How to find the best accountants, finance and tax professionals in today’s job market

Hiring manager conducting an interview with an accountant, finance or tax professional.

As UK job vacancies surged past one million in a new record, the KPMG and REC, UK Permanent Placements Index* signalled a rapid and accelerated rise in permanent staff appointments across the UK. Furthermore, the rate of growth was the steepest seen since data collection began nearly 24 years ago.

So how is this affecting the accounting, finance and tax jobs market? We talked to CEO and Co-founder of SRM Recruitment, Andrew Setchell, about how you can secure the best accounting, finance and tax talent for your team amidst growing demand for candidates. 

1. Be realistic 

The good news is that it’s definitely possible to find and hire good people right now but hiring managers need to acknowledge that their shortlist will be a lot shorter. Rather than five to six people to consider, be prepared for three to four and sometimes there may be just one to take to a final interview. That is the reality.

2. Be ready to pay more for your chosen finance candidates

Most finance and tax professionals were treated well during the pandemic and it’s not as easy to get them to consider a move, there are fewer push factors. As a result, supply has reduced, with demand rising and we are seeing salaries going up.

When candidates used to say “I’m looking for an uplift of 10%” there would be a conversation and a negotiation. Now hiring managers are saying “It’s fine, I understand”. Attitudes are changing and we’d advise you to be prepared to widen your salary range, rather than risk delays waiting for sign-off on budgets further down the line.

3. Your flexible work approach must go on the job specification 

The first question candidates used to ask when being approached about a new role was “What’s the package?”. Now it’s “What’s the working pattern for this role?”. To get the widest pool of candidates, you should specify your flexible working policy on the job specification.

Clients with no flexibility to offer will find it harder to recruit but it’s by no means impossible. Whilst the debate is still ongoing regarding where the home/office balance will finally settle, we can tell you that finance professionals definitely want some sort of flexibility. 

As an example, HSBC’s work from home Friday policy would have been unheard of a couple of years ago but these sorts of policies are becoming the norm. Some will go back to the office full time but it will be at least two years before we see a bigger shift.

Five days in the office is very much considered “traditional” but if that is the way your company runs, it’s not necessarily a problem. Just be aware that your shortlist will be a bit shorter. We’re here to help clients negotiate this job market and find the right people for your business. 

“Attitudes are changing and we’d advise you to be prepared to widen your salary range, rather than risk delays waiting for sign off on budgets further down the line.”

Andrew Setchell, CEO, SRM Recruitment

4. Speed up the interview process to secure accounting, finance and tax professionals

The interview process needs to be quick in this market. Once you’ve got CVs you need to get the hiring process finished within two weeks. We agree – it’s tempting to “just see someone else.” But after 30 years in finance recruitment, we can tell you there are no ‘magic unicorn’ candidates out there. What we do see time and again is businesses missing out on outstanding people who would have quickly transformed their finance or tax team.

5. Use an experienced finance and tax recruiter with a proper network

In candidate-driven markets, real recruitment comes into play. You need to talk to someone who has the connections to find the people who aren’t necessarily looking. Not only that, your recruiter needs the skills to clearly promote how your role fits with the candidate’s career. That comes from experience. Everyone at SRM really knows their market. 

6. Consider try before you buy

If your permanent hiring process is dragging, you should consider using a PAYE temp. This gives you the best chance to assess fit with your team. We have an established book of contract professionals ready and “on the bench” if you’re wanting greater flexibility.  

7. Be prepared for candidates turning down your role 

This is becoming more common in the accounting, finance and tax jobs market at the moment. Personally though, we’ve seen very few candidates turn down roles because their current company has counter offered a higher salary. An experienced recruiter knows how to vet their candidates properly and there should be no surprises. 

In short, move your hiring process along, be clear about your flexible working policy and be ready to broaden your salary range.

*The KPMG and REC, UK Report on Jobs is compiled by IHS Markit from responses to questionnaires sent to a panel of around 400 UK recruitment and employment consultancies.

