New COVID Strategies for Staff Recruiting and Retention

Snyder Cohn revamps staffing tactics for work-from-home conditions.

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With Richard Rothstein

Steven Braunstein, managing partner of Snyder Cohn in North Bethesda, Md., talks about the impact of COVID on staff recruiting and retention — including virtual “Lunch with Steve” sessions.

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But how do you nurture a firm culture without face-to-face live, in-person in-office meetups? That’s what Braunstein is figuring out.

Braunstein describes the culture at the 100-year-old, 80-person firm and how that makes a difference in recruiting.

Snyder Cohn has also implemented some interesting ideas to promote retention during the pandemic that go beyond work-life, like “Lunch with Steve” and having more virtual time together through shared lunches.

Transcript

Richard Rothstein 0:10
Hi, there, this is Richard Rothstein and I am talking to Steven Steen of Snyder Cohn, in Bethesda, Maryland. And we’re gonna be talking again a little bit about how his firm has handled recruiting this year and this crazy year, both before and after COVID. So, Steven, how you doing?

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me, Richard.

So if you could start out by telling, how were you handling recruiting accounts pre COVID?

Steven Braunstein 0:46
Sure, pre-COVID there were multiple different avenues where we would recruit accountants. We work with agencies, I mean, that’s always been something that we always talk to them, sometimes they can get some candidates that we’re not getting, we would talk with different referral sources that we work with lawyers, bankers, investment advisors, and always just ask them, we’re always looking for good people if you know someone. So we did a little bit of that. We did some work on LinkedIn with our HR person. And we had a handful of college campuses where we recruited entry level accountants from so all of those things were done in the pre COVID world.

Richard Rothstein 1:48
Are there any referral sources in particular that you found to be helpful?

Steven Braunstein 1:53
Over time, I would say, No, but because I think it just kind of depends, you know, does somebody know someone who’s looking? So we were doing that. The other thing we did, but we didn’t have great results, is offering an incentive for employees if they knew someone, we did some of that over the years, and but not as much as I would have liked.

Richard Rothstein 2:26
The next step to that is once you find the people is, how you make competitive offers. So, what were you doing to make sure that Snyder Cohn was as a competitive opportunity for people to consider?

Steven Braunstein 2:45
So I think we’re always looking at different salary surveys to make sure that we’re aligned on salary trends. But we also feel strongly about our culture. And we think we have a good culture we had, for years, we’ve had a flexible work environment where we allow some people to work remotely, work remotely part of the time work, remotely all of the time. So we have always had that, and we think that’s important. We always had a number of people who were part time, because some people with small children may not have that the full time 40 hours a week available. So that was a cultural thing. I think that the family-friendly environment that we had, is people felt that when they would interview with us, that coupled with what we felt was a competitive starting salary with, the traditional benefits health insurance 401k match. We felt that we were able to stay competitive, although I think that over the last couple of years that they’re there, and I think it continues on even today now is there’s a little bit of a supply and demand issue where there’s just not enough accountants, and especially not enough entry-level accountants to to satisfy all the accounting firms.

Richard Rothstein 4:07
So once you bring people on board, how long have you found that they would be staying with you?

Steven Braunstein 4:22
One thing that I think is phenomenal about Snyder Cohn is that the number of our partners where Snyder Cohn has been the the only firm or almost the only firm where these partners worked. And so so from a growth perspective, that’s a huge thing. And we we are very proud of that. I would say that more than half of our accountants have been with us, probably more than three or four years. And we have a number of people who have been with that been with us more than 10 or 15 years. And this is, you know, it’s a career for them. They’re not necessarily all interested in becoming a partner. But I think we really do manage to retain people when they come on board. I think when I reflect back on people that have left Snyder Cohn, some people have left because they decided they don’t want public anymore, you know, so that’s one thing. And I think some people have decided that they don’t want to later on when they move out of the area. I think, given the pandemic, that dynamic has changed, because we now have two people that have said they’re going to move to a different place, but they want to stay with Snyder. So we’re really excited about that, that they want to be part of the Snyder Cohn family.

Richard Rothstein 5:56
That’s a big trend right now in positions like accounting, where, it’s really the skills that matter, that you can transfer things, you can send them documents, they can, do their accounting wizardry and send it back to the firm or even directly to clients with some tools, that it becomes more about where is the best talent? And not just where’s the best talent in my backyard? You talk something about remote work, which is great, because I feel like that is a big thing that people are talking about and doing more of now. But what is that? I think some of that you touched on some of this about it being, what are the big changes have been into, you know, post COVID?

