Hiring Accountants Beyond Credentials: Hartley’s Scrappers and Silver Spoons

A hypothetical situation for you…..

Imagine you’ve just opened up a Financial Accounting vacancy. You’ve got in your mind the type of person you want: Practice trained, preferably top 10/Big 4, ideally with first-time passes and hopefully 1-2 years PQE. Sure, there’s things you may be flexible on, but you know you want someone with a good pedigree of training, solid academics and names you can trust on their CV. Sound familiar?

Let’s keep going. You pour through the applications and pick your interview selection – all top 20 qualified, 2:1 or above in their degree and a selection of PQE levels. You feel you are on the right track. You meet them, are impressed with how they present, their education, their professionalism and you hire the one you like best – and she has first time passes. You feel you have the best person and are more than happy with your decision and indeed the process.

Soon, this person starts. All is going well, great enthusiasm levels and a super professional demeanour. Strong technical ability, and a few great ideas of what you need to do to strengthen some of your accounting controls. Smiling from ear-to-ear.

But then, after a few months, you realise that actually, as a small enough business, you need someone who can also cover reception when needed, and print out a few sales invoices when the Accounts Assistant is busy. And then there’s that process issue with the billing system, and… a backlog of data entry that needs to be resolved before month end…

You ask your new hire to get involved. They do, but you sense a reluctance there, which after a few weeks, or months, evolves into resistance and thoughts that maybe this role is not for me…..12 months in they move on for pastures new and you begin the hiring process all over again. Practice trained, preferably top 10/Big 4, ideally with first-time passes and hopefully 1-2 years PQE…….

Hartley’s silver spoons and scrappers

It may not surprise you to hear me say that situations like this are as much the hiring manger’s fault as the Accountant’s. Consciously or subconsciously, we all place value on and trust in education, credentials and qualifications. But these credentials can blind us to someone’s capability to perform the job we need them to, and don’t necessarily equate to ‘real world’ experience.

It’s this dilemma that Regina Hartley refers to in her excellent TED Talk “Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume”. In this she argues that ‘scrappers’, or the person you might not instinctively hire because they don’t have the credentials of a ‘silver spoon’, are often characterised by a difference in fundamental beliefs. Hartley argues that the ‘scrapper’, or the person who has experienced early hardship or difficulty that may be reflected in lower educational results or inconsistencies in career history, is often propelled by the belief that they own their own destiny. Scrappers ask “what can I do differently” and are more inclined to take tasks that are ‘beneath them’ or challenging in their stride.

Education vs experience

Don’t get me wrong. I am not for one second suggesting that all highly educated accountants are not worthy of being hired, are all suffering from a dose of too much privilege, or have never been through hardship. Far from it. The point is that sometimes, the right person for the job, is not the one we imagine it to be, and that sometimes, that person is not the one with all the credentials.

Hire for attitude, and be prepared to break convention.

The takeaway here is to be conscious of your thought process around hiring – to ensure that whilst screening people for technical competencies, and academic capability, you also properly hire for attitude. Highly educated people create strong first impressions, but ensure you’re really assessing behavioural competencies, and fundamental character drivers. Consider the fact that people who demonstrate consistent high performance and track records have rarely failed, which can mean their tolerance for failure might be lower, and even more worryingly, their natural inclination may be to only take on projects they know they can succeed at, never tackling the ones that require failure before success…

When hiring the next time be sure to ask your recruiter for a “wild card” – someone that does not meet the strict education/training background but whom your recruitment partner has met and feels could be an a real asset and fit to your team.

Your ‘wildcard’ might just be the one who makes the biggest commercial impact. …..

Watch: Regina Hartley: Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume here.

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