Recruiting Tips for your Bookkeeping or Accounting Practice

After 20+ years in business I still find recruiting new team members to be one of the most challenging tasks. So much rides on having a productive, skilled and harmonious workforce, and I feel the pressure every time I step into R-mode.

However, over the years I have fine tuned my recruitment process and turned something that I used to find incredibly stressful into something that I can now approach with more clarity and confidence.

I admit, this fine-tuning was largely the result of many ‘teachable moments’ I experienced along the way (aka learning from my mistakes).

Below are some of those learnings. Hopefully I can help you skip the mistakes.

I Didn’t Start Recruiting Early Enough

Recruitment is a lengthy process. It requires commitment and time (and lots of it). Defining your requirements and job descriptions, crafting and posting ads, vetting applications, interviewing, screening and testing, contracts and documentation, acceptance and notice periods, time, time and more time. And that’s before they even pull up a chair and start the onboarding and training process (more weeks and weeks, by the way).

Don’t be put off by all this time. Accept it, account for it and be prepared for it.

Early Signs That You May Need to Start Recruiting

  • Everyone’s kicking goals and your business is growing, though you and/or your team are starting to hit capacity.
  • Your team is starting to show signs of frustration and fatigue – they’re struggling to service clients, are stressed and stretched, or spending time on things that aren’t their core job because there’s no-one else to do it. 
  • You have a new client or big project in your sights, though aren’t quite sure how you’re going to be able to resource it.
  • The market, tools of the trade, or technology is shifting and you foresee a skills gap.
  • There’s talk of a current employee moving on or taking extended leave (career/study move, relocation, parental leave, long service leave).
  • There’s someone in your team who is not suitable for or capable of the job.

You can’t sit back and wait for these things to happen before you start the recruitment process. If you do, you risk losing weeks and even months of you and your team being under resources, stretched and stressed trying to plug the gap. This in turn can lead to under serviced and unhappy clients, inefficient work practices, and low team morale. You may even end up losing good employees due to them being over worked and stressed out. 

I Didn’t Define WHO I Wanted to Employ

To be honest, in the early days of running my own business, I was winging it (and yes, sometimes I still do). I didn’t have a clear picture of what my ideal employee looked like. I didn’t know what character traits, skills, experience or values would make them the right fit. This lack of clarity often resulted in hiring people that were, strangely enough, not the right fit.

Sometimes it was really obvious when I got it wrong. Like when I handed over a simple task and realised they had no idea how to do it, or when I introduced a new hire to a client or the rest of the team and realised there was an immediate personality clash. At other times, it was more subtle – a lingering feeling that something wasn’t quite right or that everything seemed to feel harder than it should.

I quickly realised that if I didn’t know exactly WHO I needed to hire, there was little hope of them miraculously appearing in front of me.

So, I set out to create a Job Scorecard and a Job Description for each role.

The Job Scorecard is a one page document, usually in table form that defines the position, its desired outcomes, and the skills, experience and character attributes that the ideal employee should possess. Once you define these attributes, you can use the scorecard to help build the job advertisement, and throughout the recruitment process to score prospective employees.

Job Scorecard

  • Job Title – the role
  • Job Summary – a paragraph summarising the position
  • Desired Outcomes – three to five key deliverables and their respective KPIs
  • Technical Skills and Capabilities – e.g. software platforms, apps, programs, specific tasks/skills required
  • Experience and Knowledge – e.g. leadership skills, training delivery, communication skills, minimum experience requirements
  • Character and values – e.g. shared values, team player, personality type, energy level, ability to adapt, ability to accept feedback, proactivity, loves documented processes.

The Job Description provides a specific outline of the expectations, requirements and tasks associated with a specific job.

Job Description

  • Job Title
  • Reporting structure – outline who they will report to, and who reports to them (if any)
  • Company background – a few sentences or paragraph about the company and where the role sits within it.
  • Duties and Responsibilities – list out all duties associated with the role. Make these as specific as you can and categorise them according to function – this will make is easier for the applicant to understand and respond to the requirements of the role. For example, you may categories duties under Administration, Reporting, Payroll, Team Leadership etc. Don’t forget to include General Duties that you would expect from all your employees such as time management, communication skills, and team work.
  • Required / Essential Skills – qualifications, licences, minimum education, minimum experience etc
  • Type of Employment – full/part time, permanent, casual, shift work etc
  • Location and hours/days of work – consider whether the job can be conducted remotely, if the employee is to work from your office, or from the client’s office.
  • Remuneration (salary, hourly rate, commissions, bonuses etc). You may chose not to include this and instead include ‘based on skills and experience’, though it is good to include at least a guide.
  • Any other requirements, e.g. travel, physical requirements

I Didn’t Truly Understand The Reason WHY I Needed to Recruit

There are many catalysts to recruitment, though what you see isn’t always what you get, and it is important to understand exactly Why you are in the position you are in. Recruiting for the wrong (or a misunderstood) reason can lead to recruiting for the wrong position, or the wrong person.

