The City of London - recruitment lessons to be learned here.

Lessons we can learn from the large accountancy firms

An old friend of mine started a new job about 6 months ago.  He’s an experienced accountant, and very good at his job – according to him, anyway.*  In order to protect his identity, I’m going to call him Joe, which is not his real name.  We met up the other day for the first time in ages, and Joe told me his tale.

You’re no doubt aware that accountants have a reputation for being quite boring,** and Joe is a typical accountant in many ways.  But his story interested me.

Early in 2016 Joe decided to look for a new job, finally caving in after being hounded for months by remorseless recruitment agents.  Also, he was relocating.  He scheduled and attended a few interviews, sat a few tests, and ended up focusing on two opportunities in particular.  Both were with large accountancy practices, for senior roles just below partner level.  (I’ll call them companies A and B, which are not their real names either.)

Joe didn’t go into much detail about what he needed to do to prepare for the interviews, or what the formats were, or who was there.  None of that stuff really mattered.

Much more significant to him was how his interview experiences made him feel.  Bear in mind that both of these firms are large global players, with (supposedly) well-defined interview processes and HR involvement at every stage.  But the attitude of his interviewers couldn’t have been more different.

Here’s a comparison.

Company A interview

Joe arrived on time, but the interviewers were late.  And one of them didn’t show up at all, so the interview was led by someone less senior, who (it turns out) didn’t actually have the authority to make a job offer.  Joe wasn’t offered a drink, and a meeting room hadn’t been reserved for the interview, so they had to wander around for a few minutes to find a space to talk.

The lead interviewer wasn’t prepared and she appeared to be reading Joe’s cv for the first time.  She didn’t attempt to sell the benefits of working for the firm, and didn’t follow a logical interview structure.

All in all, it was uninspiring, and Joe was unimpressed.

Company B interview

A complete contrast.  The interviewers were ready, the room was booked, and the interview made sense.  They discussed the results of the psychometric assessments, and talked about what might happen if Joe took the job.  They showed a real interest in him, and they introduced him to a couple of potential co-workers while on a brief tour of the office.

Joe left this interview full of enthusiasm, able to imagine himself working there, and wanting the job.

Offer – acceptance – start

Maybe you can predict what happened next.  Within a matter of days Joe had accepted an offer from Company B, and was composing his resignation letter.  He was very happy.

A week or so later he heard back from Company A, who were interested but needed to see him again, because the recruiting partner had missed the interview.  But it was too little, too late, of course.


Perhaps the most instructive aspect of this whole affair is what happened a few months later.  Just before Christmas my old friend Joe received a call from the same recruiter who had put him forward the first time around, for the job at Company A.

Guess what?  Company A had heard that he’s doing rather well in his new job and they wanted to try again.  But it was too little and too late, once again.

Joe has heard that this particular team in Company A have a reputation for losing staff.  And given their interview style, I’m not at all surprised that their approach to the management and retention of staff might also need improvement.

The moral

He moral of this story is that the recruitment and interview process is crucial if you want to grow a solid team.  First impressions count, of course, but so do subsequent impressions.  And the way in which an organisation approaches recruitment gives you a good general idea of how they manage their existing workforce.

Learn from Company A’s experience, and treat all potential employees professionally and with respect.  Give prompt feedback, sell the benefits of working for your company, and be especially nice to them if you think that they are any good.

Finally – if you see someone you like – don’t hang about!  You snooze, you lose.


* He actually has an excellent reputation in his field.

** I should know; I am one!

Picture: By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons