ttracting and retaining talent is a challenge faced by all businesses, and none more so than the professional services industry. Accounting firms are no exception, and our recent survey 'Why do Accountants invest in branding' spoke of this problem. We asked accountants who actively recruit the following question: Do you ever struggle to fill vacancies?'
52% responded ‘Yes, there are too few applicants for the role(s) advertised’.
37% of respondents said ‘We find it difficult to attract staff who can fill our vacancies.
Only 11% of respondents said they never had a problem filling the positions.
This is a high-level question, and obviously, depending on the size of the firm, results will vary depending on roles that needed filling, the number of roles available and the frequency a firm needs to recruit as it grows. So how does an accounting firm approach the issue of attracting talent? The answer does not lie in pinning your hopes on phrases such as 'competitive salary', and 'good career progression' to woo potential employees, it actually begins with your firm's branding, its reputation, and its approach to employer branding.
What is employer branding?
Employer branding is essentially the act of differentiating and positioning your company in such a way that your firm is an attractive proposition for job-seeking talent. It is a mix of how you present yourself, how you demonstrate your values, and of course, what you can offer your future and existing staff. Your approach to employer branding will ultimately stem from your internal brand; your mission, vision, values and positioning. If you have been through a strategic branding process to differentiate your firm, getting your employer branding right will be easier than if you have not gone through this process.
It is worth noting that employer branding doesn't end when you simply onboard a job applicant, it is a long-term, ongoing process that nurtures and develops your staff, and takes into consideration their needs, both in and away from the office, and brings into focus your own company culture and values. Happy and fulfilled staff will become your brand advocates, meaning they will speak highly of your firm bolstering your reputation as a good employer.
Starting with some high-level points, here are several things to consider - and get right - when you need to recruit or retain staff.
Employer branding is essentially the act of differentiating and positioning your company in such a way that your firm is an attractive proposition for job-seeking talent.
Your branding and your visual identity
Your branding is all of the outward-facing (i.e. visible) aspects of your firm that a candidate may encounter. This includes your website, social media, your logo, tagline and even your company name. Your brand will be interpreted and understood in a large part via your brand identity (which will be applied to all of your marketing touch-points). So consider how you may be perceived as a firm upon first impression.
What colours do you sport in your brand identity and website design? Are you blue and grey like over 53% of accountants? What sort of position do you take in the marketplace? Do you look like a dynamic and forward-thinking company or are you somewhat undifferentiated? Remember, your branding and website are there for the world to see and the impression they make on people will influence their initial opinions of your company.
Take an honest look inwards at your website, and consider that it needs to be attractive to a younger generation of tech savy, brand-aware candidates. If you are a partner in the firm or the owner, the staff you're seeking to recruit could be ten, twenty or even thirty years younger than you. Is your website making the right impression on people in that age demographic? Does it have a modern feel, and crucially does it work on mobile devices? It is guaranteed that anyone seeking a position that you are advertising will look at your website, so make sure your biggest marketing asset is working hard for you and not giving the wrong impression about your firm.
If you are a partner in the firm or the owner, the staff you're seeking to recruit could be ten, twenty or even thirty years younger than you. Is your website making the right impression on people in that age demographic?
Meet The Team Pages
To assist with your employer branding, your website should feature a Meet The Team page. This is an opportunity to put a relaxed and welcoming face to the firm, and often these kinds of pages will inject an element of humour and a little personal detail, helping staff members feel relatable to potential candidates. In staff member profiles, you may choose to mention details such as their favourite film, their hobbies, or a 'little known fact'. Look outside of the accounting industry for good examples of Meet the Team pages, and do not be afraid to be yourselves. Your Meet the Team page should portray a positive and happy firm that would be attractive to new clients.
Consider eschewing the traditional 'grid' system of photography on Meet the Team pages. These kinds of pages feature headshots of staff (usually suited), with senior staff at the top, filtering down to mid-level and junior staff. It's extremely formal and very very common. It also suggests a very 'top-down' hierarchy. It's not to say these are bad, but there are other ways. If the website design (and practicalities allow) try a more relaxed group photo (make sure to use a professional photographer) and even consider a smart casual dress code for this photo. Being together in a group suggest a more inclusive and 'together' work culture. Don't turn inwards to face the company owner (you're not in a wedding photo) but face the camera, i.e. the people looking at the photo, your potential customers and future employees... Think body language and don't forget to smile. Be relaxed and relatable.
Look outside of the accounting industry for good examples of Meet the Team pages, and do not be afraid to be yourselves.
Work With Us Pages
This page should be considered a different entity to the 'Current Vacancies' page and should speak of what it's like to work at your firm, and the kind of career and prospects an employee can expect. This page will feature content that is also in your Employer Value Proposition (discussed below). Spend time with a copywriter to get this page right, and remember the tone of voice should - while being 'on brand' - resonate with the sort of talent you're looking to attract to your firm.
Develop a case study of an employee who has progressed through the firm, or even interview a younger member of staff. Be transparent on this and ask questions about what they like, what surprised them about working at the firm, and their future ambitions. This might sound a little daunting for all involved but if you approach it with some care and thought, giving your staff member plenty of notice, this could prove to be a valuable piece of content and certainly something to feature on your blog and social media channels.
