Hiring Report: Low Unemployment Rates for Financial Professionals

By Robert Half January 24, 2018 at 10:30am

Not only are the latest unemployment rates for accounting and finance professionals below the overall national rate of 4.1 percent, but most of them are lower than earlier in the year, according to the latest quarterly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

That’s good news for job seekers, but if you’re a manager hoping to hire a financial analyst, you might wonder what it’s going to take to get someone to make a career move. The unemployment rate for financial analysts is just 0.8 percent, which points to a shrinking pool for skilled candidates, and fierce competition in hiring for this role.

Across the country, the unemployment outlook varies by occupation and by industry. In the industry category of financial activities, which includes banking and credit unions, the unemployment rate is below average, at 2.0 percent. That contrasts with the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries, which has a 5.8 percent unemployment rate.

How does this affect you? You may find it difficult to recruit top talent in accounting and finance in today’s job market.

View an infographic of new research by Robert Half that shows how 65 percent of executives find it at least somewhat challenging to identify skilled workers for their job vacancies.

Here’s a closer look at three of the accounting and finance jobs singled out by the BLS for their low unemployment rates:

The need for financial analysts

Nearly all companies need a skilled financial analyst to examine their financial data and watch the bottom line. The size of a business, its complexity, the industry it operates in and its stage of development determines the specific duties of the financial analyst. For example, a growing technology company may need a financial expert to evaluate potential acquisitions, while a well-established insurance provider may need someone to identify potential new revenue streams.

Starting out, a financial analyst in corporate accounting might help with financial planning and modeling, and with experience may create projections for your performance analyses and assist in long-range planning, investments — and more.

According to the 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, the midpoint financial analyst salary with one to three years of experience is $65,000. At higher levels, the midpoint salary is projected to be $80,000 for senior financial analysts, $100,000 for financial analyst managers and $127,000 for directors.

Accountants in demand at all levels

The jobless rate for accountants, at 1.8 percent, has come down steadily from 4.2 percent in 2011, the year the BLS adopted new job classifications.

Hiring an accountant is an essential move for businesses to reduce costs, grow and strategize, diminish risk, interpret data, and make decisions based on the financial health of the company.

Accountants can wear many hats, serving as tax experts, compliance specialists and business analysts, with additional titles such as cost accountants and forensic accountants.

An entry-level accountant with up to one year of experience can prepare journal entries, assist with audit fieldwork for operational and financial audits, reconcile and balance general ledger accounts, and research and correct account discrepancies. At the other end of the spectrum, accounting managers, typically with five years of experience, a bachelor’s degree and a professional accounting certification, can maintain the general ledger system, prepare financial statements, assist with regulatory reporting, research accounting issues for compliance, coordinate the budget process, and hire, train and supervise accounting staff.

The Salary Guide reports the 2018 midpoint salary for entry-level staff accountants as $45,000, accountants with three to five years of experience as $60,000, senior accountants as $75,000, and accounting managers as $90,000.

Finding bookkeeping and accounting clerks

The unemployment rate for bookkeepers and accounting clerks is also low, at 2.0 percent, which can make it difficult to hire staff in accounting operations.

A bookkeeper’s duties include managing accounts payable (AP) and receivable (AR), recording financial transactions, entering data, reconciling accounts, and assisting with financial reporting and tax preparation. You should hire a bookkeeper who knows QuickBooks and Excel, attention to detail and multitasking abilities.

Excel is also a required proficiency for accounting clerks, who typically perform data entry, match invoices to purchase orders or vouchers, and assist with the AP/AR processing. You can ask interview questions that will help determine a candidate’s interpersonal skills, because these workers will be expected to interact with customers and staff.

The midpoint salary for accounting clerks is $34,000, according to the Salary Guide, with $37,500 at the midpoint for general bookkeepers and $42,250 for full-charge bookkeepers, who prepare financial statements and have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Advice for employers and hiring managers

In Robert Half’s survey on recruiting challenges, 51 percent of the CFOs said they have considered hiring college students or entry-level job candidates for roles that previously weren't open to them. An equal percentage said they’ve expanded their search geographically. Other strategies?

  • Examine your hiring process and be more active with recruiting rather than waiting for skilled professionals to come to you
  • Loosen the “must-have” job criteria and teach more skills on the job
  • Consider offering flexibility, such as remote work options, if the job allows for it
  • Partner with a recruiter to get help finding and securing candidates

— Ky Kingsley

Looking to hire top talent in finance and accounting for your organization? We can help.

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Q4 2017 Hiring Market infographic

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