The Future of Recruiting: From Cookie Cutter to an Agile Mindset | An Interview with Dan Black, Global Recruiter For EY


In early February, I had the pleasure of witnessing Dan Black, Global Recruiting Leader at EY, present at the American Accounting Association’s APLG conference.  His presentation was titled: “The Future of Work” and helped shine further light on how the changing world around us is affecting recruiting and the accounting profession in positive and exciting ways. 

I was extremely inspired by what he had to say and couldn’t wait to share this message with our audience. Dan graciously accepted my recent invitation for an interview to provide further insight on how the recruiting process is evolving to adapt to Generation Z, the positive embrace of new technology, and how firms are evolving the way they present their cultural and brand identities.

In your 20+ years of experience, what are some of the biggest ways that the recruiting process has changed?

The biggest thing that still surprises people who aren’t in the industry is how early on recruiting begins and what it actually involves. If you go back 20 years ago, which is when I essentially started my recruiting career, the process was simple and straightforward: submit a resume, go to an interview, and hope for the best. But over the course of all those years, recruiting has evolved to begin much earlier in the process. 

Candidates are now much more aware of different career options, and interaction with employers or potential brands occur frequently on campus; therefore, all the things that are ancillary to the interview itself will happen much earlier. By the time a candidate gets to an interview, so much groundwork has already been laid. 

That, for me, is still the biggest change and it’s also one of the things that some students grapple with because what they’re expecting and what they’ve been expertly coached on, is to go interview for a job during their senior year. But if they’re waiting until then to do so, in many cases they’ve already missed the boat. Today, recruiting is just so much more of an ecosystem than it used to be. 

What do you think is the pivotal year where recruiting really gets started? 

I think sophomore year is where it kicks off, particularly in our industry. When you’re a freshman, you should be exploring college and finding yourself and what you’re passionate about. During sophomore year is where awareness comes into play—you start to figure out what you think you want to do or at least which direction you may want to go. Junior year is where you begin to have preferences for industry and start to focus in on specific employers. And by the time you’re a senior, you’re solidifying some of those earlier assumptions and choices that you’ve made. So sophomore year is where the rubber really starts to hit the road.  

What are some of the largest influences leading this drive of change? 

Competition. Whether you’re a student or lateral hire in the market, competition is what’s driving change. In order to be at the forefront of a candidate’s mind, or to even have a chance to showcase what you have to offer as an employer, you have to do it earlier and earlier because there are so many ways that job seekers and students can get employer information–especially now through social media or the immediacy of information available online. If you wait too long, even if you’re an attractive employer, you could risk being left behind. This makes sense in so many different walks of life and industries. The formula is simple: the more exposure you have, the more you become a contender in the heavy competition for the very best talent.  

Another influence of change not talked about enough is employment brand. It has a life of its own. Companies often have two identities: product brand and employment brand. Take Apple, for instance. Apple has its own product brand that revolves around innovation and putting the customer first. But they also consider their employment brand and what the value proposition for employees is. It’s important to establish both positively because they are interconnected. If you had a bad experience with a company’s product, then you might be less likely to apply for a position there. 

Fully developing both brand identities takes time and can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for organizations in our profession because we don’t necessarily have the same brand recognition outside of accounting and maybe finance. But on the flip side, we do have the opportunity to really showcase what makes us a special place to work without having an established consumer or product brand to be concerned about. It just goes to show how important branding is, and what a large role it plays in recruitment practices.  

How is EY’s recruiting process unique from other firms? 

We are getting in front of people and spending more time talking about who we are and less about what we do. That’s information they can find out on their own and is readily available. So we want to make sure we focus on portraying what they can’t really find online or through their own research.

Therefore, a very big part of our recruitment effort revolves around talking about our culture, what makes our people different, how we can contribute to the world around us, and how we make a difference.

