How to hire for Tax roles in 2019

Heather McMillan 15.01.2019

A key question at the top of my clients’ lists is: How do we differentiate from our competitors and how do we navigate such a candidate-short market? My answer is always the same: It’s all about focusing the interview process.

Here are my views on how the hiring of tax professionals in 2019 can be optimised, backed up by comments from Jon Hickman, tax partner at BDO.

Work hard to access the passive candidates

It is rare for top tax professionals to be actively looking for new roles. The best candidates tend to be the ones who generally aren’t looking. The only way to access these professionals is by ensuring you make the most of your time; once you have made contact, constant engagement throughout all processes is key; “A high level of engagement with the individual is vital. I need to give them information about the role, the team and the firm so that they get a real feel for what it is like to work at BDO and understand how their career will progress.”

You will have to move fast and keep a strict diary if you are going to secure the top tax talent. The speed of CV turnaround is critical. Passive candidates, once they have been engaged with, are back off the market within two weeks.

You may delay, but time will not.” - Benjamin Franklin

An altered interview process

Interviewing has changed significantly since I’ve been recruiting. It is now the norm for individuals within the organisation to take interviewees for informal coffees and speak to them outside the rigid interview structure.

Adopting this more informal approach to interviewing and meeting with your candidates is backed up by Jon Hickman; “The process is less formal in its structure now, and so our style has adapted to that. From the outset, we are looking to identify the skills that someone brings to the role, both personally and as an addition to our existing team. For me this means that there is a more open and ‘real life’ engagement between us and the candidate, with less reliance on the structured format of Q&A that there was in the past.

Make time for every candidate

Always try to give candidates an element of flexibility. Truly, how difficult is it to take a small portion of time to meet the ‘perfect’ professional for your role. If you go out of your way to accommodate them in your interview process, they will look positively on you as an individual and your company as a potential employer.  

Jon is a believer of this flexibility; “Act fast and be flexible – we can’t insist on the old model of three stage interviews in a small meeting room in my office – we want active discussions and a mutual agreement at the end of the process; I might meet candidates early in the stage over a coffee or breakfast if that is what suits them.”

Another aspect to this flexibility comes once the process has been complete - if you make them an offer, meeting them during their notice period and reinforcing why they want to join your team will help to dissuade them from accepting a counter offer.

Ensuring a strong cultural fit

If a recruitment agency is sourcing your candidates, do you trust that they know exactly what you require and are they working effectively alongside your internal team? Being on the same page is imperative. Cultural fit is essential to maintaining a happy and hard-working office environment when a new employee joins the team. “The important part for me is the identification of candidates that will be a good fit in the team and will bring something extra to our business through their role here.”

You could even introduce them to their potential colleagues and invite them on a team night out! “I like our candidates to meet some of the wider team too so they can hear the perspective of their potential new colleagues.

Inspirational leaders attract top tax professionals

The best candidates are in high demand. They want to be working in challenging environments but they require support and backing from higher level individuals within the organisation. Having inspirational leaders is a big selling factor to the top tax professionals, and integrating these leaders in the interview process, another noticeable change over the past decade, should be the norm these days; “Partners are more involved in the process at various stages and not just conducting the final ‘pass or fail’ meeting. Quite rightly, candidates should feel far more empowered in the process now than was the case several years ago.”

Honesty works both ways

As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. Transparency from both parties is important to ensure nothing gets lost in translation and there aren’t false expectations. Firstly, the interviewee needs to be honest about their skills and motivations - this will help the representative of any organisation get a better understanding of how best they can progress their career; “I need them to be honest with me about their work experiences to date and what it really is that will help and empower them to build a successful career at BDO.

Next, the interviewer has to be honest about what they can offer - in terms of salary, as well as professional growth within tax.

Considerations for the upcoming year

2019 won’t be an exception to the candidate scarce market of recent times and we will continue to see recruitment as a particular focus in tax. From an industry perspective, this means improving efficiency and streamlining tax teams, with greenfield Head of tax roles predicted in the PE market and beyond. From a practice perspective, the Big Four will continue to build out in terms of tax technology/transformation and the never ending plan to make tax digital will continue. Transfer pricing remains hot, whilst we will see tax planning take a back seat to governance and risk.  

One thing remains to be true, Brexit or not and regardless of the changes we may see, tax jobs will continue to come onto the market.

Heather McMillan's picture
Senior Consultant | Tax Recruitment


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