Why Is It So Difficult to Find Great Accountants for Your Firm?

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to attract and retain great accountants for your firm?

The number of available jobs for knowledge economy workers is growing rapidly, meaning that it will become increasingly challenging to fill your firm’s available positions. To adjust, you need to begin thinking outside of conventional hiring standards to find skilled accountants for your firm. 

Fortunately, Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, delivered an informative webinar all about finding skilled accountants for your firm. Our webinar “How to Hire and Manage US-Based Remote Accountants” featured the hiring expertise of Jeff Phillips, Co-Founder and Director of Accountingfly. You can watch the entire webinar here

In addition to this webinar article, which is Part One of the series, you can read Part Two and Part Three to learn more about hiring practices and remote work. 

In this article, you’ll learn all about the challenges of hiring qualified accountants, the knowledge economy labor shortage, and why your firm needs to redefine what makes a great accounting candidate. 

Why hiring accountants is challenging for CPA firms

Finding skilled accountants for your firm can be incredibly challenging. The number of knowledge economy jobs is constantly increasing, and there aren’t enough qualified accountants to fill in the many positions. Jeff observed that job boards and other methods of recruiting employees often fail to supply firms with qualified candidates:

“I know you’ve probably said out loud, ‘Why is it so hard to find good people?’ … You posted a job, … [and] you don’t get results. You go on Indeed, [and] you get 200 applicants for a staff position or a senior [position], but not one of them has an accounting degree. … It’s frustrating.”

Jeff Phillips

The current labor market has far more jobs than qualified candidates, and this especially impacts the accounting industry because accounting firms have a high turnover rate:

“The reason why it’s frustrating has to do with labor economics, and it’s not you. … Among accounting staff at small firms, they’re losing 25% of their accounting staff every year. … 40,000 accounting firms with any sizable amount of people around the United States are constantly losing people, and this has been going on for a decade.”

Jeff Phillips

The current job market has created a situation where there aren’t enough qualified accountants to fill the many positions available, and having empty positions in your accounting firm can be detrimental to its success.  

Labor economics and the skilled labor shortage

The lack of available knowledge economy workers combined with accountants’ high turnover rate makes it difficult for firms to staff their offices fully. When your firm is unable to remain fully staffed, other accountants within your firm will likely overwork:

“[Lack of qualified candidates] creates a major pain point. What it leads to and [what] you’re feeling … is your staff gets overworked, and you can’t hire [new accountants] to replace the people. … You keep posting jobs … or you hire the headhunters, and the headhunters are just throwing you lousy resumes. They’re not really creating any momentum with good candidates. … We’re getting a lot of candidates who are not showing up for work, about one in 50 right now for us. … It’s a mess out there.”

Jeff Phillips
Female HR manager greeting job candidate.

Some speculate that hiring will become easier when the economy shifts, but Jeff believes that hiring will continue to become increasingly difficult regardless of economic conditions: 

“What’s happening globally is [that] knowledge work, [including] legal, medical, accounting, finance, engineering, computer-related [fields], [and] nursing, … [is] not meeting knowledge work demand. [There’s] such a massive disparity that it’s almost impossible to ever catch up with it. By 2030, there’s going to be 50 million more jobs that are open [globally] than there are knowledge workers to fill them, and this will happen in the United States.”

Jeff Phillips

Statistically, it’s likely that your firm will have a harder time finding accountants in the future. In addition to the increasing number of jobs, there’s also been a spike in knowledge workers retiring. Jeff noted that the unemployment rate of accountants at the end of 2019 was the lowest it had been in over 50 years:

“There’s 660,000 CPAs. There [are] about a million accountants when you add in bookkeepers, non-CPA accountants, [and] enrolled agents. … As we rolled into the end of [2019], our unemployment was 3.8%. It was the 1960s since the last time it was that low [and] causing so much pressure on hiring. When you look at 1.5% unemployment in accountants and auditors, what that means is everyone’s employed. Here you are trying to hire, but every single accountant in every level that wants a job is employed.”

Jeff Phillips

The lack of available accountants and the increasingly difficult labor economy has made it necessary for firms to re-evaluate what they’re looking for in candidates and be open to evolving hiring practices.  

Redefining what makes a great accountant

Although hiring skilled accountants is incredibly challenging in the current labor economy, you still need to find quality candidates to meet the needs of your clients: 

“We have this scary economic situation, and you still need to get taxes done. My worry is that now people are clinging to their jobs and [are] less likely to switch jobs because of fears of making any kind of a change. Yet you’ve got excess capacity, you need to serve clients, and you need to be able to make hires to get the work done that you have.”

Jeff Phillips

To find great accountants for your firm, you need to rethink what qualifies a candidate. You need to think outside of conventional criteria you may have previously placed on applicants, such as full-time availability and location.

“What I challenge you to change is redefine what ‘good people’ means. … You [have] to rethink the problem and the solution, and good people are out there. They may not look like what you think they look like, and they may not be located where you think they’re located. They may not be willing to work the number of hours that you are working, or from the location that you’re working in.”

Jeff Phillips
Woman at home having video conference with colleagues.

You need to be willing to hire remote applicants to attract skilled accountants. Your firm needs to consider what will attract great accountants and what will keep them at your firm: 

“I want you to get from ‘there’ to ‘over here,’ thinking, ‘All right. How do I find people anywhere in the United States that can do this job? How do I onboard them successfully so they stay, and how do I get them into this business so they’re productive?’ … The answer to that is getting more creative and is changing how you operate.”

Jeff Phillips

When an accountant becomes available for hire, they stay on the job market for an average of ten days. Because they’re only available for such a brief period, your firm needs to be able to hire employees quickly and offer an attractive work environment. A contributing factor for the high turnover rate of employees is issues regarding work-life balance. You’ll increase your likelihood of finding great candidates by offering remote work and flexibility: 

“70% went and worked outside of the professions, [and] they probably went in-house. They went to go get controller jobs or FPNA jobs. Of those that left, 70% left for work-life balance issues. … By offering a more flexible arrangement, it gives you the best option in the long run for making hires. … All of this is the case for the payoff here, which is hiring remote[ly].”

Jeff Phillips

Although firms have sought candidates who can work in-office and full-time, the labor economy and increase in knowledge economy jobs [have] made it necessary for firms to think outside conventional hiring standards. It’s critical for your firm to offer work to unconventional candidates. When your firm offers flexible and remote work for candidates, you’ll have an easier time attracting quality accountants. 

Learn more about accounting trends and the future of remote work

As the number of knowledge economy jobs increases, firms will have a harder time finding quality accountants to complete their clients’ work. Available accountants are typically only on the job market for ten days, so your firm needs to act fast to fill positions. Consider offering flexible and remote work to attract and retain skilled accountants. 

We’re incredibly grateful to Jeff Phillips for hosting this informative webinar. If you want to learn more about hiring and retaining remote accountants, read Part Two and Part Three of this webinar article series. You can also watch the full webinar here

If you’re looking for more ways to grow your firm and serve your clients, consider partnering with Gusto. When you become a Gusto partner, you get exclusive access to tools and resources to support your clients into the future. Streamline payroll and benefits, and start advising your clients in valuable new ways. Join Gusto’s Partner Program today.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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