A Jekyll & Hyde Finance Hiring Picture

Robert Half International survey shows 8 percent of U.S. CFOs planning cuts — the highest in three years — with 9 percent looking to add full-time ...
Stephen TaubDecember 2, 2008

Calling it evidence that the “job market in accounting and finance is holding steady,” consultancy Robert Half International released CFO employment-survey results that show 9 percent of finance chiefs planning to add full-time accounting and finance employees, while 8 percent plan cuts.

But others might call it schizophrenic.

The Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index, based on telephone interviews with more than 1,400 U.S. CFOs, showed the percentage of those gearing up for reductions to be the highest in three years, Half said. Still, it added that the number of companies expecting to hire is above the average over that same period, reflecting an ongoing need for skilled professionals.

Eighty-two percent of executives said they would make no changes to the size of their teams.

The survey was conducted from Sept. 23 to Oct. 15 by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half International, which specializes in accounting and finance staffing services. Half, which has tracked hiring activity since 1992, suggested that these regular survey results were encouraging news given the surge in the nation’s overall unemployment rate, with daily reports of large-scale layoffs.

“Even though weakness in the economy is affecting hiring in many fields, accounting and finance expertise in key functional areas remains in demand,” said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. “While no job category is completely immune to economic changes, professionals skilled at identifying cost efficiencies and enhancing profitability are a perennial need for firms of all sizes.”

The firm noted that large companies, in particular, plan to add staff in key specialty areas. For example, 18 percent of respondents at firms with 1,000 or more employees expect to hire in the first quarter, compared to 8 percent who anticipate decreasing staff levels.

In fact, the executives interviewed continue to report difficulty finding highly skilled professionals for certain functional areas such as accounting, where 28 percent of CFOs said positions are the most difficult to fill. And 20 percent said they experience the greatest challenge in hiring for finance roles.

More specifically, the placement firm noted that credit and collections specialists and in demand to help firms manage credit risk and collect outstanding receivables. Other areas where supply is short include public accountants to assist clients with accounting, tax, and audit needs; and staff and senior accountants.

Drilling down by region, the Middle Atlantic states are projected to experience the most active hiring in the first quarter. A net 9 percent of CFOs in this region anticipate adding full-time accounting and finance staff.

“In the Middle Atlantic states, there is demand for experienced accounting and finance talent to help balance workloads, handle year-end audits and prepare for next year’s tax season,” Messmer said.

Firms in the Mountain and West South Central states also project notable hiring activity. A net 7 percent of executives in both of these sections of the country said they plan to boost staff levels in the coming quarter.