I believe one of the most underrated and unappreciated positions in the small $1 to $3 million business is the company bookkeeper.
I’m not talking about the receptionist or office manager who has been handed basic accounting chores. I’m talking about someone who is fully dedicated to this role, has at least 12 hours in accounting from an accredited college, and preferably holds some type of certification (I recommend the certification from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers).
Unfortunately, this position is hard to fill because finding the right person with the right credentials is difficult, especially in a small town. That generally means inaccurate financial data leading to financial ignorance instead of financial intelligence for owners of these businesses.
When a client once asked me to lead the effort in hiring a new bookkeeper, I realized I needed to put my money where my mouth was. That’s because I’ve been extolling the benefits of Topgrading for years and several of my clients are fully on board with Topgrading practices. So my client and I decided upon an onboarding process consistent with the teachings from Topgrading.
Step 1 – Create Great Copy
Okay, so I’ve read The Elements of Style several times from my old college days. I’ve read Ernest Hemingway on Writing. Add On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King to the list.
But I’m a finance guy, not a writer, and since I cannot write, I decided to be different.
I did not want to be funny. But I wanted to be bold and engaging. Exciting? No, that would be too over-the-top. Just different and far from boring. Here was my final version:
Want to bring your accounting A-game to a super awesome place to work where we make the decor of other businesses more beautiful?
We want a superstar accountant that can strut their stuff in AR, AP, sales taxes, job costing, and treasury management. No, we don’t do payroll in-house (you’re welcome), but you will need to oversee the process. In this job, you’ll move small pebbles and big boulders. That’s just a clever way of saying you’ll be responsible for data entry, but also important analytical stuff too.
We’re incredibly spectacular in financial reporting and closing out the financials within five business days – yep, you’ll oversee that process too. Did we mention Excel? We prefer rock-star status, but if you’re not there, our brilliant CFO will help you to get there. Oracle, SAP, JD Edwards, MS Dynamics – hey, those systems are pretty okay, but we get by with Peachtree and a really cool job costing program. If you are a QuickBooks junkie, there’s hope for you yet, but those skills are transferable (and you’ll eventually see the light).
Intrigued? You better be. If so, send us your job history which lists every position you’ve worked at in the past and current employers and show your salary levels along the way. And if you are one of the lucky ones we choose from the thousands of responses we receive from around the globe, we’ll give you a call.
I think the above content worked. At least three candidates I spoke with said they really liked the ad, and it made them want to learn more.
Since I was doing this project for a client, I wanted to remain anonymous, so I created a generic Gmail account. That took maybe 5 minutes at the most.
I knew I would want to conduct a verbal test for candidates making it to the third interview. I started to create my own, but decided to use one that the AIPB provided me.
Step 3 – The Phone Interviews
Unlike one of my clients receiving some 120 resumes for an accounting manager position, we received seven responses. Before marketing the position in a local paper, we tried networking, but we struck out. So we chose the conventional route by running a help wanted ad in the local paper and posting on one job board.
We also communicated the open position to a placement officer at a local college. As I received responses in my new GMail account, I called each candidate and spoke with each person for about 20 minutes.
I learned as much as I could about their backgrounds and paid careful attention to how they communicated. If I liked them, they qualified for interview number two – coffee with the owners.
Step 4 – The Laid-Back Discussion with the Owner and His Wife
These owners are gems. So we decided to capitalize on their warm and engaging personalities. We thought a face-to-face meeting in a comfortable setting would be ideal and Panera Bread became the benefactors of those meetings.
About half the applicants made it to round number two. The objective was to determine if the candidate would be a cultural fit in the organization. Ahead of time, each applicant completed a DiSC profile, and the results were discussed during that meeting. If the owners liked the candidate, they performed a background check on the applicant using a third party service, and in one particular case, that turned out to be very helpful.
Two candidates wound up making it to round three.
Step 5 – The Bookkeeping Test
I like seeing people sweat. So instead of e-mailing the test, I conducted the exam through a GoToMeeting. They could read the test on my screen remotely, and they had to answer on the teleconference. This gave me the opportunity to observe the candidates in problem-solving mode and performing under pressure.
The test was hard. Both candidates’ scores ranged from 60 to 70 percent. However, I only selected one person for the final round of interviews.
Step 6 – The Gauntlet
I think every company should employ a gauntlet-like process for new positions, especially for senior-level key roles. In this case, we had our sole candidate spend 5 to 10 minutes with each department head. We gave the department heads a list of questions to consider asking, but we coached them to be natural. In the end, everyone gave a thumbs up. This person was ultimately hired and she is someone we truly value in our organization.
Hiring is hard. The path of least resistance is to hire quickly. That’s because there’s a need requiring immediate attention. Performing thorough due diligence takes time, and that means more work for the person currently doing double-duty by performing the bookkeeping position while keeping current with their normal duties.
Even when we were certain we had our candidate, we still graded every single applicant, even if they did not make it to round three. Each candidate was graded on eight different attributes on a scale from one to 10. Besides the two majority owners and myself, three other minority owners participated in the grading process too.
We spent close to 3 days going over the results. Ultimately, we selected the person who made it through the gauntlet.
Bottom line, there were no shortcuts taken–well almost, but we stayed the course.
The owners liked this process so much, we have rolled it out with some tweaks for our other new hires, and we’ll continue to make the process better along the way.
In the meantime, I’m not quitting my day job. I’ll let someone else write the copy for future help wanted positions.
Header Photo by Sari Gordon.