The Changing Landscape of Staff Recruitment and Retention

by Robert. J. Traphagen, CPA, CGMA, Traphagen Financial Group, LLC – November 7, 2018
The Changing Landscape of Staff Recruitment and Retention

Recruiting and retaining qualified talent are two of the top-five issues affecting all CPA firms according to a 2017 American Institute of CPAs survey. 

With the demand for good talent at an all-time high, small firms must develop creative strategies for staff recruitment and retention.  

Next Gen 

Millennials (ages 24-35) and Generation Z (ages 18-23) will soon comprise most of the workforce. According to the Huffington Post, “By 2020, Gen Z also known as iGen will account for one-third of the U.S. popula­tion…and is positioned to become a major catalyst of change in their future workplac­es.” These generations focus on the use of social and emerging technologies and re­quire new recruiting tactics and a different workplace culture to retain them. 

When asked about the top motivators for Millennials and Gen Z, one of Traphagen Financial Group’s (TFG) interns, Nicole-Lynn Garcia, said, “1) Flexibility, 2) learning, developing and growth, and 3) firm culture.” She added, “I want to know there is a clear career path and to be successful in my career, but I also want to have a social life. I want to know that with the right technology I can get my work done from anywhere…including the beach!.” 


Gen Z and Millennials have grown up with technology; it is second nature to them. Candidates interested in a firm will review their websites and online social media presence before they make career decisions. So, the key to attracting these groups is to actively manage your brand online. 

We recently revamped the look and feel of our website to capture the benefits of mobile technology and to emphasize our distinct culture. What do we believe in? For us, it is our core value of caring; it is a passionate commitment to our clients, associates and community — a commitment to education beyond credentials for our clients and a tailored personal and professional development program for our associates. Craig Sikora, a senior TFG ac­countant who has taken advantage of this, says, “Traphagen has helped me to develop personally as well as professionally. I had the opportunity to attend Strictly Business: The Dale Carnegie Immersion Seminar.” 

It is also our philanthropic contributions to our community. “We were amazed that all of your firm members showed up in sub-freezing temperatures to work on our Habitat Program,” said Gary Khul, director of construction for Habitat for Humanity of Bergen County. The key is defining your firm and your culture to the public which will be critical in attracting the next generations. 

An engaged associate is your best recruiter to attract the next generation. We have an employee reward program for associates who refer candidates to our firm. Best of all, you will not only be engaging your current employees, but you will be building the culture of your organization with like-minded personnel — the last three associates of our firm were from employee referrals and were all next gen. 

Small firms also need to attract talent much earlier than in the past, as college juniors are already placed at Big Four “universities.” To counteract this, we established a college ambassador program.  Our ambassadors have TFG “swag” to attract and represent us with the next generation of talent; they speak with students about their experiences as well as what their experience could be at our firm. And showcasing that experience through social media, a video or an inside look at “a day as an intern,” also helps.  

Get on Board 

Onboarding is critical. This starts before day one with a welcome email followed by a firm announcement introducing the new employee to the team. We set up a meeting with the managing partner to communi­cate our vision and core values on day one. We also assign a “buddy” to each new hire during their first 90 days to assist with cultural integration and orientation. 


According to Aaron Levy, CEO and founder of Raise the Bar Consulting, “a Gen Z employee will trust and want to work for an accounting firm that values their development and career advancement as much as they do.” In our firm, each new team member is given our Competency Performance Management model (CPM) which establishes a clear career progression along with personal and professional goals, and expectations. This allows employees a pathway to success — a pathway that builds trust and retains staff.  

Another important aspect to support our culture of inclusion and collaboration is our Associates Action Committees, which even includes interns. This has increased employ­ee engagement and fostered generational collaboration with one another. It also gives authority to “own” part of an operational activity by having the freedom to make recommendations to improve social media, technology and recruitment. We want our team members’ input, and we listen to their recommendations. For example, through committee recommendations, we have im­proved our overall internal communication by implementing instant messaging, as well as an intra-communication platform.  Their input is not only valuable, it is valuable in retaining them. 

Another trending issue is flexibility. Ac­cording to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace, “If leaders want to compete for a modern workforce, they should consider weaving some element of flexibility into their culture.” The need for flexibility is an ongoing challenge for all employees as they are trying to balance the demands of their careers with their personal commitments. 

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room; the greatest fear of firm leaders con­sidering flexible operating models is losing control. However, with the right technol­ogy in place, a well-managed flex program will attract the best talent and retain skilled and experienced employees. Statistics indicate that flexible working arrangements support greater productivity and employee engagement. The reality is that just because someone is in the office doesn’t necessarily mean they’re productive. 

Small CPA firms have a distinctive advantage in attracting the next generation of associates who are seeking engagement and inclusion, and who want to make an impact. Their contributions are more visible, and associates become “impact players” with the ability and opportunity to influence change and direction within a firm. 

We live in challenging but exciting times. Remember to promote your brand, showcase it through social media, have fun with your perks and embrace your culture. Then, “bang your drum” LOUDLY!  

Robert J. Traphagen

Robert J. Traphagen

Robert J. Traphagen, CPA, CGMA, is the managing partner at Traphagen Financial Group LLC. He is a former president of the NJCPA and its Bergen Chapter, and is a member of the Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group and trustee of NJ-CPA-PAC.

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