Get In Touch

To discuss your hiring strategy or to get more insights on the recruitment market in your industry please give me, Andrew Setchell, a call on +44 7495 483425, email or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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Tackling unconscious bias in the recruitment process

Read the most recent KPMG and REC UK Report on Jobs

Seven ways to tackle unconscious bias in finance and tax recruitment

Unconscious bias is the biggest barrier to diversity in the workplace. Has the increased use of remote working tools inadvertently helped businesses to tackle bias in the recruitment process or has the rise of video had the opposite effect? 

We talked to Rory MacSween, co-founder of  SRM, and diversity specialist, Emma Waltham, to answer this question and discuss the seven steps hiring managers can take to counter bias in tax and finance recruitment. 

What is unconscious bias?

We all form opinions of people based on first impressions. Those snap judgements are influenced by our background, formative experiences and those around us. It’s the hidden influences, if you like, that can often lead us to unwittingly ‘hire in our own image’.

1. Recognise that everyone has preconceptions 

The first piece of advice for hiring managers is to recognise unconscious bias as a concept. So be aware and adopt an open mindset when recruiting. As recruiters, we’re encouraged by our clients to source as much information on candidates as possible – that’s our job. The way we present that information to hiring managers is incredibly important and needs to be carefully considered to counter bias.

2. Focus on skills

A good recruiter needs to consider all the variables when matching candidates to a hiring managers mandate. Whilst focusing on culture and team fit can be important, it’s more likely to encourage unconscious bias. Consider focusing on skills and abilities before any other aspect of the candidate’s profile.

Putting in technical assessments for candidates at the first stage is gradually becoming more common – before the client even sees a CV. This allows the client to decide which candidate CV’s to review based on their technical competency – resulting in more diverse short lists.

“Certainly, one positive effect we’ve seen from the Covid lockdown is a willingness to do first-round telephone-based interviews. Removing that initial face to face meeting is helping to remove some of the unconscious bias from the decision-making process.”

Rory MacSween, Director, Tax, SRM Recruitment

3. Make the hiring process ‘blind’

– Remove names on CVs
– Remove education
– Remove location-based information that could indicate ethnic background

We’ve seen examples of clients requesting names be removed from CVs. So they’re looking at candidate 1, 2 and 3 and so on. It’s one very simple thing you can do to remove unconscious decision making based on gender or ethnicity and make more skillset based interview decisions. 

Subconsciously, or not, we are less likely to hire someone with a different-sounding name. Ethnic minorities need to send 60% more CVs to get the same number of call-backs as this study from the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College shows. 

In the tax and accountancy worlds, education is important. Whether you went to a state school v a particular private school or whether you have a degree or are educated by experience. Many of us have strong feelings on this one and would deny this is a bias! 

It’s really not common to take institution names off CVs for example. But things are changing. If we think back, we used to routinely put our date of birth and marital status on CVs in the UK. 

It was resisted at the time but seems completely normal to us now.

We think we’ll see more moves to anonymise information on CVs.

It stands to reason that someone from a poorer background, for example, just won’t have had access to the same educational opportunities. Yet we often insist that candidates must have gone to a particular institution which then unwittingly rules out a more diverse short list. 

So, you could miss out on outstanding candidates who don’t fit the ‘norm’ but have exactly the right skills.

Focusing on transferable skills rather than CV gaps allows employers to tap into talent pools of experienced women who often have hard to source qualifications and expertise.

4. Phone interview people in the first round 

Video calls are a great way to build rapport but I think there’s a danger we may start to over-rely on this in the new world to the detriment of diversity. A lot of hiring managers are ‘seeing’ people earlier in the recruitment process than they ever would have done before. For example, some recruitment firms are now relying on ‘video based CVs’ where the candidate introduces themselves over a prerecorded video.  

Our advice is that phone interviews do help focus on skills, not appearance.

Of course, even hearing a candidate’s voice can form strong impressions.

“Change is happening. We are starting to see organisations who won’t consider a shortlist without a 50-50 gender split.”

Rory MacSween, Director, Tax, SRM Recruitment

5. Go back to your graduate / newly qualified intake 

Those working in finance and tax, especially at the senior levels, say that it’s a predominantly white, middle class and male environment. According to the UK Government’s Gender Equality Monitor, just 12% of FTSE 100 Finance Directors are women and only 15% are CFOs. The 2020 Parker Review showed that across the FTSE 350, 7.5% were directors of colour. 

