According to a survey from Softchoice, more than 50% of IT leaders are struggling to get the right skills to support their companies’ move to the cloud.
And if firms in the computing industries are struggling, it means accountancy firms will have their work cut out for them, too.
Luckily, the new wave of accounting candidates is changing almost as fast as the technology – you just need to know what to look for.
We’ve put together a simple guide to help you through the hiring process: the hard and soft skills you need to attract, and a few essential questions you should be asking in every interview.
Finding the right skills and experience
Accounting has changed. And the skill-set of the average accountant has changed with it.
With so many accounting services now easily automated by cloud-based software, firms don’t need new recruits skilled in book-keeping, tax returns or data entry.
Instead, they’re looking for people who can master the use of their cloud-based tools – and then focus their time on helping their clients to understand the numbers and make the best decisions for their businesses.
That means there are two main areas you need your new hires to show potential in. They need to be tech-savvy, and they need to be people-savvy.
The hard skills
‘Proficient in Word and Excel’ just won’t cut it any more.
When you’re looking for new people for your team, you need to dig a little deeper: look for specific qualifications and experience in the software and add-ons your firm currently uses and plans to use.
Among other things, make sure your job adverts and interviews cover:
Experience and mastery of cloud-based accounting systems: Xero, QuickBooks, or Sage One
Online banking experience: billing and payments, electronic transfers, and reconciliation
A track record of electronic tax submission and payments
Experience with remote access and online collaboration
Knowledge of online payroll, labour tracking and other human resource systems.
This broad awareness of online and digital tools and processes isn’t just essential for working with your clients. It’s also exactly what you need for your new hires to be able to work seamlessly with the rest of your firm.
The soft skills
Accounting firms used to be full of number-crunchers: human counting machines locked behind their desks, churning out numerical reports for their clients.
But today, cloud accounting software is taking care of the numbers automatically. And that means your new recruits need to be able to show that they can bring something else to the table.
For most firms, that means getting more involved with the clients. New accountants can take the real-time data they get from their automated software and turn it into something more valuable: a deep analysis and understanding of the client’s position, followed by practical recommendations for the decision-makers to follow.
So as well as the tech-focused skills and experience above, make sure you’re looking for the following soft skills in your new hires:
- Problem-solving and strategic thinking. As your accountants become the go-to advisors for your clients, they’ll need to be able to think on their feet, helping your clients with their complex problems and assessing and planning for their overall progress.
- Time management and organisation. In a client-facing position, your accountants become representatives of your firm – and they need to be reliable and responsive.
- Written and spoken communication. With more client meetings, phone calls, emails and written reports, your accountants need to be able to turn complicated financial data into clear and easily understood concepts.
- Confidence and emotional intelligence. Your accountants will be doubling as account managers, creating and maintaining lasting relationships with your clients – so they need to to be able to keep up a certain level of charm and customer service.
According to historical stereotypes, soft skills like these haven’t been expected in the average accounting candidate.
So if you find a potential recruit who ticks all of these boxes – and has most of the hard skills above – you’re probably onto a winner.
Asking the right questions
Once you’ve found a set of candidates that shows the right skills and experience on paper, you need to know which questions to ask them in an interview.
As well as getting a feel for how that person could fit in with your team, it’s also the perfect chance to assess their oral communication, confidence and emotional intelligence – three critical skills a modern accountant will need when dealing with clients.
Here are a few essential questions you ought to be asking every candidate.
1. What’s your view on cloud accounting and the benefits it can bring to business owners?
This is a qualifying question to see just how familiar your candidate is with modern accounting methods. If they’re not up to speed with cloud accounting, it’ll quickly show in their answer.
As a bonus, their response to this question is a good indicator of just how well they’ll be able to sell your more resistant clients on the idea of moving to the cloud. A fluent and compelling response here is a solid sign of a promising candidate.
2. Can you tell me about a time when you found it challenging to give a client your advice?
This is a chance to learn about how your candidate handles relationships. They might have been battling a difficult client, or they might have felt pressured to give unsound or unethical guidance.
The advice itself is less important. What you should be listening for is the particular way they handled the situation. Were they forceful or diplomatic? Transparent or conservative? Did they ask for help from their seniors, or tackle the challenge alone? Their answer should give you some idea of the approach and style they might take with your own clients.
3. What’s the most important technological development in accounting you see happening – or would like to see happening – in the next couple of years?
As well as letting them show that they’re up to date and committed to modern accounting, this question can also shed some light on your candidate’s ability to identify and solve problems – and their willingness to learn and improve in their trade.
Putting it all together
Hiring the right person in any industry isn’t easy. And it’s especially tough in accounting, where the industry is currently going through such a massive technological change.
But when you know what to look for, it gets a whole lot easier. So remember to find candidates who:
- Have proven expertise and experience with specific online tools and software
- Are tech-savvy, as well as people-savvy
- Can communicate clearly in writing and in person
- Can offer high-level strategy and insights to your clients
Want to know more about preparing for cloud accounting? Read 'What do the next 12 months look like for cloud accountants?'.