For example, if you and/or your team are hitting capacity, it’s important to understand Why. Is it for all the good reasons  –  your processes are humming, your team is working efficiently, your clients are profitable and growing, all your Christmas’ have come at once, and you need to clone your workforce? Or is it the flip side – employees are stretched because processes are inefficient, scope creep is out of control, the team is under skilled or under supported, and you need to hire the missing piece of the jigsaw? Both of these reasons are legitimate, though the Why very much affects the What and the Who you need to recruit.

Likewise, if you are recruiting because there’s a new client or project in the pipeline, consider how you are going to service that client/project and the skills and experience required. Will the new-comer take on this project or will it be managed by the current team? What is the snowball effect of potentially reassigning clients/projects amongst the team and where will the gap end up?

Or, if you are facing a skills gap due to new regulatory requirements, tools or technology, think about the impact on the rest of your team and the long term affect on your business. Will the existing team need to be re-trained and require a mentor? Does this represent a long term change in direction, does it need a more short term solution, or is it fluid and requires a more agile approach?

I Hired In Desperation

This old chestnut. Despite our better judgment, hiring the wrong person because you’re desperate is easier to do than you think.

I have done it a few times. I’ve been flat out, posted a job ad in haste, and haven’t received any applications that really peaked my interest. At this point, Wise Me would have said ‘take a breath, review the ad, repost and be patient’. However, Desperate Me didn’t have the time or head space for that, so proceeded with the best of the bunch, and told Wise Me to pipe down. When the top applicant still didn’t meet the minimum requirements, Desperate Me over ruled and proceeded anyway.

Big Mistake! Unfortunately, though not surprisingly,  none of my desperation hires made it past the probation period. There’s an adaptation of that old saying – ”Hire in Haste. Repent in Leisure”.

I now know the consequences of letting Desperate Me win. Not only is there the financial cost of the recruiting and training process, there is also an emotional cost. It’s horrible for all parties (you, them, your existing team) when it doesn’t work out, particularly when you know it could have been avoided if you had recruited correctly in the first place. 

I Didn’t Skill Test 

This one is important.  

Just because someone says they have specific skills and experience, at a specific level, doesn’t always mean they do. It’s a hard truth and another I learnt the hard way.

In the early days of my business, I didn’t skill test. It didn’t really occur to me that people may stretch the truth, or that their opinion of their skill level (or even their referee’s opinion) may differ from my own.

And I can tell you that there is nothing more disappointing than going through the recruitment process, offering someone a job based on their skills and experience (with a salary to match), only to find out that they do not in fact have the skills for the job. You then need to make the decision on whether to end the probationary period early and re-recruit, redefine their role, and/or train them up to get them to a level you thought they were already at (all of which are costly exercises).   

You see, beauty really does lie in the eye of the beholder. And you need to see that beauty first hand before you can make judgement.

So, I introduced skill testing to my recruitment process. And it was a game changer!

I seriously have not looked back since introducing Skill Testing. It never ceases to amaze me how some candidates can have the most amazing resumes, interview incredibly well, then but completely bomb out in a skill test. 

A Skill Test allows you proceed with confidence to the next stage of recruitment. It may rule out an applicant, help rank your top candidates, or identify areas that you need to work on with the new hire. Whatever the outcome, it is a valuable investment in your growing team and business.

I Didn’t Have Properly Constructed Employment Agreements

Even if covered by an award, you need a proper employment agreement (or a Contractors Agreement for consultants and contractors). This will protect you, your clients and your employees.

If you have not do so already, I recommend investing in an HR advisor or a lawyer to set up your agreements and contracts.

