Yes, You Should Be Concerned about Staffing 

by James C. Metzler, CPA.CITP, CGMA  

Yes, You Should Be Concerned about StaffingWhile the daily intricacies of running a small practice cause staffing to be pushed down the priority list, it is definitely still on the minds of small firms.  And those firms that don’t have enough work to warrant a full-time staff person are still faced with workload compression.  How do we find quality staff?  Once we find them, how do we keep them?  How do we find creative ways to keep a full-time staffer busy year-round?  Is a seasonal or part-time staff member a better option?  When looking beyond the current workload, it is a fact that small firms are challenged with the issue of staffing.  Luckily, small firms have the flexibility to structure a variety of creative work arrangements.  However, talented people are a critical component of every practice and there are reasons to believe that we may be on the verge of a recurrence of the intense competition for good staff that was a fact of life before the recent recession and that will have an impact on virtually all firms.  Why do I say that?

  • The 2013 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey tracks the major challenges facing practitioners and breaks them down by firm size.  This year, finding qualified staff was among the top five issues for all size firms aside from sole practitioners (and it was number six for them).  This survey is conducted biennially, and for years following its inception, staffing consistently dominated the top five lists for all but sole practitioners.  That changed in 2009, in the midst of the downturn, when this issue did not make any top five list, and in 2011 it only appeared on the top five list for firms with 11 to 20 professionals.  Therefore, as the economy seems to be making a rebound and business seems to be increasing, finding qualified staff is an obvious priority.  Increasing demand, ongoing complexity and continuing workload compression issues only underscore the importance of leveraging staff to sustain your practice and maintain your sanity.
  • AICPA research is projecting record setting demand for accounting graduates.  The Institute’s 2013 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits showed an unprecedented level of demand for graduates from public accounting firms, with a record 40,350 accounting graduates hired in 2012 and 89% of those firms forecasting the same or increased hiring levels this year.

All in all, this means that no matter what your hiring plans, it’s likely you will face increased competition for people at all levels.  Stay ahead of this competition and consider the below ideas as you search for top quality employees.

  • Be open-minded.  Don’t limit your options by only searching for CPAs or those with public accounting experience.  Also consider the following ideas.
    • Those who are on the CPA track and intend on taking the exam are motivated and ready to work.
    • Accounting students may well fit your part-time needs.  This will be a great opportunity to provide actual on-the-job training and this type of work arrangement will sometimes result in a full-time position after graduation.
    • A paraprofessional with experience from the financial services industry could be well qualified to work as a bookkeeper or provide basic tax preparation assistance.
    • Many seasoned banking professionals have been laid off in recent years, especially those involved in mortgage servicing and other back-office operations.  They understand financial transactions and in many cases have experience reviewing financial reports or tax returns.
    • Returning veterans are mature professionals who have real-world and supervisory experience and could be a valuable addition to your practice.  Find more information from Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce initiative.
  • Join forces.  Many small firms need additional help, but they don’t require a full-time employee.  A job sharing agreement could be a perfect solution if you’re willing to team up with another firm and divide the hours of an experienced professional, with one firm using him or her for, say, two days a week and the other for the remaining three days.   Find potential job-sharing partners by networking at state CPA society chapter meetings and similar professional events.
  • Emphasize your advantages.  Your practice has a lot to offer any of these nontraditional candidates as well as those people who are seeking a different culture and the flexibility and hands-on work experience that a small firm can offer.  Those with an entrepreneurial spirit may be interested to hear about opportunities to work independently or have early contact with clients.  Potential recruits with young children, elderly parents, or a busy personal schedule will be interested in your firm’s flexibility and the chance to take time away from and return to their careers as necessary due to the seasonal nature of the business.  Think about all the reasons that your size gives you a competitive recruiting edge and be sure to articulate these facts when you meet with candidates.  Use the PCPS Small Firm Recruiting Brochure to make your case.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Save time by making the best use of available resources.  Use online options such as and to expand your recruiting horizons.  Put your AICPA membership dues to work and check out the resources available to help you attract and hold on to quality staff.  PCPS tools that are available to all AICPA members include an Interviewing and Selection Guide  for your administrative and support team.  The guide reviews the entire process, demystifies interviewing and selection techniques, provides sample interview questions and details common errors made in interviews.  Also check out the PCPS Human Capital Center, which features tools categorized by firm size to help practitioners attract and retain top notch talent, boost morale and solve common HR issues. 

Renewed competition for talent will have an impact on every CPA seeking quality staff.  But the good news is that small firms are in a great position to win the race by relying on the unique advantages that set them apart.

James C. Metzler, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is AICPA vice president, small firm interests. Have questions for Jim? Contact him at or 212/596-6039.


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