No matter the job market, workers are always in demand somewhere. Recently, hiring for many businesses—including accounting firms—has been extremely difficult to the point that many have given up on being able to hire all the people they need.

So what’s an employer to do? Well, you could keep beating your head against the wall, try every last gimmick to attract candidates, or you could cultivate the talent you want. Yes, you could actually ignore all the noise about how hard it is to hire, stop focusing on things you can’t control, and put your energy into what you can do.  

It’s time for fresh ideas for building and nurturing the exceptional talent you need rather than trying to find ready-made employees who dazzle you from the get-go. 

Jaclyn Anku (our Head of Community & Education) and Chris Williams of SystemSix recently hosted a webinar discussing ways to cultivate that superstar talent. Watch the replay below:

Or read on for more on how to build your team of superstars.

Hire for potential

The first idea critical to building exceptional talent is starting with underrated talent. Call them underdogs, diamonds in the rough, whatever you like. The point is: there is a vast group of seemingly unremarkable people who are hungry for a chance to show what they’re capable of. You should hire these people.

So how do you find them? For starters, you have to stop looking for perfect candidates and hoping you can 1) get them in the door for an interview and 2) convince them to take up with you. These “high quality” candidates, even if they exist, have options, lots of them. Even if you have managed to create an exceptional workplace, the odds are against you that you’ll land those perfect candidates.

Instead, start looking for candidates with potential. This means you might have to overlook inexperience, an unconventional work history, or some other quirk that might cause you to dismiss them. RESIST THIS. Focus on answering these important questions:

  1. Do they share your values?
  2. Do they have, or are they capable of learning, soft skills needed to serve clients?
  3. Are they tech savvy? Can they pick up a new tool quickly? 

If they check all these boxes, you may have just landed on an employee with tremendous potential. But potential needs developed, and so the work isn’t done.

Professional development

Once you’ve hired folks with potential, now the hard part. It will be critical to invest in these people. While it might be tempting to throw them into the deep end and hope they learn to swim, not everyone thrives in that environment. 

Professional development may seem daunting at first. After all, it costs time and money, two things that might be in short supply. But the cost of not investing in your workforce will be clear: it will undermine the rest of your efforts. If you undercut training, for example, by not allowing them adequate time to learn new technology, their work will be less effective. If you don’t provide or communicate the potential career pathways you offer, they may not see any reason to stay with your firm long-term.

However you decide to approach professional development, half-measures will not get the job done. To do this right means fully committing to your team’s growth, and that means giving it a personal touch. 


It’s critical to hire for potential and to develop that potential so they can grow with your firm. But the key that will unlock the development of exceptional talent needs humanity. That humanity needs to be individual people who can engage directly with the individual members of your team. You need mentors.

Mentors can bind your firm together through close relationships among your team. This means finding people who will invest in the professional success of someone other than themselves. This can happen at all levels of your firm, but your more experienced team members must be involved because that experience is part of your team’s development. Learning from others’ successes, failures, and everything in between is how we know what has worked and what hasn’t and how that may or may not apply to our professional lives. Otherwise, we’re all just wandering around using a map with no names.

So make mentoring a part of your team’s development plan. It will make all the difference.

How these tactics show up in your firm will vary, of course. But what’s consistent is the need for firms to embrace a new approach and attitude about talent. It isn’t about finding all the perfect candidates. It’s about finding people with untapped potential and helping them realize it, not just for your firm’s benefit, but, most importantly, for theirs as well. 

Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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