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2008 Hiring and Salary Trends

No matter where the overall economy is headed, the outlook for accounting and finance professionals remains bright as 2008 gets underway.

January 17, 2008
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

While debate continues regarding the economy's direction and its potential effect on consumers and businesses, accounting and finance professionals are expected to remain in demand during 2008. According to the 2008 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, starting salaries for these practitioners are expected to increase an average of 4.3 percent this year. Positions that will see the greatest increases include public accountants, financial analysts and internal auditors.

In public accounting, salaries are projected to rise as much as 7.7 percent, while starting salaries for financial analysts are expected to increase up to 7.9 percent. Internal auditors could see gains as high as 6.7 percent.

Supply is short at the staff and senior levels, and employers are hiring skilled financial professionals on both a full-time and consulting basis to ensure their ability to support growth efforts and ongoing compliance initiatives. The market remains competitive for those with skills needed for in-demand positions such as staff and senior accountant, internal auditor and financial analyst.

Employers Expand Strategies to Recruit Top Talent

Employers continue to enhance recruitment strategies as they compete for the most sought-after candidates. Popular tactics include signing bonuses, incentive compensation, tuition reimbursement, generous vacation days and equity incentives.

Although most companies realize they need to put a solid offer on the table in a timely manner once they locate ideal candidates, they are still taking time to employ prudent measures such as effective reference checks. One tactic some companies are using to help determine whether or not an employee will be a good fit in the long term is to employ him or her on a temporary-to-full-time basis.

To attract young professionals, public accounting firms are raising their visibility on campuses by offering internships in the hopes of getting early employment commitments from top-ranked students. Some Big Four public accounting firms have even created special marketing campaigns to reach Generation Y, which includes those born between 1978 and 1990. Firms are also instituting flexible work arrangements, career guidance and continuous learning to help newer talent widen their career paths.

Skills in Demand

Individuals with industry-recognized credentials can earn up to an additional 10 percent in starting salary, according to the 2008 Salary Guide. The top credential is the certified public accountant (CPA), and the most highly sought CPAs have at least three years of experience. General accounting functions, such as general ledger, account reconciliation, financial statement preparation and financial analysis are also valuable.

Hiring companies need candidates with knowledge of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). A master of business administration (MBA) from a top-ranked school continues to hold value, particularly on Wall Street. In the banking and financial services sector, a Series 7 license is still a requirement for many positions. The chartered financial analyst (CFA) is also an in-demand credential. Large companies are seeking out candidates with foreign language and international business experience.

Technology skills are also a key attribute for employers. Knowledge of enterprise resource planning applications as well as advanced use of Microsoft Excel, Hyperion and Microsoft Access are highly-desirable. Industry-specific software applications such as Timberline, Yardi and MRI are important for jobs in construction, commercial real estate and property management, respectively. In the banking and financial service industry, proficiency in commercial banking software such as Loan IQ and ACBS, as well as Microsoft Excel, will help a candidate’s resume climb to the top of the pile.

As ever, employers also want professionals who have good interpersonal and communication skills, as well as stable employment histories that reflect increased responsibilities over time. For workers just starting out, potential employers pay attention to internship experience and solid references.

Positions in Demand

What positions are the most sought after? For core accounting tasks such as maintaining general ledger systems and analyzing and preparing financial statements, companies need staff and senior level accountants, particularly CPAs. Controllers and assistant controllers are being hired for both interim and full-time positions to oversee accounting operations. And as companies experience revenue growth and reinvest their money into their business, financial analysts are needed to help forecast, budget and monitor business results.

Other positions in demand include internal auditors, who are needed for both compliance-related activities and operational audits. Valuable credentials for auditors include the certified internal auditor (CIA) and certificated information systems auditor (CISA). With tax as a year-round endeavor, public accounting and private industry have experienced an increased demand for tax specialists. Companies are also enhancing their accounts payable and receivable staff, looking in particular for high-volume accounts payable processing experience.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 350 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.