There’s a lot more to accounting than crunching numbers. It’s a highly complex profession that requires an individual who not only excels at understanding accounting software and business operations, but who can also clearly communicate with individuals across all levels of an organization – from the CEO to the A/P clerk.
Many business owners don’t understand the many skill sets an accountant must possess until it’s too late. Instead, they rush through the hiring process, don’t set clear expectations for the position, or, worse yet, focus on the wrong qualifications. The result can be disastrous: a newly on-boarded employee who contributes nothing to the bottom line.
Don’t fall victim to these common blunders. Let Jason Alexander, a CFO Business Advisor with Lucrum Consulting, explain the five mistakes to avoid when hiring for this key staff member. Before joining Lucrum, Jason was a Recruiting Manager with a nationwide accounting staffing firm. Jason specialized in sourcing qualified candidates for his clients and is sharing some of his hard-earned advice with us.
Understand industry knowledge is key
First and foremost, a business owner should search for a candidate who understands what their business does. Is the company focused on construction, manufacturing or in a service field? Hiring someone who knows which accounting functions (there are so many!) apply to each of these unique industries is the difference between adding a new hire who is able to hit the ground running and add immediate value, versus hiring an employee who struggles to get off the starting line.
“Accountants can typically perform cost allocation in their sleep,” explains Alexander. “But how this function is executed differs from industry to industry. Therefore, hiring someone with an accounting background that matches the company’s traits cannot be overstated enough. It’s all about fit.”
Be flexible on software experience
Crystal Reports, Excel Pivot Tables, QuickBooks, SAP, and Oracle. This list reads like the skills section of a typical accountant’s résumé. Looks good on paper, right? Stop. Before making the hire, evaluate the team’s needs. Does the company even need some of these skills? Is an employee being replaced or is the team undergoing an expansion?
If it’s the latter, specific company software knowledge may not be necessary. Hiring managers can instead rely on their current talent pool to on-board the new employee and train them on the company’s programs. However, if the opportunity for cross-training is not available, it may be best to hire someone who is highly software proficient so they can begin making a positive impact from day one. The important takeaway to remember here is to always ask, “what’s best for the team?” Do this, and things rarely will go wrong.
Don’t underestimate the power of communication
When making a great hire, it’s not always about who went to the best school, or even who graduated with the most advanced degree. In other words, don’t be afraid to look outside the box and invest in an accountant whose skill set is a bit unorthodox. Hiring someone who can communicate in such a way to fit in with the corporate culture can be the most important skill to acquire.
According to Alexander, one example of this is finding someone with strong communication skills – it’s critical in accounting. “Think about it: accountants must be able to communicate across all levels of an organization, breaking complex financial concepts and tax code jargon down into layman’s terms so everyone can understand,” he says. “This is extremely hard to do, so don’t leave it to an amateur. Look for someone who knows how to adjust their language to their audience. Employees will immediately feel more informed and included, boosting job performance across the organization. Everyone benefits.”
Make a list and check it twice
Before making a hire, make a list of all of the important accounting functions the business needs to thrive, as well as those traits needed in a candidate. Should the individual be an experienced professional with 20 years of experience? Or would someone more malleable be a better fit? Regardless of the requirements, be clear in what the job responsibilities will be for the new position. Accountants like to know what the expectations are for the role. This will help establish expectations from the beginning and set the candidate – and business – up for success, rather than failure.
Work culture and personality matter
How a person fits into the work environment is just as important as how a person performs on the job. Explains Alexander, “At Lucrum, we use personality and motivator assessments during the hiring process that evaluates each candidate’s professional skills and soft skills. This not only helps us make informed decisions, but it also ensures we add the best people to our team.”
Alexander recommends business owners use similar assessments during the hiring process. Lucrum Consulting and several clients have a great relationship with John Gave, Managing Partner of the Metiss Group, an HR consulting and behavioral science group that helps companies develop selection processes to find the right candidate.
“The days of accountants wearing the green eye shade and holing up in some back office with little people interaction are over,” Gave says. “Today’s accountants need accounting proficiency and people skills. Not only are the numbers supposed to be accurate and timely, co-workers and users expect accountants to be personable and engaging.”
If you’re thinking about hiring an accountant, but aren’t sure how to begin the process, give the Lucrum team a call at 704.927.0462. We’ll connect you with someone who will contribute to the financial health of your organization so you can move your company forward.