Impact of COVID-19 on Accounting Firm Recruiting and Internships

Sep 22, 2021

By Elizabeth Harkness

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The pandemic has changed the way we do business in so many areas, and human resources is no different.  As we continue to recruit accounting employees and interns—in almost all cases, remotely—we are relying on new ways to interview, having in-depth discussions about evolving workplace expectations, and addressing the challenges of onboarding and integrating new hires in a remote setting.

The remote working aspect is not entirely new for Weinstein Spira, as we have offered an option to work from home one day a week as part of our commitment to work/life balance for several years. When COVID-19 hit, however, we had to become masters of remote work, how to do so five days a week—a very different game! 

>> Looking for a career in public accounting? Apply here! <<

What’s Different in Accounting Firm Recruiting and Internships?

From an HR perspective, I have noticed a change in what accounting firm candidates are looking for, whether they are experienced professionals making a mid-career move or new grads straight out of college. It's not just about being a good "fit" for the job description anymore. The days of scripted interviews and clear, concise goals are gone, being replaced by more frank discussions around the following issues:

  • The number one concern is STABILITY, with people desiring continued employment throughout the pandemic. They want to know if you are losing clients, and if there's a chance you will be going under in a few months. I have fielded brutally honest questions like, "Will you be laying people off?" "How are your leaders handling COVID?" Understandably, people have left other companies for not meeting this basic need of a stable income.

  • Priorities have shifted, and SAFETY is moving to the top of the list. People are in search of being taken care of health-wise during the pandemic, and applicants will judge a company accordingly. Questions include, "How are you making sure the workplace is safe?" This reflects a culture change, in which companies need to care more about their employees' wellbeing than the bottom line. 

  • FLEXIBILITY is another big concern. People continue to grapple with COVID-related challenges in their personal lives, such as children attending in-person classes versus distance learning, and the potential of family members coming down with the virus or its variants. People want to know, "Will I be penalized if I have to care for my elderly parents, who might catch COVID?"

  • The request for GUIDANCE is also being heard more often, especially with entry-level applicants questioning their own career choices. There is not only uncertainty around which area of accounting to pursue (public versus private), but some are even wondering if they want to be accountants at all amid chaos. Recruiters will spend more time than the typical interview session to help students articulate their thoughts.

  • College recruiting styles have dramatically changed, as well. In the absence of on-campus events, both recruiter and student must connect and develop rapport ONLINE. While the different video conferencing platforms have become more familiar and user-friendly, it does not take the place of talking one-on-one in the lively ambiance of a career fair or meeting in a cool setting over a cup of coffee or lunch. It's a time that calls for more creativity to impress, to be noticed, and remembered.

>> Is public accounting right for you? Learn more here. <<

New Accountant Skillsets for the New Normal

All these changes call for an "adaptable" set of skills to be successful in the ever-evolving new normal. Accounting firm recruiters are focused on hiring individuals who are tech-savvy, self-starters, and can work independently with minimal supervision (in or out of the office). Now, it takes more discipline and stronger communication skills to achieve the same results with clients. It also means having a professional presence on the phone and/or video call, as well as in person. And since people have proven they can work productively from home, that will be a viable work style going forward as more accounting firms are willing to support it. 

In Summary

Most accounting firms have fared well over the past year and a half. I’m proud to say that Weinstein Spira has had zero layoffs, zero furloughs, no reduction of hours, and continues to pay overtime, if needed. We have also been fortunate to honor all our internship offers, and 100% of them have come back as full-time employees. And, we have added to our overall headcount, despite the pandemic. We like to think this is due to making sure people are safe, comfortable and gainfully employed at a time when life itself is at risk and when priorities are being re-examined. As much as we value being together in the office, it looks like flex time is here to stay for the foreseeable future, in some hybrid form or another.

Please do not hesitate to apply for a job or internship opportunity at Weinstein Spira. Our doors are open, virtually.

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Category: Culture