How to Hire a Senior Accountant: Count the Ways!

By Robert Half October 25, 2018 at 6:00am

There’s no way around it. Your company needs someone to supervise your accounting staff and bookkeeping efforts, prepare financial statements, and analyze balance sheets and income statements. But this is a tough job market, and top talent is hard to find. Even if you think you know how to hire a senior accountant, it’s not going to be easy to find one.

The time and effort you put into recruiting for your senior accountant position will be worth the investment. The challenge is knowing what you want, vetting the job candidates and competing for top talent, all without dragging out the hiring process.

“Just a few days can make a difference,” says Jill Smith, a Robert Half Finance & Accounting vice president in Des Moines, Iowa. “This is a candidate-driven market, and if your hiring process takes too long, you might miss out on exceptional talent.”

So you know you have to push the accelerator, but where do you start? Read on for tips on how to hire a senior accountant.

1. Write a solid job description

First, decide on the must-have vs. the nice-to-have qualifications. Do you need an accounting professional with an in-depth knowledge of accounting principles and technology, financial statements, risk assessments and budgets? Write that in your senior accountant job description so you don’t have to sort through unqualified applicants and can appeal to those you want most.

Keep in mind, though, there’s no perfect candidate — not in this competitive market, anyway. More businesses are relaxing their job descriptions and hiring for the most critical skills. Smith advises hiring managers to be realistic and, when possible, be flexible, especially if they can offer training and professional development.

“In today’s market,” Smith says, “companies should choose high-potential candidates who have the most critical skills, and then make a commitment to help them succeed as senior accountants.”

2. Make it a good fit

Besides the skills, experience and education you’d like to see on a resume, a job description should provide a realistic idea of your corporate culture and what it’s like to work at your company. Is it a loud, boisterous office setting, or a quiet, corporate environment? What is the stress level, and how does the company encourage work-life balance? What kind of training and opportunities for career advancement does the company offer? What are the company's core values?

“Show candidates how they can grow professionally if they work for you,” Smith says.

Not only is this an opportunity to showcase the advantages you offer over the competition, it also helps job seekers decide whether yours is the kind of company they’d like to work at. This kind of self-selection can spare you a lot of time vetting applicants who wouldn’t be a good fit — or worse, the pain of making a bad hire. You not only want your new senior accountant to be comfortable in the company’s work environment, but you want him or her to mesh well with your team.

3. Work with a recruiter who knows how to hire a senior accountant

A specialized staffing agency can help you with that job description — and so much more. The best recruiters know the candidate marketplace in your industry and geographic area. They can effectively evaluate experience, skills and culture fit, saving you time and money as they streamline the hiring process.

With insider expertise, recruiters can also reach into their extensive networks and draw on talented professionals who aren’t aware of your open position and may not even be looking.

“Many qualified senior accountants are happy in their current roles and would need a compelling reason to make a move,” says Carrie Lewis, a Robert Half Finance & Accounting recruiting manager in New Orleans. “Those are the passive job seekers we can help you target.”

4. Offer the right salary and benefits

If you want to compete for the best senior accountants, you have to offer a competitive compensation package. The same can be said for retaining your top performers.

Stay current on prevailing salary and hiring trends by reviewing leading industry resources. The 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals provides starting salaries for more than 190 positions, including senior accountants. The guide also shows you how to localize the national figures for your market.

For example, the national midpoint salary* for a senior accountant is $77,750. You can adjust the figure to your city by using our Salary Calculator.

It’s not just going to be about salary, of course. “If your company offers additional benefits, such as bonuses, flexible work arrangements or extra vacation time, that may convince top prospects to work for you,” Lewis says. Company culture, discussed above, as well as work-life balance, perks, benefits and other incentives can all play a significant role in your success at attracting and keeping top talent.

5. Know what to watch for in the job interview

You can’t just “wing it” during the interview. Prepare for it like you would any other major decision. Think about what you want to know about the candidate — and if anyone else will join the interview, decide who will ask what.

Your accounting interview questions should discuss how up to speed candidates are with tax code changes, what their experience is in completing complex financial projects with tight deadlines and how they go about preparing budgets.

But along with the technical skills, Smith says, you’ll want to take stock of their soft skills, such as their ability to communicate financial information to non-financial audiences and work with teams.

6. Follow up with professional references

Don’t dismiss this part of the hiring process as just a formality or a waste of time. It’s an important step to expand your understanding of the candidates' hard and soft skills, and the impact they've had at an organization, beyond the resume and interview.

You might start by asking a former manager about a technical skill or strength the candidate possesses. For example: “I understand Kim took care of budget preparation and analysis for your company. Can you tell me more about her duties as staff accountant?”

Take it a step further by asking about a potential limitation, such as how the candidate might do in a more senior role: “She hasn’t had any experience managing accounting staff, which is part of the job description for a senior accountant. How do you think she’ll perform as a manager?”

Knowing how to hire a senior accountant is a valuable skill in itself, so pat yourself on the back for getting this far. What happens next? As Smith says, “Make your job offer, then do everything you can to keep them.”

* A midpoint starting salary refers to a candidate with average experience and the necessary skills to get the job done. The role will likely be of average complexity or in a market where the competition for talent is moderate.

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