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Accounting and Finance Hiring for Distribution Companies: Fitting the Profile

Throughout our thought leadership series of insights on approaches to finance and accounting hiring, experts in numerous fields have weighed in on the varying ways each industry has had to alter its strategy to keep up with a staffing environment that’s faced with overcoming record deficits of available labor.

For insight into how distributors have been dealing with the finance and accounting hiring crunch, we spoke with Aston Carter Account Manager Clint Utz. Drawing on six years of experience placing finance and accounting talent in this sector, Utz knows how to get hiring managers at distribution firms from point A to point B.

According to him, succeeding in a tight labor market means targeting candidates with specialized skill profiles who are open to changes in scenery.

A Basic Revenue Model

The finance and accounting roles for which distribution firms hire — from transactional, through operational roles dealing with inventory, purchasing or cost… even for highly specialized roles based on understanding Systems Applications and Products (SAP) implementation or state and local tax infrastructure — all address the same basic question: how much will it cost to move?

Knowing the answer to that question is a skill that can transfer from other industries.

“The basic principles of distribution accounting and finance also apply almost anywhere else,” says Utz. “So an accounts payable clerk for a manufacturer, or an accountant from a tech firm, could be hired into a distribution company without feeling lost.”

But while the basic revenue model of distribution allows for the extension of the available labor pool to candidates with experience in other industries with readily transferable skills, that doesn’t mean that any accounting candidate for a distribution firm is an equally perfect fit.

Evolving More Specialized Skills

As the war for finance and accounting talent intensifies across all industries, it only makes sense for candidates to develop specialized skills that maximize their value in the job market.

This increasing specialization has been a growing trend among the overall labor pool, and it’s even the case in distribution, where the basic revenue model of moving inventory from place to place hasn’t changed much since the invention of the interstate highway.

With regard to specializations within distribution, says Utz, “It’s all about where you’re sending the inventory, whether that’s direct to customers or to intermediary companies, how you’re tracking that inventory and what enterprise resource planning system you’re using and how you value the cost of goods sold, whether that’s through FIFO [first in, first out], LIFO [last in, first out], or weighted average cost accounting.”

The distinctions between these skills matter much more to distribution firm hiring managers than the industry where any given candidate developed them.

Asking The Right Questions And Knowing The Right People

How do distribution firms approach hiring in a low-unemployment landscape in which a broad array of finance and accounting candidate backgrounds could fulfill the basic requirements of a given role, but not all candidates should be hired due to the increasing specialization of skills and knowledge?

Very carefully.

Doing extra work on the front end of every placement has emerged as a best practice for distribution firm managers to follow.

Successful placements are more likely to occur when requirements are well qualified by asking the right questions, and the resulting search leverages pre-built labor market knowledge in multiple industries where those requirements may appear.

“With the labor market being as tight as it is, you can't just put out a job description, no matter how perfect it is,” says Utz. “The qualities you most need in a candidate only come out in meetings and phone calls, by asking great questions up front and then having a ton of face-to-face contact within the market.”

And once requirements for a given position are well qualified, the hard part begins.

Says Utz, “Any specialized requirements that would narrow the candidate pool will have a multiplier effect on the energy needed to find the right employee,” says Utz. “I end up looking for candidates with relevant experience in any company, in any sector, that’s engaged in significant supply chain activity.”

Building Momentum On Success

Once a trusted partnership with a staffing partner has been established through a few successful placements, distribution firm hiring managers start to see real returns.

In today’s competitive finance and accounting labor environment, the most proactive approach to hiring involves building more consultative and exclusive relationships with trusted staffing partners, and leveraging them to snatch talent off the market as it becomes available.

“My favorite question to ask,” says Utz, “is, ‘‘What skills and experience profile would you be mad at me if I ran across in an available candidate and didn't immediately call you?’ If I get a solid answer, I know I’ve developed a partnership with a great chance for success.”

Only when distributors have developed proactive strategies for finance and accounting staffing can they approach hiring decisions with the degree of confidence demanded by the current labor market.

If you’re ready to build a relationship with a staffing partner who thoroughly understands your own specific labor market, contact Aston Carter now for a free conversation.

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