With three national lockdowns, various restrictions, and many forced to work from home for the majority of last year, the workplace has changed dramatically.

‘Work’ as we once knew it has become more and more digital, as organisations adopt an increasingly hybrid approach. As a result, recruiters have had to take an equally digital approach to the hiring process.

But for clients in the accountancy and finance sector, what has this shift looked like in practice?

Initial concerns

The accountancy sector has always been risk-averse, and many businesses are used to running their company in a traditional way. Therefore, for some accountants, migrating to a more digital way of working seems inherently risky. After all, many accountants have spent years perfecting their current workflow, so why change this?

There is also a perceived security blanket that comes with traditional systems and processes — and this security translates into recruitment, too. Over the years, many businesses have perfected face-to-face interviews and inductions, so the sudden shift to virtual recruiting and onboarding has been a challenging adjustment.

Many accountancy and finance clients were hesitant about recruiting during lockdown at first. Body language and facial expressions are hard to read when you are not face to face, so some were concerned they would not be able to get the ‘feel’ of someone without physically being in the same room as them.

Likewise, the first virtual interview was always going to be strange. Some clients had only ever used online platforms for personal gatherings with people they already knew, so they were apprehensive about going onto a video call with someone they only knew from a sheet of paper.

The reality

In hindsight, many clients have found that a lot of the challenges with remote recruitment could also be applied to the traditional process.

When hiring virtually, one of the biggest concerns is always that you will read the person wrong, offer the job and then find they are completely different to what you expected. No company wants to spend all that time and money recruiting new candidates only to find they are not ‘the one’. The cost of a bad hire is monumental, which is why it is essential to get recruitment right the first time.

But the same could be said for hiring face to face.

How do you know the person in front of you (either physically or via a screen) is the right fit? A lot of this comes down to judgement and experience.

Attention to candidates makes for a lasting workforce, and it is vital to keep recruitment personal. So, whilst the past year has seen changes to the recruitment process — from online assessments to video interviews — the foundations and core challenges remain the same. Virtual recruitment strategies require the same amount of care and attention as the traditional hiring process, and retention should always be a top priority.

A success story

When searching for a role in credit control during lockdown, Natasha Snelling, Group Financial Controller at Les Cave de Pyrene (a wine importer, distributor and retailer based in Surrey), found the challenges faced were no different to recruiting in normal circumstances. They explained: ‘You just want to make sure your consultant understands what you are looking for both on a personality perspective and an ability to do the job you are recruiting for’.

Les Caves de Pyrene worked with Howett Thorpe to recruit for the role and ensure a seamless process throughout.

Natasha said: ‘Julie [Managing Director at Howett Thorpe] understands me, my department and the ethos of our business — so, nine times out of 10, she will know if a candidate will “fit in” even before presenting them to me. She always communicates candidate feedback, and when we have decided on a person, and they have accepted, she will forward the necessary information over to me to touch base and sort out the finer details’.

When it came to interviewing during lockdown, Natasha found their top tips for conducting a successful virtual interview were to be yourself and conduct the interview in the same way you would if the person was physically sitting in front of you. They added: ‘If an interview is going well virtually or in person, the questions and answers will flow — and, in turn, you should be able to read the person’s personality and ability to do the job’.

Onboarding challenges

Good recruitment is key to securing the best finance and accountancy talent, but the process doesn’t stop once the candidate has accepted the job offer. And neither does the recruiter’s job! ‘Julie will always call a week or so after the person has started just to check everything is going okay’, said Natasha.

If companies want to retain new recruits, they need to put as much effort into the post-hire phase as the pre-hire recruitment process. A welcoming and seamless onboarding experience engages new employees from the outset and plays a critical role in their continued success and happiness.

Clients have had to onboard remotely throughout the three lockdowns. But now that the business world is opening up again, there is a mix of virtual and in-person onboarding happening. For some clients, this in itself has brought challenges — how do you ensure an equal onboarding process for all new starters when one is in the office, and another is working remotely?

Many clients have also found that candidates have been out of work for several months or even since the start of the pandemic. So, getting them back into the office mentality and starting training immediately has been crucial, particularly in the accountancy and finance sector where training is so vital.

The key theme here is attention: attention to candidates and attention to circumstances. Although processes have become more digital, the fundamentals behind a good recruitment and onboarding strategy remain the same — communication, competence, care and consideration.

Remote recruitment can work and has worked. But it is essential to choose a finance and accountancy recruitment specialist who is agile and can work under changing circumstances. To find out how Howett Thorpe can help you hire new talent, get in touch today.