Behind the Finance-Hiring Pickup

With the recession's accounting and finance staff reductions now potentially jeopardizing their operations, CFOs seem ready to restore some of those jobs in the third quarter.

"We still have companies that have cut back significantly going back over the course of two years," said Katherine Spencer Lee, a senior district president for staffing firm Robert Half International. These firms have reached a "breaking point," she said, and failing to add staff means they "can't grow, build, sell or support what they're doing."

This need to add finance professionals was reflected in Robert Half's latest quarterly CFO hiring survey. The study reported that 7 percent of the 1,400 finance executives surveyed CFOs plan to be bringing on new finance-and-accounting employees in the third quarter, while 6 percent would be reducing headcount in those areas. That 1 percent net of finance chiefs planning increases represents a small gain from the poll for the second quarter, which saw as many companies laying off as those hiring.

"We certainly haven't seen a rocket ship to the moon when it comes to hiring," said Spencer Lee of the small net gain.

While CFOs remain uncertain on the economy's strength, she said, the survey showed that they are "leaning more heavily toward the optimistic side at this point."

Nearly all the CFOs polled expressed similar optimism when asked if their business will improve in the coming months. The survey found that 90 percent answered that they are optimistic about their quarterly growth prospects. Of that percentage, 47 percent of those polled are somewhat confident and 43 percent are very confident.

"I think that the economy still is a question mark for a lot of people," Spencer Lee said. "But to know that people are feeling that positive, I was very encouraged."

This business confidence also spanned multiple industries, according to the survey. The results indicated that most industries will hire workers in the third quarter. Of the eight industries listed, CFOs in six of those fields plan to add more jobs than they are eliminating -- in some cases substantially more. The wholesale trade industry showed the most job growth potential, with hiring among CFOs showing up in a net 9 percent of the sector. After predicting job losses in most cases last quarter, the construction field rebounded increases in a net of 8 percent cases in the latest survey. Retail, business services and manufacturing rang in with a net 3 percent with gains, with transportation at net 1 percent. Meanwhile the finance, insurance, real estate and professional services sectors showed a probability for shedding jobs.

While the finance and accounting sector's overall hiring prospects appear anything but robust, Spencer Lee noted an overall improvement in employment prospects for accounting professionals.

"We're seeing at least some modest improvement in the economy," she said. "We know companies ... are adding accounting and finance staff. They maybe adding in one area and not adding in another so there is a little bit of a stabilization factor there."

The meager 1 percent uptick in accounting jobs represents a vast improvement from 2010's third quarter survey. In that poll, CFOs said job elimination was the priority, with quarterly hiring scoring in the negatives.

Even in a period of slow job creation, some accounting and finance roles are in demand, Spencer Lee pointed out. Companies are especially interested in hiring business system analysts who can determine if firms have the right technology to efficiently deliver services and products, for example. "They actually help in the analysis, and execution of how do we get accounting and finance talking to technology so that we can be most streamlined in what we're doing."

Skilled financial analysts and senior accountants also are needed, said Spencer Lee. Businesses, she added,are attracting qualified candidates by emphasizing the overall benefits packages instead of just the paycheck, although she sees "some modest salary gains."

In some instances firms are offering new hires more flexible schedules and, realizing the high prices of gas, are allowing employees to telecommute.

"We're seeing people get more holistic when they approach someone about joining their organization," Spencer Lee said. "It is more than just compensation."

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