The Right Recruit
Illinois’ top accounting firms are growing their ranks at a rapid pace. Here’s what they expect of their new boots on the ground.
Salaries are strong, hiring is robust, specialties are on the rise and competition is fierce. In other words, the accounting industry is shining bright.
Look no further than the AICPA’s 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report, which reveals hiring at public accounting firms and enrollment in accounting
programs both hit record highs over the 2013-2014 cycle. 2015 tallies are expected to show even higher numbers. And IBISWorld projects 100,000 new accounting industry jobs and 27,000 new businesses by 2020.
In fact, opportunities are making the rounds. Numbers issued by the AICPA reveal robust demand for accounting talent, increasing numbers of female partners in the ranks, narrowing staff gender distributions to nearly equal
levels, and more accounting Master’s degrees earned than ever.
So, landing a top job with a top firm should be easy, right?
We chatted with three of Illinois’ leading accounting firms to find out.
Ranking ninth overall on Crain’s List of “Chicago’s Largest Accounting Firms”
is no small feat. But BDO USA LLP didn’t stop there. It easily outclassed its competitors in recruiting thanks to a 43-percent jump in its local professional staff.
“We’re ramped up for a lot more growth, so let’s hope the economy holds up,” quips Howard Blumstein, CPA, BDO’s assurance group managing partner in Chicago.
Sporting over 400 Chicago employees and 5,400 across the country (a 33-percent increase), as well as 26-percent revenue growth to crest $1B, BDO is on a powerful upward trajectory. “Our strong growth is roughly half organic and half through targeted acquisitions,” Blumstein explains. “We’re very busy hiring year round to keep up with demand.”
Blumstein sees no signs of slowing down. But strong growth doesn’t come without strong talent. No stranger to the recruiting scene both on campus and in the office, he says that, “We don’t try to trick you with difficult interview questions. We like to discuss your experiences. We’re looking for people that take on leadership roles, can tell us what distinguishes them and why they want to do what they’re doing. We want involved individuals, because it plays directly into their ability to advance in our firm.”
Here’s a hint: Blumstein, a Northern Illinois University (NIU) alum, serves on NIU’s Accountancy Advisory Council, as chairman of the llinois CPA Society's Not-for-Profit Organizations Committee, and as a director on the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois’
“In new hires, we attract strong scholars and athletes, which we think demonstrates leadership and communication skills, and the ability to be challenged and also work independently,” Blumstein explains. “As for experienced hires, we’re often filling the need for specialized skills in particularly hot industry areas. We attract folks looking for a larger scope of work, new challenges and a better cultural fit.”
BDO also has been named as a “best company” by various groups and magazines, including Working Mother. “We’re a family,” says Blumstein. “Every person who walks in is going to have a team member who mentors and counsels them. We’re in stressful situations, so we do everything we can to make the workday better, to celebrate our successes, and to keep driving that positive culture. Even as we get bigger, we take care of our employees on a very individualized basis.”
Being number two isn’t too bad—especially when it means you’re the second biggest accounting firm in Chicago. PwC also squeezed out 22 other competitors to rank second in recruiting on the Crain’s List, growing its Chicago-area staff by nearly 23 percent last year to 3,557 professionals. The good news for you (and them) … business isn’t slowing down.
“We’re looking at strong growth, and we’re leveraging technology to reach a broader group of recruits,” says Lauren Lemick, PwC’s Greater Chicago market sourcing leader.
That means PwC may have an unexpected seat at the table for you. While the focus remains on top accounting and tax talent, the global accounting firm’s data-driven hiring is demanding more students and experienced professionals with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) backgrounds.
“We are very transparent with candidates, whether it’s in core audit or tax, or in a specialty group. We’re looking for people with both strong accounting skills and tech and data analytics savvy,” Lemick explains.
What’s driving this trend? PwC’s unique values. “Our mission is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We do that by getting involv-ed in our communities, understanding the global nature of our clients, and understanding what’s going on in the world so that we can be forward-thinking consultants,” says Lemick. “What this means for candidates at every level is that we’re looking for demonstrated leadership skills, strong initiative, heightened business acumen, technical ability, and a global perspective that allows you to understand the diverse nature of our clients, and build and maintain relationships with them.”
While PwC sets the bar high for its talent, employment comes with its benefits. “We’re the first firm to publically announce student loan assistance as an employee benefit. We offer flexible work schedules. Those are just two examples of how our leaders are thinking about the issues our people are facing and how we can help them,” says Lemick. “We also offer amazing opportunities to get involved at the community level, because we support the service and charitable initiatives of our people. And our tagline for recruiting is ‘Grow Your Own Way.’ There’s no unilateral career path you must follow here; we have different offices around the globe for you to grow your career with.”
Ranking twentieth overall on the Crain’s List
is the deceptively small Porte Brown. While only 110 people strong, the suburban Elk Grove Village firm claims fame for strong revenue growth (10 percent, third overall) and a 21-percent jump in staff (third overall). To put it another way, this small firm is big on business, all while landing on both the “Best Places to Work in Illinois”
and AccountingToday’s “Best Accounting Firms to Work For”
“Culture is everything at our firm. It’s important for people to like where they work and enjoy their job. Each month we make time for a new ‘Team Building Challenge.’ It’s always some type of fun activity that gets the staff out of their office, encourages interaction and rewards problem-solving solutions,” says Adam Hoffman, director of Talent Management. This team-building culture is guiding Porte Brown in its pursuit to differentiate itself.
There are generally two types of accounting firms, Hoffman explains. “There are the big firms that will work you to death, but you’ll be compensated well and learn a lot. Then there are the smaller firms that offer better work-life balance, but may limit your compensation potential and growth opportunities. I consider us a happy medium,” he says. “We’re very competitive with salaries and benefits packages. We pay 100 percent of our employees’ insurance premiums. Our staff works 40 hours per week and 54 hours per week during tax season. We have excellent training programs for new grads and experienced accountants. We offer tuition reimbursement. We pay for all continuing education. Anything they need to stay knowledgeable and competitive in the workplace we provide to them.
“We’re also very big on moving people up through the ranks and promoting from within,” Hoffman adds. “Thirteen of our 15 partners started their careers with Porte Brown.”
To get your foot in the door, however, you’d better be ready to hit the ground running. The firm focuses on hiring CPAs, and new grads and young professionals must have their 150 credit hours completed and be approved to test. What’s more, the firm is actively seeking Master’s in Tax (MST) holders.
But Porte Brown is also big on exploring more than the facts and figures that look good on paper.
“All day long our people are working with individuals and small business clients from different industries and backgrounds, with different knowledge levels of accounting. We look for candidates who can communicate well and have a positive personality while meeting their very different needs,” Hoffman explains. In particular, he likes to see internships and prior work experience that demonstrates the ability to work well within a firm atmosphere and advance one’s skills.
Chances are Hoffman will be looking to add a lot more talent in the near future. “All of our strategy meetings are pointing to growth,” he says. “We’re excited about many new strategic and organic growth opportunities.”