Developing Confidence Anchors for your firm
Develop brand awareness to create confidence in your firm both online and in the real world. The more your company is seen to be active, the more trust potential candidates will have in it. Online, make sure you show up on social media, be seen to be answering questions, and respond to online reviews. Helpful and targeted content on your blog will demonstrate that you're listening to your audience and reacting accordingly.
Consider sponsoring events or exhibitions, attending career seminars, networking events and undertaking speaking engagements. Not all offline activities have to be based around lead generation, so also consider sponsoring local community events or sports teams. Again, having a visible presence in the 'real' world, outside of the confines of your office will develop trust and confidence in your brand, which will be a reassurance to potential employees.
Creating an Employer Value Proposition
Just as your company will have a value proposition (the reason why your customers should choose your firm over your competition), companies seeking to recruit talent should develop an Employer Value Proposition (EVP). The EVP will highlight the key aspects that a candidate will want to understand about the company and the role in questions and should cover the following points:
Although not the only influencing factor, compensation is a naturally important consideration. Depending on the level of compensation, employers may offer additional benefits to make the role and the company more attractive.
Consider the physical environment your staff will work in? What is it like to be in the office? Do you provide high-quality equipment and furniture? Can staff access the internet when they need it? Do you provide equipment for home working, such as computers, tablets or an ergonomic chair? Also, consider the provision of beverages and snacks? What sort of equipment is available in the staff kitchen? Coffee machines? Microwaves? Toasters? Is there somewhere comfortable away from, the desk the staff can enjoy their food? In 2021 a catering size tub of freeze-dried supermarket coffee isn't going to count as a perk.
Hours, holiday, flexibility and other staff perks
Young people will place importance on work / life balance, so consider what you can offer them. Are staff able to work from home at least one day per week? Can you nurture personal staff interests outside of your employment area? Free subscriptions to gyms, childcare discounts, benefit cards, or online services such as Audible or Netflix? Do staff members get their birthday off work, or are they able to take 'duvet days'.
Some firms are even offering 'unlimited holidays' for their staff in an effort to maximise and promote healthy, happy and unstressed staff. Understandably not a viable option for many firms, but an interesting approach to staff wellbeing.
Outlining your corporate culture will help employees understand what it is like to work at your firm. This can be discussed in two ways; The softer 'every day' culture, such as dress code, regular out-of-work staff get-togethers, and the overall personality of the firm. Are you a happy, supporting and nurturing firm that is considered a great place to work?
The other aspect of corporate culture is the overarching values that underpin your company. What is your Brand Mission (what do you stand for on a day-to-day basis, and what are you committed to today) and what is your Brand Vision (what does your brand aspire to be, and what does it hope to achieve in the long term).
Corporate culture will stem from your internal brand which revolves around your brand purpose, your brand promise and what drives your company beyond financial gain. Some firms will find it easier than others to identify and discuss their corporate culture but bear in mind that young staff will seek to work with firms that align with their own beliefs and values.
Bear in mind that young staff will seek to work with firms that align with their own beliefs and values.
Environmental and Social Policy
Can you demonstrate a positive commitment to reducing waste, reducing your carbon footprint, or being conscientious about the environment? Do you operate a largely paperless office? Can staff work from home to reduce the need to travel? Do you offer staff travel cards to encourage the use of public transport? Do you utilise the Cycle to Work Scheme? Consider subscribing to firms like Ecologoi, which strive to offset your firm's carbon footprint by planting trees depending on your monthly subscription.
Encouraging clients to use online meeting tools (such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype) can negate the need to travel, or use a car. Perhaps you have a local charity you support, or you believe in certain causes that are important to your firm and reflect your corporate culture.
Career Opportunities and Job Security
While you may initially be recruiting to fill a specific role, you may train, develop and nurture your younger staff to advance their career at your firm. New staff will naturally seek to understand what opportunities may be available to them in the future (i.e the potential for career progression) especially staff applying for non-senior roles. To coin a borrowed phrase, a firm that is unwilling to invest in their staff development, with an attitude of 'what if we train them and they leave?' should instead consider 'What if we don't and they stay?'
Discussing career opportunities can be a good differentiator for your firm, and can re-assure potential candidates that there is job security and progression available to them. You can reflect these ideas to prospective job seekers as well by featuring well-written career case studies on your website, as well as Meet the Team pages and Careers pages.
Keeping staff motivated and happy, and retaining them is a huge topic, largely outside of my remit as a brand specialist, which will require input and expertise from Human Resources experts. However, investing in both your brand and your employer branding will go some way to help you recruit and make the right impression.
Remember to make sure your website and your brand are appealing to the talent you seek to attract, not just clients. Often this judgement call can not be made impartially by company owners and partners, as they may be too close to the problem, or even they may be the problem depending on their attitude towards, and understanding of their brand and reputation.
Seek outside expertise with an agency that understands the landscape of accountants branding and websites, ask some honest questions and be clear on your brand and values as the first steps on the path to recruitment success.
Written by Ben Stanbury
Ben is a branding and naming consultant. As the owner of Prosper he regularly blogs on the topic of branding, naming and differentiation for professional service firms. Among other things, he likes horror films, mountain biking and collecting vintage movie posters.