As we don’t always have the most diverse talent pool to draw from, it’s important to give minority voices the best chance in the recruitment process.

Going back a step it’s also about actively sourcing broader intakes at entry-level. We need to consider the talent pools from schools feeding the accounting firms, who then feed into industry. 

“There are nearly half a million women with professional and managerial qualifications who aren’t currently working but who would like to return to work. They too often face bias when they try to return because hiring managers are wary of applicants when their work experience isn’t current or they have an employment gap. 

Focusing on transferable skills rather than the gap means hiring managers will tap into this valuable talent pool of experienced women, who often have hard-to-source qualifications and expertise.”

Emma Waltham, Careers After Maternity Expert

6. Work in partnership with a good recruiter 

A good recruiter should be actively consulting and shaping the hiring managers wish list, educating you on the talent pool and helping you consider alternative options. 

In the past, we have had clients with requirements as specific as “we only want a Phd from Oxford.”  We’d encourage hiring managers to widen their thinking so they do find the best possible candidates, not just the typical profile or indeed hiring in their own likeness. 

For example by looking at international talent pools.

7. Consider international talent 

As more finance and tax work is offshored or near shored and more centres of excellence grow outside the UK there is a diverse pool of candidates with UK relevant experience to draw from. 

These candidates may never have visited the UK but they understand our regimes and businesses. Considering someone who’s trained overseas can give those outstanding academic credentials and technical skills that clients are looking for. 

Of course, these days it’s a little harder to sponsor people but it’s all possible.

Get in touch if you’re looking to hire

If you’re looking to hire the very best talent in finance and accounting and across the tax market get in touch with me, Rory MacSween today on +44 (0) 20 3637 7808 or connect with me on Linkedin. We are real recruiters who actively headhunt the best talent, rather than rely on the same set of candidates from a database.

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Why you need to hire accountants now

Andrew Setchell, co-founder of SRM, discusses the finance and accounting recruitment market post lockdown, why smart companies aren’t waiting to hire accountants and what you need to know when hiring.

Despite an almost 60% drop in vacancies in the three months to June 2020, advertised jobs have actually increased month on month during the summer. 

People are still getting jobs. Companies are still hiring. Of course, some sectors are still deeply affected but others are thriving. Businesses are adapting and quickly.

Talent focused organisations thrive 

The economic outlook for the UK appears alarming. But companies that buy into that gloom, rather than look for the opportunity will not survive. We saw that in the last two recessions in living memory. Companies who focused on their talent pipeline bounced back.

I’ve been recruiting for 24 years now and believe this recession will be deep but quick. Much more like 1992, where we saw a strong come back in 1994-1999 and less like 2008/9. During the financial crisis, bankers had less money to lend, but now cash isn’t the issue. 

Businesses need talented accountants and finance professionals more than ever

Without finance and accounting professionals, companies can’t forecast where the business will get to. It’s sheltered finance functions from the worst of the Covid fallout but there are still dangers ahead. Don’t stop making the business case for a strong finance function and the critical decision making information you require to positively impact the business. 

You’ll lose good people

Most finance teams are lean already and if you’ve had a resignation during Covid, or recruitment has been on hold, candidates are telling us that the impact and mental stress on them and their teams is considerable. Analyse the impact of not hiring.

I’ve spoken to two hiring managers this week who genuinely had no idea resignations were coming. It’s a growing issue with a dispersed workforce and one to be aware of. 

Good accountants and finance professionals don’t stay on the market long 

The perception is that it’s a hiring managers market. Yes, the volume of candidates has increased but highly skilled candidates are still in short supply. Some hiring managers are delaying decisions in the belief that there are plenty of good people but they will miss out as many organisations are upskilling now to take them through the next business cycle. 

We are seeing 300+ applications per vacancy and the challenge for hiring managers is sifting through that volume to find the right candidates. A word of warning, the proportion of applicable candidates for a role hasn’t risen in line with the growth in numbers, so beware.

