observers.

“That process has yielded a group who are showing initiative and confidence, and able to adapt into the different things,” he explains.

Adaptability isn’t just a ‘young thing’, Holland insists. Older members of staff, including some baby boomers, have moved to flexible and mobile working.

Graham Carson, director at Accounting Excellence award-winning firm Inca, sees the process as about the “good fit”, as compared to technical ability.

In a similar mould to James Cowper Kreston, Inca’s process is as much about gauging working preferences, and whether they will be a good overlap for the role. Inca uses profiling tool DiSC in that process.

Based on the work of 1920s psychologist William Moulton Marston, the DiSC model is a standardised to way to assess behavioural styles and preferences. The tool classifies people's behaviour into four types (dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness) by looking at their preferences on two scales: task versus people; and fast-paced versus moderate-paced.

“Our interview process is about working to understand the behavioural aspects, the cultural fit, more so than technical. It’s easier to train competence than to change behaviour,” says Carson.

“We’re changing how we communicate with clients…As you grow you have to re-look at things and adapt. Our model’s working pretty well.”

The entry process for the Accounting Excellence Awards 2019 is now open. The Large Firm of the Year category sets a number of judging criteria: showing the quality of your firm; initiatives to growth and success; its people strategy; evidence of a focus on continuous improvement; alongside quantifiable performance measures. Click here to find out more.

About Kevin Reed

Kevin Reed

Kevin Reed is one of the UK's most senior accounting and finance journalists. He has written for, edited or managed various business and finance titles for VNU, Incisive Media, and Contentive since 2000 - and is now a freelance journalist and consultant.

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