Hire right

How to attract the best candidate for your firm.

Attracting top talent is always a priority for business leaders. It’s particularly key for small to mid-size accounting firms today, many of which are having to deal with the issue of succession planning, says accountant Cathy Logue, founding partner of Toronto-based Ambit Search, a recruitment firm. "All of a sudden the partners are in their 50s and 60s and they have a great client base, but down the road where will they end up if they don’t attract people who can become future partners?" she says. "A good recruitment strategy should be part of any succession plan."

Logue shares the best lessons she has learned when it comes to hiring right.

Know thyself

You need consensus among the partnership group about what you are and what you are not as a firm. This is about understanding your corporate culture and what makes your firm tick. Ultimately, you want someone who shares your firm’s values and who will thrive in its environment. You also need a clear picture of what you can offer candidates. Play up your strengths but don’t oversell.

Know what you’re looking for

Consider the capabilities you want in a candidate now, as well as several years down the road.

If the hire is part of a succession-planning strategy, for example, then business development is a critical skill set and an area you should focus on in interviews and when doing reference checks.

Introduce the candidate to your team

During the interview process, have the candidate meet with as many partners and staff members as possible. This will give you a sense of how this person will fit with your team — or not.

Ask a few key questions

Why do you want to move? Why do you want to work here? These questions may seem basic, but they force the candidate to articulate what he or she is looking for. Through the responses you can assess whether or not he or she will be happy working at your firm.

Go for lunch

If things are progressing well and you think you’ve found the right person, take him or her to lunch. Not only will this allow you to see how the candidate interacts in a more relaxed environment, but if he or she is on the partner track, he or she will be taking clients out to lunch and his or her behaviour will reflect on the firm. Interpersonal social skills still count.

Watch out for red flags

No. 1 red flag: a skippy resumé. If, for example, the candidate has a pattern of leaving firms within two to three years, you have to question why. Did he or she have trouble getting along with others? Was there a technical skill gap? Did he or she have a poor work ethic? Dig. Another red flag: candidates who don’t ask questions. They should want to know all they can about the firm, the role and how they can be successful.

Check references

This is a great way to find out how the candidate has dealt with stressful situations and how he or she works with others. It's important to ask the right questions and listen to what is and isn’t being said. Be sure to ask references if they would rehire this person and what advice they would give his or her next manager in order to help the candidate be successful.

"This may seem like a lot, but hiring right requires time and effort," says Logue. "If you look at the flip side, hiring the wrong candidate can lead to lost productivity and reputation and can negatively impact morale. Making the investment up front and ensuring you find the right candidate can be a huge win for your firm."