Accounting and Finance Professionals in Demand Worldwide

If you are an accounting and finance professional with the right skills and experience, the world needs you. Literally. Read how the talent shortage is impacting employees across the globe.

September 18, 2008
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

If you are an accounting or finance professional with the right mix of skills and experience, the world needs you. Literally.

A talent shortage continues to impact employers across the globe, according to the second annual Robert Half Global Financial Employment Monitor, which gauges international hiring trends in accounting and finance. The recently-released report highlights the results from our survey of more than 4,000 finance and human resources managers in 20 countries. The bottom line: Hiring managers from the United States to New Zealand are having trouble finding and retaining top accounting and finance professionals.

For the second consecutive year, the study found that more than half (56%) of respondents worldwide report difficulty locating skilled candidates in a wide range of job categories. The most acute shortages were reported in Hong Kong (89%), Brazil (82%), Singapore (76%) and the United States (72%). While the shortage is not spread evenly across every nation, industry or professional specialty, the report reveals that companies are generally struggling to keep accounting and finance teams optimally staffed. The Global Financial Employment Monitor also notes that upcoming demographic shifts, including the impending retirement of millions of baby boomers, will further intensify the competition for highly qualified job seekers. Following are additional insights and noteworthy trends from the report:

Employers Refocusing on Retention

Accounting and finance professionals are vital to an organization's success in any economy. As such, companies today are more concerned about keeping their best and brightest employees. Fifty-eight percent of worldwide respondents worry about losing top team members to other opportunities in the near future, up sharply from 43 percent in last year's report.

The unease runs particularly high in Asia. Ninety-two percent of respondents in Hong Kong, for example, said retention is a major staffing worry. Even in countries where the unemployment rate has risen in recent months, accomplished professionals appear to have ample employment options that could lead them to leave their current firms for greener pastures. In the United States, 73 percent of managers expressed retention concerns. And in Switzerland (one of the countries least concerned about retention in 2007), the rate jumped from 16 percent to 43 percent.

Job Candidates Facing Extensive Evaluations

Despite the career opportunities made possible by staffing shortages and retention anxiety, job seekers are wise to fine-tune their interviewing abilities. In an effort to avoid costly hiring mistakes, organizations are devoting significant time, attention and resources to the candidate-evaluation process. Employers are interviewing the most promising applicants again and again — and again.

The global average was three interviews for staff-level positions; only 10 percent of hires are made after a single interview. In addition, every country reported at least three interviews for management roles. American firms are exceptionally cautious. Twenty-one percent of U.S. respondents conduct five or more interviews for management positions; 18 percent said five or more interviews are held for staff positions before an offer is extended.

This is not to say that employers feel free to drag out the process to an extreme, however. Despite the greater time investment up front, companies also know they cannot afford to take too long to make hiring decisions without risk of losing individuals to other firms.

Industry-Tested Leaders Sought

At the executive level, possessing a deep understanding of the competitive realities facing your industry trumps every other attribute, according to the study. After a period of focusing heavily on a variety of complex regulatory and legal challenges, companies are seeking seasoned leaders who can spearhead efforts to enhance the organization's competitive edge. Put simply, being well-versed in the fundamentals and having a proven track-record of success far outweighs specialized regulatory and legal expertise now that compliance efforts have matured.

According to the report, 65 percent of respondents ranked "industry knowledge and experience" as the most important attributes of executives. (This valuation seems to be global, as "industry knowledge and experience" was the top response in 16 of the 20 countries, including the United States.) This is a notable shift from last year when 64 percent of worldwide respondents ranked regulatory-compliance expertise as most critical. The most dramatic change in priorities is in Germany where demand for compliance expertise dropped from 80 percent to 17 percent.

Project Professionals in Demand

If you've ever considered pursuing project-based arrangements, now is an excellent time to connect with a specialized staffing firm. Companies are increasingly turning to temporary accounting and finance professionals, says the report. When asked why, managers most often cited access to special skills that don't exist internally. "Provides a fresh perspective on the job and the company" and "Enables our company to quickly accommodate workload peaks" were the second and third most frequently noted benefits of utilizing temporary employees.

But companies aren't just hiring temporary professionals; they are relying on them for advanced functions. In 17 of the 20 countries, respondents reported that they have become more likely to hire project professionals at more senior levels in recent years. The highest net increases were in Singapore, Brazil, Ireland and Australia, indicating that the use of project professionals is evolving worldwide.

Additionally, temporary assignments are leading to permanent positions. Given the ongoing staffing difficulties and increased importance of making smart hires, many employers are evaluating the on-the-job performance of project workers and, if favorably impressed, extending full-time offers.

As the report outlines, there is a perennial global need for highly skilled accounting and finance professionals. While the talent shortage doesn't guarantee that you'll land your dream job without putting in hard work, you can take advantage of the current staffing environment. By understanding that there are opportunities in all corners of the world, exploring your options, boosting your interviewing skills, and considering attractive temporary arrangements, you will be very well positioned to advance your career.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 350 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.