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Something else that sets us apart is that we spend a lot of time customizing the recruiting experience in any way we can so that students learn more about what’s specifically important to them. In my opinion, that’s the very definition of successful recruiting: how much you can really speak to the student about the “why” for them, and not just about your organization in general. 

Last but not least, I know that all firms invest a lot of time and effort into recruiting; they all do a world class job. But one thing we pride ourselves on is an investment that remains steady no matter what’s happening in the market. We believe that recruitment is an investment in the firm’s future, and we treat it accordingly. 

What is EY doing to meet the demands of Generation Z? 

Gen Z has many more expectations of what a good recruiting experience is. So we do things like video interviews, online chats, and virtual presentations to accommodate the agility/flexibility that surrounds their lifestyle even during the interview process. 

We’ve also made a lot of changes based on those needs, —to address the “What’s in it for me?” What we’ve heard from this generation is access to other benefits, such as the same amount of parental leave for men as women; health benefits; and the capacity to have a good work/life balance. As a result, we have adjusted what we offer to better accommodate their changing needs.

How are those who have been in the firm for a while adjusting to meeting the needs of Gen Z? 

There was a bit of a resistance at first, but only because we have enjoyed many years of success and recognition as a great company to work. So it was natural for some people to say, “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” With that being said, meeting the needs of Gen Z was also a big educational process for all of us. Sometimes the media can portray generational differences as being negative and you have to fight an uphill battle against the misconceptions.

But in the end, you realize that there are great things they bring to the table. They’re tech natives, have great global connections and awareness, and the kind of changes they want are actually the ones that a lot of us would ask for today. Once you help your colleagues understand the differences but also similarities among the generations, it really helps the dialogue.

What are the implications for firms that don’t adapt to agile recruiting and remain “cookie cutter” in their recruitment processes? 

The fact is they will lose out on the best candidates.

In this industry, you have to adapt and address the needs of the individuals. You can’t do a one size fits all approach, because the truth is one size fits none.

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If companies are not adapting, they’ll not only lose candidates, but also miss out on the opportunity to really define who they are in the market.

How do you think the recruiting process will change 10 or 20 years from now? 

Definitely for the better. One big way I think it will change is the way companies are working with technology to help us get better at finding the best candidate with the right skills/competencies for the positions we’re looking to fill. There is already a lot of technology available now that’s helping the right people find the right job in a way that’s meaningful and unbiased, but it’s only going to get better from here. This change will benefit both the company and the candidate, saving valuable time and effort for both.

The one thing that will never change in my view is we’ll always need that human element in recruitment. Ask anyone why they came to EY, and 95% will say, “Because I talked with a specific person or group of people and I had a real connection with them.” No one ever says, “I came because you had great technology in your application process.”

Don’t get me wrong—technology enables you to get in front of the right candidates—that will always be part of the process and gives you a means to an end. The end being, “How can I have more of my people spending more time in deep, critical conversations with candidates?” If I can create more head space for my recruiters to engage in meaningful dialogue and relationship building, then I’ve done my job. 

What’s your best piece of advice for students looking to get recruited by the Big 4 and become successful in their accounting careers? 

Don’t get yourself overworked about exactly what you want to do and where you want to be. If you commit yourself to saying, “I want to be an associate in this practice, in this location, servicing these lines”, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.

Having an agile, open mindset, especially in your job search, is important. Be open to other possibilities and gear your academic experience toward them.

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Take a philosophy or IT class; go on an overseas trip for a semester. That will expose you to potential options for the start of your career. 

Also, in the end, think about what type of employer you want to work for. Ask yourself: Is this employer going to be supportive of me and my aspirations as I evolve? If the answer is yes, then it becomes much less critical what role you start in. It’s more important to find the right organization that will help you be successful no matter where your career takes you.  

Charlotte Roberts has been dedicated to empowering the next generation of business leaders by providing a multifaceted perspective on the profession for the past 13 years. She is currently the Senior Vice President of eLearning at Roger CPA Review.

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