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Finance and Accounting Trends for Job Hoppers and Their Bosses

Key Takeaways

With whispers of “recession” and of ChatGPT taking over our jobs, what is the hiring outlook for accounting and finance professionals? Steve and Catherine ask Steve Saah of Robert Half about hiring trends, what bosses can do to hold on to top talent, and what job seekers should keep in mind.

Show notes:

Read some of the latest news from Robert Half on hiring trends in accounting and finance and more:

Season 4, Episode 15: Finance and Accounting Trends for Job Hoppers and Their Bosses | Transcript

Steve Saah: I think the most important thing for employers to take into consideration is what's really motivating that individual to potentially think about looking for a new job? 

Steve Soter: Hello, and welcome to Off the Books, where we surf the uncharted waters of accounting, finance, risk, and wherever else the waves take us. This episode is brought to you by Workiva, the one platform where financial reporting, ESG, audit, and risk teams can work together in world peace and harmony. My name is Steve Soter, accounting enthusiast and Diet Coke aficionado. I'm looking forward to debiting a great conversation, and I'm so happy to have you with us. I'm also, as always, very happy to have Catherine Tsai joining me. Catherine, can you introduce yourself for the fine folks at home? 

Catherine Tsai: I'm not an accountant or Diet Coke aficionado, but I like asking questions of smart people. So I'm here to do some of that. 

Steve Soter: Well, as many of us know, there was a ton of turnover among accounting, finance, and risk teams recently as these professionals chase better jobs, higher salaries, and even different careers altogether. However, the momentum seems to have slowed a little bit in light of current economic headwinds and layoff announcements. So we wanted to know how all of this was shaking out today right now for these accounting, finance, and risk professionals. 

Catherine Tsai: And I know just the person who can help us with that. Steve Saah is with Robert Half, which is a human resources consulting firm. He is the Executive Director of the Finance and Accounting Permanent Placement Practice at Robert Half. So thanks for coming to the show, Steve. 

Steve Saah: Thanks, Catherine, Steve. It's great to be on with both of you.

Steve Soter: Well, thank you again for joining us. So, Steve, tell us, what trends are you seeing for accounting and finance folks? Has the momentum really slowed down that I mentioned? Or are we maybe just not seeing it in light of everything else that's going on? 

Steve Saah: You know, Steve, I don't think it really has slowed down much despite what you might hear on the nightly news. I think the reality of it is there is still a supply and demand issue specifically when it comes to accounting and finance professionals. If you think just big picture, I think the labor participation rate has been declining for quite some time. You often hear about the number of baby boomers that are retiring and so forth. There are 10 million+ job open openings in the country right now. Unemployment remains at historically low levels. When you start thinking about the unemployment rate for college-educated professionals, it's under 2%. And then I think when you start narrowing it down even further to specialty areas like accounting and finance, the effective unemployment rate for those individuals in many, many cases in many markets across the country is probably less than 1%. So it still remains an incredibly competitive market. I think the other thing that we see in our business every single day is the individuals that decide to go out and look for new opportunities, they want to go out and interview: They are often receiving in a very, very quick fashion multiple offers from competing employers. So when you listen to the, as I said, when you listen to the nightly news, you hear a lot of verbiage around downturn, slowing economy. You hear a lot, particularly in recent weeks, about these large tech companies that are doing massive numbers of layoffs, but really when you get down to brass tacks about accounting and finance roles, the market is still very, very robust. There's a great demand out there, and I think a lot of finance professionals, accounting professionals that are in hiring positions are finding it still pretty choppy waters in terms of navigating how to go out and attract, retain people. 

Catherine Tsai: Hmm. That's a super low unemployment rate for accountants. 

Steve Soter: Well, note to Steve: update resume. I'm kidding. 

Catherine Tsai: Well, we were looking at some federal government data, and it was showing, at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that 30,000 accountants have left the profession in the last two years, and they're saying that's a 17% drop. So what is going on there? And either Steve, I think you probably both have insights there. 

