A woman holding a pen. Aston Carter Recruitment Articles.

Article

Learn the Ropes for Accounting Hires in Education and Universities

Throughout our thought leadership series of insights on finance and accounting hiring practices, we’ve examined how various industries are approaching staffing in a labor market that has fewer available candidates than at any point in recent memory.

If our continued exploration of accounting hiring practices in multiple sectors has taught us one overarching lesson, it’s that industry-specific revenue models beget specialized skillset requirements for available candidates, further narrowing an already thin labor pool.

This is as much the case for universities and other educational organizations in the non-profit sector as it is in for-profit industries.

To find out more about how educational institutions have approached finance and accounting hiring, we asked Aston Carter Business Development Manager Connor Faust, whose experience in this sector has centered on candidate placement in the bustling Washington, DC market.

Compliance and Audit Skills Are Key

As is the case in other non-profits, prior compliance experience is the common denominator of basic skillsets for finance and accounting candidates.

“A majority of financial analyst openings in education require some sort of an audit background, specifically with OMB A-133, whether that's from a big four firm or non-profit work,” says Faust. “That type of audit experience is important in candidates because of the sector’s government-, grant- and donor-based funding structure.”

The possibility of hiring candidates with an auditing firm background, as opposed to specifically in-house experience within the non-profit sector, is one area where educational institutions may be a little more flexible in their hiring profiles than other mission-based organizations.

Factoring Tuition Reimbursement into Total Compensation Packages

Due to overall low unemployment, available finance and accounting talent is as scarce in education as it is in other sectors, with many of the same patterns emerging in the staffing process.

For example, since limited labor availability necessitates passive candidate recruitment, universities have to position themselves as a favorable work environment and remain competitive in how they compensate employees. Being unable to provide compensation packages that can compete with the private sector has been a sticking point for educators – due to their non-profit revenue structure, competing on a pure salary basis is nearly impossible.

Fortunately, they can offer something other organizations can’t. Tuition reimbursement.

It’s a big selling point, especially considering the ballooning cost of higher education. “The ideal candidate has to be interested in getting a further education, for themselves or a family member,” says Faust. “The tuition piece of the total compensation package is frankly the only way for top accounting candidates to earn their full market value from an educational institution.”

Hire Slow, But Staff Fast

The hiring processes for organizations in the education sector are often as beholden to compliance issues – and a decentralized governance structure – as their finances are.

That means universities can’t always increase hiring speed in the same manner as real estate, streamline onboarding like a bank or be as flexible on prior candidate experience as a pharmaceutical company.

Instead, university system candidates often must proceed through a rigorous (and often labyrinthine) human resources protocol, be vetted through a hard-coded system of requirements and/or receive irregular onboarding depending on fluctuating resourcing availability. Even a more “quick fix” version of the hiring process, through third-party vendors, requires a procurement process, especially in the case of public institutions.

“It's usually agreed upon between myself and the university that it's going to take two, three, sometimes even four to six months to find somebody and get them totally on board and through the process,” says Faust.

But staffing an open position doesn’t have to take as long as hiring the right candidate.

“We see success in placing temps while a position is open or being worked on by an internal recruiter,” says Faust. “Often that temp can end up doing a great job and earn consideration for the full-time position.”

Targeting Skills and Experience Specialized to Multiple Departments

While the postcards sent in the mail to teenagers may present a unified front – with imagery that repeatedly features a single, iconic clock tower – in practice, universities are often comprised of a sprawling and interlocking system of divisions such as schools, departments, and research centers.

And each has its own specialized accounting requirements.

“The toughest thing about partnering with a university on hiring is figuring out which department requires which specific skillset,” says Faust. “You try to talk to as many directors as possible to get a feel for it, but often it comes down to the law of averages, where if the university is really good at one thing, for example medicine, that means a lot of the finance and accounting with the university is going to be tied into that area of focus.”

If staffing firms are basing their strategy on the law of averages to find the right accounting and finance talent for any given academic or practice group department, it stands to reason that the universities they service could benefit from doing the same.

How?

By pursuing partnerships with recruiting vendors who have an extensive knowledge of the hiring environment for the sub-specialties represented by each department’s needs, such as in engineering, health care, non-profit, technology, and many more.

If your institution could benefit from a free conversation about specialized labor markets within finance and accounting, contact Aston Carter now to find out how best to find available talent that matches your needs.

Related Articles