In Pursuit of Profit
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“Start with the core of the onion.” This is a mantra I use when talking to hiring managers about who they want for their job opening. This means starting with their most ideal candidate and working through different profiles. Most hiring managers are looking for either the next “up and comer” or someone who is established and has a solid 20 years left in the tank. As we work through candidate profiles, inevitably the recommendation is to always hire the person who can add the most value in the position.
In the world of non-executive accounting and finance recruiting, the ‘core of the onion’ answer is never “I’d love someone who is late in their career.” There is often a stigma attached to late-career candidates that is uneducated at best, and at worst tantamount to ageism. But late-career candidates should be considered equally with all other candidates. Understanding why first starts with thinking about a professional’s career trajectory.
Professional careers can generally be broken into three stages. If the average career is about 40 years you can think about each third as roughly a 13-year period. Being aware of these stages helps to understand their unique direction, motivation, and mindset in evaluating their fit for any position.
Candidates in the first third of their career span college graduates through to their first one or two manager-level positions. People in this stage are very much still working on the building blocks of their profession, and it’s likely their career trajectory is still somewhat uncertain. Given this, they are usually more highly money motivated than more experienced candidates as they have not yet realized their earning potential. They can possess a very driven mindset as they may have ample time and energy to work without any family obligations yet. Furthermore, these candidates can be a blank slate.
The public accounting model is one example of a large hiring force who has realized and taken advantage of the first third candidate type for decades.
Candidates in the second third of their career span many titles and levels within organizations. One thing they have in common is they know pretty well what path they’re on, though they have likely not realized their full potential and are still perfecting their craft. These professionals have likely made a handful of job changes already, have experienced the rigors of the professional world, and know where they want to top out. People in this mid-career stage are usually most motivated by opportunity to learn, grow and realize their potential. Though they very likely have not yet topped out their compensation potential, they’re probably comfortable enough not to chase money. (Let’s just say they’re not regularly eating top ramen and living with three roommates anymore.) Mid-career candidates are very highly productive because this is usually when people start families. They have extra motivation to succeed and are usually hunkered down and building for their future.
Candidates in the last third of their career also span many titles and levels within their organization (in fact, likely more than candidates in the mid-career stage group). These professionals know very well who and what they are, whether they’re a Billing Specialist, a Senior Accountant, or a Corporate Controller. They are comfortable in their own skin and know their strengths and weaknesses inside and out. Having lived a lot of life, usually they’ve realized that adding value to any situation is most important to them. This means late-career candidates are driven to be in an environment they want to be while sacrificing some things that were important to them earlier in their career, not devoting their precious energy in an environment that doesn’t suit them.
Why Consider Late-Career Candidates?
There are many reasons to prefer an early or mid-career candidate, none of which are covered here, and each are legitimate and unarguable. But for anyone who has roundly refused to consider late-career candidates, it is helpful to consider the current labor situation. If you’ve tried hiring in the last two years you’ve likely experienced demand being much greater than supply. There were a record number of job openings in April of 2021 (3.9 million) and by August of 2021 the number of available jobs outpaced the number of unemployed American workers by around 1 million!
Accounting and Finance is uniquely affected. Throughout the pandemic, the Finance sector had the lowest unemployment rate of any sector in the US at 3.2%, compared to the overall 5.3% rate. This gap is not predicted to close any time soon, either. The same data tells us that jobs like Controller are predicted to grow twice as fast as the average profession. Moreover, Alex de Soto, a Partner and Executive Recruiter at CFO Selections, explains that there has been a sharp decline in the number of people obtaining accounting degrees between 1998-2008. This means there are simply fewer candidates who are in their mid-career stage in the market currently.
If you’re a company looking to hire in Accounting and Finance, it’s hard not to think of yours as just another one of those 3.9 million job openings: hiring in the sector with the lowest unemployment in the nation and in a sector that will only get tougher over the next decade. It likely would not hurt to set your hiring standards apart from your millions of other competitors. It can help to look back at what motivates the “core of the onion” candidates you’re seeking. If you cannot compete with your competitors at the top level on total compensation or growth opportunity, it’s time to consider late-career candidates.
Remember, a candidate in the last third of their career is likely a subject matter expert. Review the candidate’s resume for a group of responsibilities and skills that show a pattern of specializing in an area that is meaningful to you. In addition, late-career candidates often have much more lived experience and bring much needed perspective, patience, and gained wisdom to many situations, whether in a manager role or as an individual contributor. Lastly, with so much emphasis on the value of DEI these days, we’d be remiss not to mention that their lived experience means late-career candidates can be considered diversity candidates as well.
Late-Career Hiring Myths
While we’re addressing confronting ageism, we’d be remiss if we didn’t cover some common objections to hiring a late-career candidate:
Not every late-career candidate is right for you. Whether you’ve never realized an existing unconscious bias against late-career candidates or understand that it’s time to change your hiring practices given the tight job market, there are great reasons to strongly consider this large pool of extremely talented candidates.
Now, the hiring process these days isn’t easy no matter who you’re looking to hire. As always, people are people and there will be nuanced differences in working with any candidate at any stage. But a good accounting recruiter can help you navigate your concerns in considering a late-career candidate. If you need help hiring an accounting or finance role, please contact us today! Having worked with and gotten many hired in this tough market, we’d love to have that conversation with you.
About the Author
Quinn Finnigan - Recruiting Services Leader
Quinn is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in Tacoma and Lakewood. Having lived and traveled all over the world with stints in Portland, OR, Salzburg, Austria and Maui, HI, he returned to his roots in 2008 and now lives with his wife and two children in Issaquah.
A proud alumnus of The University of Portland, he received his undergraduate degree in Accounting and began his career at Deloitte in the audit practice for three years prior to taking a “quarter-life crisis” break to live and play in Maui. After a year of fun and soul searching (surfing and sailing) he returned to his accounting roots and for the next seven years grew professionally in corporate accounting and finance working for the Seattle Seahawks and Amazon.
Quinn actively sought out the recruiting industry in 2015 seeking to redefine his definition of career success and has been serving Puget Sound based middle market companies helping them fill Accounting and Finance positions through contingent placements for over five years. Having found his passion and expertise, he greatly enjoys serving Pacific Northwest based organizations with ASP and CFO Selections.