Human Capital & Careers

Finance Chiefs to Hire a Few More Staffers

But while CFO's expect to add a tad more finance employees in second quarter, CIOs see big gains, poll finds.
Stephen TaubFebruary 27, 2002

The folks who are in charge of Corporate America’s books are becoming a bit more optimistic. A bit.

Chief financial officers say they’ll increase hiring in the finance department in the second quarter of 2002 compared with the first quarter, according to the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index.

We’re not talking a staffing binge, mind you. Only 7 percent of CFOs in the survey said their businesses plan to add accounting and finance personnel. Conversely, 3 percent expect to cut their staffs. But the net 4 percent increase is up 1 percentage point from the previous quarter’s forecast. These days, that passes for good news.

Almost 86 percent of executives in the Robert Half Index anticipate no change in hiring activity. The national poll includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees in a wide variety of industries. “The financial hiring outlook remains conservative,” says Max Messmer, CEO of Robert Half International. “While there are signs of increased optimism among many businesses, the majority of companies appear to be maintaining existing personnel levels pending more definitive signs of economic recovery and business growth.”

According to the survey, finance managers in the east north central states are most optimistic. Eight percent of CFOs in that region plan to expand their accounting and finance departments, and none anticipate reductions. “Companies in the east north central region that operated with reduced staff over the past year are beginning to invest in additional personnel,” notes Messmer. “As a result, there is heightened demand for accounting professionals at all levels.”

CFOs in the Mid-Atlantic region also anticipate employment gains in the second quarter. Ten percent of executives plan to add accounting and finance staff; 4 percent expect to cut personnel. Most in demand among companies in these states: junior- and staff-level accounting and finance professionals, particularly senior accountants, financial analysts, and—no surprise—accounts receivable specialists.

On an industry basis, CFOs in the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors are most optimistic about hiring activity in the second quarter, according to the survey. Nearly 30 percent of executives in these industries plan to expand their accounting and finance departments, while 8 percent foresee staff cutbacks. That makes for a net hiring increase of 21 percent. “Low interest rates and an active real estate market in many areas of the country are creating a need for additional accounting personnel in businesses that support this industry,” notes Messmer.

The hiring of financial managers and accountants in the retail and wholesale industries should also exceed the national average, according to the survey. CFOs in both industries anticipate a net 7 percent increase in the hiring of such personnel.

Overall, financial executives in the manufacturing sector project a net 5 percent increase in hiring. That’s slightly above the national average.

CIOs More Upbeat

While CFOs expect to fill positions gradually, CIOs say they’ll be doing substantially more hiring.

Chief information officers anticipate a net 10 percent increase in the hiring of information technology (IT) professionals in the second quarter of 2002, according to Robert Half International Consulting’s Information Technology Hiring Index. Fourteen percent of executives surveyed plan to expand their IT departments and 4 percent expect staff reductions. Still, the net 10 percent increase is down 1 percentage point from the previous quarter’s forecast.

The vast majority of CIOs—81 percent—plan no change in hiring activity. That’s up from 78 percent in the first quarter of 2002.

The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. “Businesses remain cautious in their hiring efforts,” notes Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of RHI Consulting. “Companies are primarily focused on technology initiatives that offer bottom-line benefits, such as improved operational efficiencies, reduced spending over the long term, or increased productivity.”

So where are most of the tech opportunities? In network security, naturally. “There is strong demand nationwide for hands-on information security professionals who can implement firewalls, monitor systems for security breaches, and guard against unauthorized use of servers,” adds Lee.

CIOs in the New England and west south central states are most bullish about employment activity in the second quarter. These regions “are seeing strong growth at biotechnology and health-care firms, as well as at related manufacturers,” says Lee. “Businesses report demand for IT professionals at all levels, from technical support specialists to database developers and network security managers.”