Above and beyond your Award and minimum legal requirements, be mindful of some of the more industry specific requirements, such as:

  • Confidentiality or Non Disclosure Agreements – a Confidentially or Non Disclosure Agreement is designed to protect you, your clients and your employees when dealing with confidential or sensitive information (our bread and butter). The agreement defines the confidential information, the rights and obligations of each party, how this information is to be protected and used, if and how the information can be disclosed, and how it is to be dealt with or returned at the end of the employment period.
  • Restraint of Trade – a Restraint of Trade clause protects your trade secrets, confidential information and contacts/connections. It essentially sets out to limit an employee’s ability to solicit, entice or poach your clients or employees after their employment. A Restraint of Trade clause needs to be reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the employer.

It doesn’t matter who the person is – they may come with glowing references, be a previous colleague, a trusted friend, or a relative – do the paperwork and get the proper agreements signed!  It will protect all involved.

I Waited Too Long To Let Someone Go

The firing process is awful! Though it is a necessary evil and you really just need to rip that band-aid off!

I consider myself to be a pretty fair, considerate and compassionate person and employer. I’m predisposed to giving people the benefit of the doubt, giving them that second chance (or third, fourth and fifth), and believing that people can learn from their mistakes. This is certainly not a negative thing, though it is one that I have learnt to manage in the context of managing a team.

Part of that process has been learning to identify the tipping point where ‘enough is enough’. Because going past that point can have some pretty horrible outcomes.

Risks of Holding on To the Wrong Employee For Too Long

  • Team Morale Takes a Dive – An unsuitable or incapable employee can be a destructive force, and the whole team feels it. Other team members can feel frustrated that they’re always picking up the slack or fixing errors, or resentful that a colleague appears to ‘get away with’ poor performance or a negative attitude, or the situation simply makes the workplace an unenjoyable place to be. Keeping an unsuitable employee on may be at the expense of the rest of the team and you can lose good people in the process.
  • Under Serviced and Un-Loved Clients Leave – If an employee isn’t performing well or isn’t bringing their A-game to work, chances are your clients aren’t feeling the love either. Not only can your clients become disgruntled with the service, communication and value they are receiving from the employee, they are likely to also become frustrated with you for not acting in their best interest and taking prompt action. Even if the client sticks around, it can take a long time to rebuild the relationship and trust.
  • Productivity and Profitability Drop – Fixing mistakes, writing off hours, triple checking work, and putting processes in place to compensate for a weak team member can cost you significantly. It can turn profitable jobs into unprofitable jobs, and profitable businesses into unprofitable ones.

In the process of identifying and managing an employee who is not capable of or suitable for a job, remember to:

  • Be aware of your rights and responsibilities as an employer.
  • Communicate – Make sure that the employee is aware of your concerns regarding their suitability or capabilities and that they have the opportunity to address them within a reasonable time period. Discuss issues as they arise, set clear expectations, monitor performance, issue written warnings or incident reports if necessary, identifying any training or development requirements. If they are at risk of losing their job, make sure you inform them that this is a potential outcome if they are unable to show improvement.
  • Document the process – Keep a record of all activity and communications relating to your concerns regarding their suitability or capability. 

It’s easy to draw out the process and hold on to someone for too long – you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, don’t want to admit you got the hire wrong, don’t want to ‘rock the boat’, or want to avoid that difficult conversation.

Trust me, it hurts more if you pull that band aid off slowly. 

I Didn’t Have Documented Systems and Procedures

OK, so this one is a bit of a stretch in terms of ‘lessons learnt’, as I’ve actually always been a procedure documentation nut – it is in fact one of the things I pride myself on doing right from the get-go. Though it’s an important piece of advice for any business owner.

From the moment I took on my first client, I have documented every client procedure for every workflow, and it continues to pay dividends. This is something that you should do regardless of where you are in the recruiting cycle, though it does have specific benefits when it comes to hiring and onboarding new team members.

Benefits of Having Documented Client Procedures When Growing Your Team

  • It’s super easy to identify the skills or experience a new hire needs to be able to perform the tasks or procedures.
  • It creates a smooth and efficient onboarding process for incoming employees as all tasks are set out clearly. 
  • It limits errors and provides consistency across the business.
  • Clients don’t feel they have been ‘handled’ as your team are all operating from the same play book and don’t miss a beat.
  • It ensures that anyone in the team can pick up a client at any stage – whether that be to cover gaps while you recruit, hand over clients, or cover leave.

When hiring, it is super important that the applicant shares these values, and respects the documentation process. Once they are on board, they will to be responsible for following and maintaining these procedures for their clients, so it is important to set that expectation early.

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