Attract and retain talent for professional services


22nd April, 2021

How professional services firms can attract and retain top talent

Finding the right talent for a business is always tough, and that’s before you factor in the wealth of education experience that workers such as lawyers and accountants are expected to possess.

Hiring new talent is a big commitment for professional services firms.

And with the working life of so many impacted by COVID-19, priorities have shifted for businesses looking to secure the best candidates.

A study by KPMG in 2020 looked at how Australian CEOs are reorganising their business priorities, and found that recruiting for new talent has changed as remote working has widened the potential talent pool.

The study was derived from a survey of 1300 global CEOs taken in early 2020 before COVID-19 hit. It followed up with a second study of 315 leaders, including 50 from Australia, during July and August.

For many respondents, risk priorities have changed since the start of the pandemic, with 22 percent of Australian CEOs revealing talent risk has jumped to the most significant concern for their businesses, followed by supply chain and operational risk.

Digital acceleration has had a great impact, with 78 percent of CEOs noting that the pandemic has sped up the creation of a seamless customer digital experience.

This is likely to have a positive and permanent effect on how businesses operate.

Employees have embraced reduced commute times and working from home, but the pandemic has also heightened anxiety about the future and created uncertainty about different ways of working long term.

Holding on to talented people has become a balancing act between keeping them engaged and productive, plus ensuring they feel safe in the workplace.

If you’re a law, accountancy or any other professional services business wanting to grow your team, what are you doing to attract the best talent?

And importantly, do you have strategies in place to keep them?

Pitch your authentic story

One of the challenges faced by firms, regardless of size, is an understanding of what new recruits are looking for in an employer.

Almost all professional services firms have a careers page online to entice the best candidates and showcase their purpose and vision.

So, businesses need an authentic and compelling way to reach out to them, and set themselves apart from their competitors.

Remuneration can be a contributing factor, but candidates also assess employers based on culture, brand, leadership and opportunity.

Create a compelling EVP

Those with a strong Employee Value Proposition (EVP) can help explain
their offering, including salary, culture, rewards, benefits and career progression.

The main reason to have an EVP is to attract and retain employees. But it needs to be documented and visible so that everyone understands what the business values are and what success looks like.

“Those that do it well engage senior management or have an executive or partner sponsor it,” said Striver founder and chief executive Alisdair Barr.

As the needs of business and people evolve, so too will an EVP as part of an ongoing business strategy.

It’s not simply a conversation at the interview stage, but a discussion over time, and not just between management.

“How you put together your services and the desired outcomes will determine how successful you are at attracting and ultimately keeping your best people,” said Barr.

“Your EVP needs to be wide enough to cater for everyone and at different career lifecycle stages.”

Look at what’s important to recruits

While salary and financial security are still important to candidates, there’s increased emphasis on factors such as lifestyle and personal fulfilment.

Gone are the days when new recruits were just looking for a job.

Today, candidates want to do meaningful work and are looking to make an impact.

When they start, new people bring fresh eyes to business development and client service. In order to share a unity of purpose, they will look for opportunities to contribute their ideas and be involved.

The Millennial generation in particular, are more aligned to a greater cause than any generation before them. They want clarity in how their career will develop in the firm.

Flexible work and work-life balance is part of their career aspirations, and with the digitisation of operations, it’s no longer a vague promise but a desirable reality.

Find the sweet spot to retain talent

Recruiting new employees is just the beginning. It’s what follows that determines whether people stay or look for opportunities elsewhere.

Research by Striver explored what early career job seekers and firms value, and found seven major drivers that increase the chance of businesses retaining their people for the long haul:

  1. Alignment of values
  2. Flexibility in work style
  3. Knowing the bigger picture
  4. Leadership values
  5. Regular performance and feedback
  6. Personal career planning
  7. Remuneration

However, firms can get caught out if they only consider these factors occasionally, or the effort they put in fades over time.

Barr highlighted that a lack of personal career planning is an inherent weakness within many accounting firms.

“This leads to many graduates leaving for competitors once they’ve gone as far as they can within your firm.”

Align your needs to succeed

New talent, and the firms they select, bring their own needs and expectations to their modern working relationship.

“To succeed, each party needs to recognise that the best relationships are those with mutually beneficial outcomes for all involved,” explained Barr.

He refers to the professional bond between employer and employee as a ‘marriage’, and it requires effort, commitment and respect to ensure longevity.

Managers also play an important role in helping new recruits reach their potential.

They can help build loyalty and mentor new recruits to take ownership of their position within the firm, and so their influence should not be underestimated.