Steve Saah: Well, I'll maybe start if that's OK, Steve. I would say that, you know, in general, you probably have a few things that are going on all at the same time. There's probably fewer and fewer people that are going into accounting. And so I think big picture, the profession really needs to start, certainly in high school, with increasing awareness about the career tracks and possibilities that exist within the accounting profession for individuals to try and drive more people to college to get a degree in accounting. That probably holds particularly true when you start thinking about the careers in audit and tax, coupled with the fact that in most states—I don't know if it's all states. I don't believe it's all states, but in most states you need 150 credits to be able to sit for the CPA exam, which often means another year of school. So you take that, and then you think about some of the other impacts, such as the stigma that exists with the long hours, the grueling busy season, and the connotations of tax season and so forth, you just have a lot of people that are pursuing other opportunities within the business sector in general outside of specifically accounting. 

Steve Soter: Yeah, it's interesting. I've got a nephew who is just getting ready to graduate with a degree in accounting. He is planning on getting a dual degree Master of Accountancy and Information Systems, which is actually what I did many years ago, and I guess now is kind of coming back in. But what's interesting to your point is that he looks at the opportunities available to him with just an accounting degree, and he's thinking about, OK, well, maybe I take an IT focus, or maybe I take a consulting focus or something that does not involve the grueling hours of a month-end close or quarterly reporting or SEC reporting and a lot of the risk that I think that comes along with that. You know, you don't need to look very far before a news story of somebody screwing something up and there's some kind of scandal or material weakness or a restatement. And just, again, thinking about him, it's such a different mindset from at least when I was going to school where you had to earn your stripes, as it were. You were going to endure the grueling hours of public accounting. And then if you were lucky, you're going to get an accounting manager job or something like that. It just doesn't seem like you need to—this is going to sound bad, and I don't mean it in a negative way to him or his generation—but you don't necessarily need to work that hard in order to get a decent, well-paying job but still have a really good quality of life almost right up from the get-go potentially. 

Steve Saah: Oh, that's a very, very good point. And I think he is a prime example of what many people who enter into college start to face when they transition from that sophomore year into their junior year and start thinking about declaring majors. And then you start putting pen to paper and you look at starting salaries for different types of roles that are out there, compounded with, again, if you're going to take that accounting track and you aspire to become a CPA, at some point in the back of your mind, you're thinking, "How am I going to ever get this done in four years and qualify to sit for the CPA exam?" So for most people in most states, that's going to result in some type of additional education, in most cases a fifth year. 

Catherine Tsai: Well, if you're a high school senior or maybe a freshman in college, how long do you think this hot job market for accounting and finance majors is going to last? 

Steve Saah: Well, you know, as I like to say, I'm not an economist. I don't have that crystal ball that we'd all absolutely love to have. But I think if you think big picture, just the laws of supply and demand and what we've seen in recent months and years, I would foresee that the demand is going to continue for quite some time, specifically to accounting and finance positions. But I'm not making a comment on the broad economy. But I do think that the demand for accounting and financial professionals is going to remain. There's just a huge disparity between the number of open positions and what companies are trying to hire for and the number of people. And probably if you go back to our earlier comments in the conversation we just had a second ago, that gap might actually start to get a little bit wider. 