Steven Braunstein 6:53
I think my changes are, we have to rethink, we’ve had to rethink how we do training, how we make people feel like they’re part of the organization, as a partner, I could just stop by someone’s desk and chat with them and see how it’s going. It’s a little bit harder to, to, you know, send an email to my staff account, Richard, and say, Hey, Richard, I’d love to set up a time. Can we talk tomorrow? And then Richard is terrified that he’s meeting with a partner tomorrow for just a check in why is that? Maybe he’s going to be fired. I’m going to just like have, Thursday morning coffee with Steve. But just like that, it’s a known thing, that I’m going to be putting things on the calendar, so don’t be scared that this happening. Maybe it’s over the course of a couple of weeks, specifically with some of the lower level people that I wouldn’t normally work with. Because I feel like, as a partner, I work with more of the supervisors, and managers, and I’m having discussions on a regular basis with them. And I’m checking in with them on how they’re doing. And I think they have a history with the firm, and they feel like they’re part of the family. But how do we get that passed down to the people below? That’s one of the things that I’m trying to wrestle with here, on what to do best, what do I want to try? And what do I then want some of my other partners to try and record?

Richard Rothstein 8:46
I think that’s definitely a great thing as far as retention goes, Just from a business aspect, as well as the people who are on the ground who are doing these things. They’re the newest people so they may have some new ideas that’d be great. Pull up to the top quickly and not have to wait years for them decide and I really want to be in this industry. Do I want to try and be partner do I want to hang out manager? So I think that’s a really cool idea.

Steven Braunstein 9:40
We’ve just started like having our staff accountants do like a weekly Let’s eat lunch remotely together. for a half hour, people just talk about what’s going on. On again, at least that group of staff, It’s seniors, you know, different people that are of the like level can all have an opportunity to be talking to one another. And so we’d like that. And when we onboard some new people in the pandemic, what we’ve done is, each of them as part of their training, is doing a 30 minute meet and greet with each of the partners and each of the managers. But I’m sure there’s even more stuff we have to do to improve our onboarding in the remote world.

Richard Rothstein 10:48
Have you been doing anything different from a recruiting aspect, and post covered world?

Steven Braunstein 10:54
That’s what we’re trying to figure out, what we need to do a little differently, Richard? And, you know, we’re still doing all of the other things that I mentioned previously with, you know, recruiters and LinkedIn, but we’re trying to say, How can we do some of this stuff on LinkedIn better? We’re hoping that, that we’re going to get to a better place where we’re getting more qualified candidates that we’re excited about from this.

Richard Rothstein 11:28
What what do you expect the recruiting situation to look like, you know, a year from now, do you think it quieted down and feel out like it did before? Do you think these COVID changes are like, embedded? Or do you think it’s going to look like something totally different?

Steven Braunstein 11:46
I don’t think it’s gonna look totally different. But I think it’s going to look across between where we were pre COVID, and, and in where we are now, and it’s going to be like a blend. And I think we’re gonna, you know, we’ve got to learn to pivot on waiting on the changes. And again, I think some of it is, some of it’s a supply and demand issue. And I think that right now, there still are a lot of accountants out there, which is why I think it’s going to look more similar rather than less similar. But it’s, there’s, again, there’s still going to be a remote element. I think that that’s, you know, here to stay for the accounting profession. It may not be all remote, but I think there’s there now is a much greater acceptance of remote work, you know, even two or three days a week. I think that’s where we’re gonna end

Richard Rothstein 12:44
Cool. And finally, is there any advice you have for other firms that are looking to hire right now?

Steven Braunstein 12:52
I think you’ve just got to try everything. I think that’s been what I’m experiencing. And, and I think you never know where that next person is going to come from. And, you know, and that’s why we’re just we’re pushing to hire more entry-level staff accountants that we can find them because we feel like let’s get people in on the ground floor running. And, you know, just like myself and lots of my other partners, hopefully, it’s gonna stick and they’re gonna love the profession, and be my next partners.

Richard Rothstein 13:27
Sounds great. Awesome. Well, Steve, thank you so much for chatting with us today. It’s been truly enlightening what you guys are doing and it sounds like you’re really doing some great stuff. So thank you.

Steven Braunstein 13:39
Three Big thanks, Richard.

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