The accountant unemployment rate remains remarkably low — great news for job seekers, but not so much for employers.

If you’re the latter, how can you best navigate the challenging hiring market this represents? If the former, how can you take advantage and boost your career in finance and accounting?

First, arm yourself with the facts: According to the latest quarterly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on unemployment rates by occupation, the jobless rate for accountants and auditors was 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019. That’s down from 2.0% in Q3 — and notably lower than the national unemployment rate of 3.5%.

The rate is defined by the number of professionals who have looked for accounting work in the previous four weeks but remain unemployed, as compared to the total number of accountants in the labor force.

Unemployment rates for specialized roles in finance and accounting also continue to trend low, including these:

  • Billing and posting clerks (2.0%)
  • Financial managers (1.5%)
  • Financial analysts (3.2%)
  • Accountants and auditors (1.4%)
  • Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks (1.5%)

So now that you have this information, what can you do with it?

Employers vs. the accountant unemployment rate

“Competition for top talent is fierce in this job market, so employers need to broaden their search for finance and accounting candidates, and adjust their hiring criteria,” says Steve Saah, executive director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting.

When job openings outnumber job seekers, it can help to narrow your candidate requirements to the most critical attributes. Be more flexible. If you’re unable to find someone who perfectly matches the job description but exhibits the soft skills needed to succeed in the role, you may be able to help them build accounting technology skills in-house with on-the-job training and education opportunities.

Additionally, advanced technology is creating a need for new skill sets, which may require you to expand your search. Do some extra networking and ask your existing employees for referrals. Consider working with a specialized staffing agency that can help you find skilled professionals who are not actively seeking work but would jump at the right position if it came along.

And when you find a candidate who fits your needs, don’t wait.

"Organizations must move as quickly as possible in their interview process and hiring,” Saah says. “Top candidates have options and won't wait long for any one company to make a decision."


Candidates: seizing the opportunity

With many employers loosening hiring criteria, this could be the optimal time to land a more senior position or change your career track to a role that could lead to more fulfilling — and higher paying — opportunities down the line.

Evaluate your experience and skills, and see where they could take you in a job market tilted in the candidate’s favor. This includes your soft skills, technical skills, professional certifications, and knowledge of GAAP and compliance.

If you decide now is a good time for a job search, even a passive one, craft your best resume and cover letter, and round up your references. If your resume is compelling enough, it’s likely to lead to an interview, according to Saah.

Don’t limit your search to easy-to-find opportunities. “Tap into your network of finance industry colleagues, starting with the people you know best,” Saah says. “Don’t be afraid to ask them to put in a good word for you or put you in touch with someone else who can help.”

And no matter what the accountant unemployment rate is, working with a specialized staffing firm can help you uncover opportunities that lead to your dream job in accounting and finance.

However you decide to go about your search, consider your preferences regarding organizational culture, compensation and work-life balance. These are all aspects of a job offer that most employers expect candidates to negotiate during the second interview. You have the upper hand, so it can’t hurt to try and use it.

Take a look at the job openings in your city.