Steve Soter: And I think, Catherine, just to build on that a little bit. I think if you're going to get more people at the top of the funnel, the output needs to be more interesting. And if you assume that a lot of that output is going to be, let's say, public accounting, which I'm not actually sure, Steve, maybe you know this. I'm not sure what percentage of accounting graduates actually go and work for a large firm either in audit and tax or consulting. But if you assume that that's probably a pretty big piece of pie that we could maybe do something with, I think the firms are actually in the process of really rethinking what that experience looks like. You know, the work-life balance, the flexibility because I would still argue that that is a fantastic place to begin your career. But I don't blame somebody for questioning, "Well, I don't know if I want to go into the top of the funnel because that big critical mass at the bottom of the funnel just doesn't look that great for me. And, again, I think I could do something just as interesting and make a decent amount of money and still have a great career." And I think the knock-on effect to that is going to be ultimately the cost of audits, the cost of tax compliance, the cost of consulting because if you assume there's less people or less labor hours that the firms are going to depend on to get that work done, well, that's only going to need to come from more people. How do we attract more people? We pay more money. We therefore pass that along to our clients. And, you know, you can kind of see the circular nature of how that's going to impact, I'd say, the broader marketplace. 

Steve Saah: I think you hit the nail right on the head, Steve, with your comment about you think the firms are starting to take that all into consideration and do something about it. I'd go maybe a step further and say if they haven't, they need to start. They absolutely have to address that issue because it's a very pervasive one. And I think they're all struggling with the same thing. Whether you're a small firm with one location and 10 plus or minus employees or whether you're one of the Big 4, they're all faced with the same challenges in this market. 

Steve Soter: Well, the demand for this conversation, I think, is still quite high, but we're going to take a very quick break and hear a brief message from our sponsor. We'll be right back. 

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Steve Soter: And we are back talking with Steve Saah from Robert Half. Catherine, I think you had a really interesting question about AI stuff. We always try to weave that in where we can. 

Catherine Tsai: We've talked a lot about the work-life balance. We've talked about software that helps make accounting work maybe less repetitive so that you can get to the fun part of accounting, like analyzing data versus just entering data. So with software taking over some of these tedious jobs, do you still see a demand for accountants out there? Is ChatGPT going to take people's jobs away? 

Steve Saah: Well, there's certainly a lot of a lot of talk about ChatGPT. And there's no question that I think it's evolving people's jobs. I don't know that it's necessarily going to ever eliminate people's jobs. So one of the things that I often find myself talking to clients and employers about is the aspect of retaining your current staff. And I think one of the things that employers really have to take into consideration is what does that career path look like, and what specifics do they have in place to think about how do you reskill people or upskill people? And so, to me, I think that those two concepts really go a long way to making the best use of the talent that you currently have existing within your organization. So the difference to me between them really lies in the ultimate end goal. And so upskilling really involves taking an employee's existing skill set so that they can continue to advance along their current career path. So think about a job that's evolving with advanced technologies, AI, etc, right? And so you give those individuals the ability to gain new skill sets. They can contribute more productively to their organization along the way, and they just continue along that career path. To your point, Catherine, and the question that you ask, I think reskilling is where you take your existing staff and teach them new skills so that they can move into different roles within the company. And so if you think about it, there's always a lot of institutional knowledge that comes with tenure. There's relationships that you build within the organization, and that reskilling can be a big key to helping firms retain their existing talent but still continue to utilize them. And that allows those individuals to grow and further their career probably into positions where they're making better incomes and so forth. And that's a win-win for everybody involved. So I don't know that ultimately all this talk about AI is going to eliminate jobs. I think it's just changing the types of jobs and the functions that people perform every single day. 

Steve Soter: You know, I think interestingly and perhaps ironically, I can understand somebody who would be freaked out about like, "look at this cool thing, and look at what it can do." But actually when you think about artificial intelligence, generally, at least today, that's automating parts of the jobs that nobody likes. And so, ironically enough, you may see that job satisfaction actually grow with the advent or the influence of artificial intelligence to where, hey, well, maybe accounting is not such a bad thing after all because now I have these cool tools, and I can do the things that I really want to do like the paper pushing and the monotonous, you know, all of that stuff. Nobody goes to school, accounting school especially, for that kind of thing. It's the interesting parts that in theory, perhaps AI and other tools, could actually help maybe unlock that to a greater degree, thus making people feel really good about their decision to practice in accounting. 