Because you can still hire effectively

Hiring is happening and you can effectively hire people remotely. Candidates are often being hired without physically meeting anyone in the organisation and are settling well into their roles. And we’re adapting as we venture out of lockdown, for example, our clients and candidates have conducted interviews while walking in parks or socially distanced at outdoor cafes. 

What you need to know as a hiring manager and candidate

Packages, flexible working and the human element

Most candidates now want more flexible working – it’s the norm. Yet many people are missing the human interaction of the office, particularly the younger newly qualified accountants we’re talking to. So don’t forget that you’ll need to sell your digital and office work environment when hiring and think carefully about building community.

Packages aren’t changing. Not for good quality candidates. The price point is the same as February. 

Where to look if you’re a candidate – thriving sectors 

Tech companies from big to small are doing well. Gaming, gambling, media, e-commerce and some retail businesses from ebooks to biking are doing well. Pharma, biotech and construction companies are also hiring, despite the current trend away from offices. Many parts of financial services continue to thrive too. 

Leisure, hospitality and retail are obviously suffering and recruitment isn’t necessarily a priority. Having said that, I spoke to a major restaurant chain this week who are looking for a second in command for their finance team. So there are opportunities.

Advice for finance candidates looking for a job post covid-19 lockdown 

Remember that you are good and stay confident – talented people are always in demand. Look to one of the sectors above and target your search carefully. Don’t just apply for every role you see, your reputation is important.

Get in touch

If you’re looking to hire the very best talent in finance and accounting please do get in touch with me today. Or connect with me on LinkedIn. At SRM, we are real recruiters who actively headhunt the best talent, rather than rely on the same set of candidates from a database.

Andrew Setchell, CEO at SRM Recruitment
Andrew Setchell

Andrew Setchell is CEO of SRM Recruitment. He began his recruitment career in 1996 having previously spent 4 years with PWC as an Accountant. He has an extensive background sourcing for a multitude of businesses, partnerships and organisations across the finance and accounting market place.

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Hiring finance roles with SRM

John Wilson hiring finance roles

We join John Wilson, Finance Director at Morrison Utilities to learn how hiring finance roles through Luke Higgs saves his company time.

Tell us how long you have you worked with Luke and the roles he’s worked on?

I’ve known Luke for 10 years on and off and he’s recruited many different roles for me during that time. All the way from transactional finance people to management accountants and latterly a senior finance manager. I’ve lost count of the number of roles he’s placed for me.

Were any of the roles particularly challenging to fill?

He has filled some very niche roles, for instance, a Sub Contract Ledger Manager role that is quite specific to construction. In fact, the person he found for that role is still here five or six years later. 

What sets the candidates apart that he sends you? 

It’s always high calibre people that are sent through. Not just that, they are the right people for the job. He takes the time to figure out who is a good fit for our company and the culture.

Why do you partner with Luke? 

The key reason is that he’s taken the time to get to know me and the business. I’ve used other recruiters but all that’s happens is I get sent so many CVs. When I phone Luke he will come and see me and bring the best few CVs. It goes back to the fact that he knows what’s going on in the business. 

I appreciate his honesty and he will say if he doesn’t feel he has the right person. He’s also not afraid to just put one person forward either and I appreciate that. He understands how each role fits with the business. It saves me time, no one these days has time to interview six people.

Otherwise, we may as well as look for the candidates ourselves! 

“The one thing that stands out about Luke is the time he takes to understand you and the business. You can’t underestimate the time that saves. We know the CVs will be right, I’m not spending weeks interviewing and it puts us ahead of the game. ” 

John Wilson, FD, Morrison Utilities

Is there anything, in particular, you think that Luke does differently to other recruiters?

He listens. If we won’t have any new roles for 6 months he won’t constantly ring us, but if he gets a CV he will drop me a line and say this is a good person to bear in mind. Actually, he did that for the management accountant role and I dug out the CV further down the line. I know that if we get a CV it will be someone good and there will be a reason for it. 

Would you recommend his services to other Finance Directors?

Yes, for sure,  I know others FD’s who use him too so I have no qualms about recommending him to those hiring finance roles.