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The politics of hiring.

Picking the best person for the job means not bowing to pressure from clients, company officials or colleagues while keeping an open mind when considering candidates.

The average cost of hiring an employee is almost 15% of his or her annual starting salary, according to a recent Employment Management Association study. This can cover everything from purchasing classified ads in newspapers and other publications or paying fees to recruiting firms to staff time spent developing job descriptions, reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, checking references, negotiating compensation packages and, finally, making a formal job offer. But beyond the sheer quantitative time involved in hiring, there also is a qualitative aspect.

In recent years, businesses have be, come extremely sensitive in their approach to hiring. No longer is staffing a problem solved simply by creating new positions and seeking more full-time staff members. Executives who have witnessed the effects of corporate downsizing know that every staffing decision must be analyzed carefully before the search process begins. Senior management is concerned, too, as head-count issues have become a significant element in determining a business' overall financial success. The upshot is that hiring is more emotionally charged than ever. With the stakes so high, it's critical that potential political tensions surrounding staffing be defused as much as possible.

Because staffing is so multifaceted, the political dangers can surface at any time in the process. Much of accounting involves a linear sequence of events, but stating isn't always straightforward. A classified ad can yield no one you would care to interview. A high-quality resume could suddenly surface after you've reviewed 60 resumes and narrowed the field to three finalists. An executive from a rival business may suddenly quit and seek the position you're looking to fill--after you've virtually decided on a candidate. Midway through the process, a senior manager might start asking new questions about whether the work could be done by a consultant.

This volatility is part of what makes staffing such a potentially politicized problem. This article details a few typical challenges and suggests how to handle them effectively. Though these tips may be particularly useful to smaller businesses that don't have extensive human resources staffs, accountants at larger businesses also will find them effective in ensuring the hiring process goes as smoothly as possible.


Problem: Internal discord about the position's requirements. This can include disagreement over everything--from what kind of education, experience and skills are needed to the salary and potential for career growth.

Solution: The first step to take in the hiring process is to develop a thorough job description. This is a good time to ask members of a department or workgroup for their suggestions on the necessary skills, experience and work style for the job. As you shape the description, ask the group:

1. Do we need somebody new to handle this position?

2. What kind of experience and credentials are we looking for?

3. Is the job, as we've described it, doable?

Answering these questions will help the group clarify the specific details of the position. For example, in the case of an oil company's accounting department, a closer inspection of the work that needs to be done might show that it would be more productive to replace a senior manager with a combination of a junior professional with a background in accounts payable and an accountant with petroleum industry experience. In a CPA firm, a thorough examination of the staff's workload might reveal that heavy time demands are due to a particular client's seasonal patterns. This problem could be solved by using temporary employees or through flexible scheduling of existing staff.

Assessing the firm's needs and developing a thorough job description make it much easier to choose from among candidates whose qualifications suit your needs.


Problem: "Narrowcasting"--A client or manager may demand that the position be filled by someone with a particular set of skills, experience and credentials that meet pressing current needs but may not be appropriate for the long term.

Solution: The job description should reflect the position's growth path and its broader impact on the business. If the firm is seeking a junior accountant, will the new hire continue to work with a particular set of industries? If you are looking for a midlevel professional, how involved do you want him or her to eventually become in business development? On the management accounting side, is a lot of knowledge of your particular industry necessary or do you need someone with exemplary accounting skills? These are the kinds of questions that must be answered to avoid narrowcasting.


Problem: Colleagues may form a hiring committee, primarily to make certain that everyone involved has equal authority. Even Worse than a designated hiring committee is the unofficial emergence of such a group, with members floating in and out to offer their opinions.

Solution: Once there is general agreement on position requirements, one person should be given authority for directing the hiring process and making the filial decision, although he or she will solicit input from others and introduce candidates to them.