Steve Saah: Sure. Yeah. We started off talking about just the huge issues and hurdles that firms have when trying to attract talent, hire people in today's competitive market. I'd make a pretty strong argument that retaining them is just as important, if not more so. And if you think about that, your ability to retain those people and move them into other jobs because you have a very specific program in place to reskill people, there's a huge advantage there. I think that can go a long way to helping firms close some of those gaps in talent that they might have and experience over the coming years. 

Catherine Tsai: I wanted to throw a number out for you. The company PayScale, which makes AI-powered compensation software. They're saying the average base salary for certified public accountants is about $93,000. And of course, CFOs can make far beyond that. What sorts of trends are you seeing? Is that number in line with what you're seeing? 

Steve Saah: Well, I think big picture, that number does not seem unreasonable to me. I mean, if you look at our latest salary guide, which you can find on our website at, we have a number of positions that are listed there, and we show national averages for all the different positions that are available. We also have a calculator that allows you to go look at specific markets. So clearly there's huge disparities between a major market such as New York or San Francisco versus a smaller market in the middle of the country. That said, I think the one thing that I would say to everybody, no matter what market you're in, no matter what level position you're trying to hire for, there is absolutely no question that wage growth is continuing to be a huge, huge factor for employers. We do a biannual job optimism survey of more than 2,500 professionals. And one of the things that we found was, I believe the number was 61% said that a higher salary was the main reason that they were planning to look. Probably not surprisingly, 37% said that benefits and other perks were the second-largest consideration. I believe it was 36% indicated they wanted more flexibility to be able to choose when and where they work. So that combination of overall compensation, benefits, and flexibility are without question the thing that's probably driving most people to look for new jobs. There's a lot of other factors that go into it, but I think that those are things that we consistently hear across the country, no matter what market you're in. $93,000 doesn't seem out of—again, I'm not sure whether they're talking about a one-year person, a three-year person, or a five-year person. It's hard to say, but it's not unusual for salaries to be growing across the country. 

Steve Soter: Well, Steve, as we get ready to wrap up here, maybe just to build on that a little bit, you know, it feels like, to your point, at least anecdotally, my own experience and those of my peers have been in the past, it kind of felt like changing jobs was actually a really viable option for growing your career. You get a higher salary, more responsibility, generally take a bump in title along the way. But given everything that we've talked about about how hard it is to retain and the shortage, is that changing? So maybe an employee who says, "Hey, I'm looking for more money or a better title and more responsibility, but I really want to stay at the same company." If they're willing to maybe have that conversation with their employer, do you think then that that door is maybe opened more than it otherwise has been in the past, just given how hard it is to retain and attract accounting talent today? 

Steve Saah: I think it is. I think the most important thing for employers to take into consideration is what's really motivating that individual to potentially think about looking for a new job, and what level of frequency are you actually sitting down with your folks and having conversations about their careers and what's important to them? So while big picture, I mentioned compensation, benefits, flexibility, there are so many other factors that might be the most important thing to your one person. And it's really, really important in today's environment to realize that you can't just all of a sudden give everybody more money and think that everyone's going to be satisfied. One size does not fit all. And so it's really important to sit down with probably more regularity than once a year and have really honest heart-to-heart conversations with people about where they are in their careers, what they aspire to do, what are the things that are most important to them. And I think the firms out there that really take those things into consideration and realize that you're talking to an individual person and do everything that you can to try and accommodate them, they probably have the best likelihood of retaining their top talent. The other thing that we hear pretty consistently is corporate culture, where people have a true sense of belonging, where everyone can kind of connect with each other and feel as though they're just going to continue to thrive and grow in their careers. I think that has a huge impact to retention. So there's a lot of, really, thoughtfulness that has to go into what that process looks like. It can start at the top levels of an organization, but it permeates all the way down to the actual individual managers and what they do with their individuals as well as collectively with their entire teams. And so it really takes a lot of time and effort and thoughtfulness to put a good program in place to make sure that you're doing those things proactively on the front end rather than trying to scramble on the back end and retain someone when they've walked into your office and said here's my two weeks' notice. 

Catherine Tsai: Any advice for employees who might be looking to negotiate pay? 

Steve Saah: I would maybe take a little bit of a step back and say to individuals that you really have to think long and hard about why you're looking to leave, and what's most important to you in your next position? What is it that you really are looking for? The other thing is are you looking for your next job, or are you thinking about setting yourself up for a career, and what does that path look like? So if you think about the traditional accounting path and you say you want to become a controller or maybe a CFO, is the next job that you take the job that you're taking because it pays you more money—and I'm not discounting the impact and the importance of compensation—but is it really a job that's going to set you up to become a controller and put you on that path for a CFO role at some point down the road? So everybody has to really take a step back and ask themselves again, why are you potentially thinking of leaving? What could your current organization do to potentially address all of the things that are really most important to you and your life, your family, your career, or is there an opportunity outside of your organization that's going to afford you those things? But rather than just taking the best-paying job for the here and now, I really try and give people advice to look at the total compensation package, base salary, bonus, equity, cost of benefits, flexibility, whatever's most important to you. But also think about it from a career perspective, and is it setting you on the right path for not only the job that you want to do today but the career that you aspire to over the long run? 

Catherine Tsai: I appreciate that. And I hope you still have time to stick with us for a closing question of the day. Steve, do you want to ask it? 

Steve Soter: Well, so the question is, how would you badly explain your job? And let me give you an example. So, you know, I used to be in accounting. Now, I'm not in accounting, but I talk a lot about accounting all day. So no offense to the teachers out there, but what do they say? If you can't do, you teach. Maybe that applies to me. If I can't do accounting, then I just try to sound smart and talk about accounting anyway. And that might be a weird question, Steve. So, you know, do with it what you can. 

Steve Saah: Well, interestingly enough, Steve, your description wasn't far off from what I would probably say. I started out in accounting. I was an internal auditor for a number of years. I then went on to become an assistant controller. And then when I moved back to the D.C. metro area, I went to Robert Half to actually ask for their help in finding a new position. Long story short, they asked if I was interested in pursuing a career with Robert Half. I ended up joining the firm, and I've been there for 25 years. And so today, very similar to what you said, I actually get to talk about accounting all day long, but I'm not sitting behind the desk, closing the books, going through the audit process, or things like that. And so it's really interesting because I get to utilize that background and experience every single day, talking with clients and candidates and our internal teams really around the entire country about what we're seeing in the market, how to best give our clients a competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent in the competitive market that we've been discussing over the last half an hour or so. 

Steve Soter: Well, as I always say, it turns out it's a lot easier to talk about accounting than actually do accounting. 

Steve Saah: Sure is! 

Steve Soter: Catherine, how about you?

Catherine Tsai: I thought one of you was going to say you spend all day in the sheets? In the spreadsheets. I don't know if that's inappropriate. OK. So my job badly described would be I string letters together in sequence, and then I put it on public display for everyone to comment and say whatever they want to about it. 

Steve Soter: Very well put. Very well put, Catherine. Well, Steve Saah from Robert Half, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. This has been a great conversation. 

Steve Saah: It's great to be with both of you. And I look forward to seeing this podcast as well as many others in the future.

Catherine Tsai: Thank you.

Steve Soter: And thank you, dear listener, for surfing along with us. I'm Steve Soter. That was Catherine Tsai, and this has been Off the Books presented by Workiva. Please subscribe, leave a review, and tell your buddies if you like the show. If you're watching this on YouTube, please drop us a note in the comments. Tell us what you think. Or if you're old school like me, please drop us a line at through email. Surf's up, and we will see you on the next wave. 


Off the Books Season 4, Episode 15: Finance and Accounting Trends for Job Hoppers and Their Bosses


26 minutes


Steve Soter, Catherine Tsai, Steve Saah

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