While it is a good idea to generate a consensus on the job description and the front-runner, giving everyone equal authority in making the hiring decision can greatly hinder the process; committees are counterproductive when it comes to hiring. Often each member feels a need to critique every candidate, a painstaking process that is draining and time-intensive. As the review process drags on, compromise candidates emerge mediocre professionals best distinguished by their ability not to offend anyone.

For example, one accounting firm that let a committee fill a position found the members debating the merits of the nonaccounting courses each candidate had taken. Three months later the job was still open, the firm's professionals were working very long hours and the firm had to go back to the drawing board and redefine the position.

If you are directing the hiring process, make your position on the scope of hiring committees clear to others within the firm or department. And if you are not in charge, trust the experience and judgment of the colleague who is.


Problem: Clients, senior managers, vendors, directors or other members of your firm or company's "family" ask you to interview their friends, relatives or acquaintances. Mention a job opening, and it seems there is no limit to the number of people who know someone who is "good with numbers" or clients who have just the right person for you. Such requests are often well-intentioned, but they are sometimes accompanied by a degree of coercion.

Solution: Regardless of the pressures you may feel, remember that the mission of the person directing the hiring process is to methodically identify qualified candidates. Armed with a thorough job description, you should make certain the job opening is well publicized through means such as trade journals, colleagues, clients and others.

At this stage, you can listen to many suggestions, but you must be emphatic about the skills and accomplishments required. If you are clear about your needs, it should be no problem to say: "Here are the requirements: four years of public accounting, complete proficiency with Lotus for Windows and experience working with multinational food companies. If your niece meets these requirements, by all means have her send me her resume."

Ira client or member of another department insists you hire that niece (and she isn't right for the job), diplomatically explain that the candidate's qualifications are not a good match with the firm's needs. Expressing your commitment to high standards is critical here. If your forthright response alienates someone, then the relationship was not very strong to begin with.


Problem: Supervisors or subordinates may have a perception that their input has not been solicited at the right times and that the search is a fait accompli rather than a process that eventually will benefit everyone.

Solution: It is critical to keep everyone informed about the hiring process so they know what to expect. While there is a tendency to follow the military's "need to know" approach to disseminating information, it is generally most productive to keep as wide a group as possible informed. For example, announcing that "40 resumes were reviewed, 8 interviews are scheduled for next week and 2 finalists will be coming to meet you the week after that" is a good way to head off my internal anxiety or potential discontent about the new hire.


Problem: Rigid attitudes about management accountants moving to public accounting, and vice versa.

Solution: Although it is not very often that senior management accountants seek to move into public accounting, it does happen, especially when they formerly had worked on the public side. Firm partners should be open to this background in a candidate, which offers client-side expertise and valuable industry-specific knowledge.

Conversely, it is also important to understand what public accounting professionals can bring to a company; their broad exposure to accounting practices and a variety of industries and technologies can add a unique perspective and expertise.


Finding a professional with the proper skills and personality can be daunting, especially in a profession as complex as accounting. However, by forming a clear idea of what is needed, focusing on future as well as current needs and keeping an open mind, it is possible to prevent political issues from further complicating the process.

Executives' Times

Executives at the nation's 1,000 largest companies estimate they spend an average of 20% of their time, or ten weeks a year, on company politics.



* THE AVERAGE COST OF HIRING an employee is almost 15% of his or her annual starting salary. With the stakes so high, it is critical that political tensions surrounding staffing be defused as much as possible.

* THE FIRST STEP IS TO DEVELOP a thorough job description. Get input on the skills, experience and work style needed from colleagues in the workgroup or department in which the new hire will serve and be sure these will fill long-term as well as immediate needs.

* KEEP AN OPEN MIND about candidates from other areas of accounting. CPAs in public accounting can bring valuable experience to a company and management accountant5 can bring client-side experience to a CPA firm.


Once agreement has been reached on a job description, one person should have responsibility for making the hiring decision.

MAX MESSMER is chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Half International Inc.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Messmer, Max
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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