The accounts payable (AP) function of any organization's finance department is something of an inevitability: there are always going to be bills to pay. It's one of those necessary but not-exactly-novel parts of running a business, and it's important to hire the right person for the job: someone who can work efficiently and accurately when it comes to tasks like recording check requests, documenting vendor invoices and the data entry workload that make it possible to complete the monthly reconciliation for close.
If you're in the process of looking for a qualified AP Clerk right now or will be soon, how much you're dreading it likely has to do with how recently you've attempted to fill that very position. If this isn't your first lap around the job boards, you already know that it's harder to find the accounting talent you need and have seen the ways that retention challenges create something of a revolving door for bookkeeping talent overall.
If you've only recently needed to hire AP clerk expertise, it's likely because your company is growing, which is fantastic news. Understanding the challenges associated with the hiring methods available to you will ensure that you're both forewarned and forearmed. You'll need the process to be as seamless as possible to maintain velocity as you scale and knowing how to speed up your hiring process – and retain the candidates you entice – is critical at this stage.
Finding an Experienced Accounts Payable Clerk: Your Three Options
There is more than one way to approach the process of hiring new accounting talent, and the option you choose will depend greatly on your company's needs and the scope of the work you need a new AP Clerk to undertake.
The hiring models available to you go beyond just the ones we'll discuss here, and they each come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks. But if you're looking for an accounts payable clerk, you're likely looking right now, so we'll stick to two of the most common models and look to an alternative one that's growing in viability and popularity so you can get started right away.
Draft an AP Clerk Job Description and Wait for Applications
Most companies, regardless of size, have used an internal resource to find candidates for open positions at some time or another. Whether they have a dedicated human resources department or simply look to a team lead to curate, interview and hire qualified individuals, this is one of the most common models available to organizations who need to hire an accounts payable clerk.
This process requires someone to draft a description of the open role and then release it into the wild: post it to online job boards; shout it onto the company ethernet or even take out a good old fashioned "help wanted" ad in the paper. A typical AP Clerk job description may look something like this:
Startupcorp is growing! As the number one provider of Very Useful Software to the region, we're expanding our office in downtown Cityville and have an immediate need for a hard-working, enthusiastic and experienced Accounts Payable Clerk. If you're looking for a new opportunity and a standard benefits package in a highly desirable part of town, come work for Startupcorp!
- Accurately tracking expenses, payroll, invoices and incoming bills
- Processing incoming payments in compliance with company policy and procedure
- Reconciling invoice discrepancies and communicating with vendors
- Reimburse employees by verifying expense reports and preparing paychecks
- Maintaining a historical record of outgoing payments
Qualified candidates will have:
- A Bachelor's Degree or its equivalent in Finance and Accounting
- 2-5 Years of related experience
- Excellent organization and communication skills
- An eye for detail and a strong work ethic
You'll (hopefully) receive an influx of resumes and applications, which will have to be narrowed down to a shortlist. After that, you'll interview your best candidates, check their references, and then eventually hire the best fit.
There are some obvious benefits to a model like this one. You know your organization best, so you can draft a job description that reflects those needs fairly easily, and onboarding is pretty straightforward once you have your new AP clerk.
The drawbacks are also pretty clear. The first is the opportunity cost associated with the multi-step process of finding a new hire, which can take months. That's especially true in regions where there's a limited talent pool – what you'd hoped would be a deluge of interested, qualified talent is more of a trickle, which can slow everything down.
There's also turnover to consider. If you're having trouble – as many organizations do – retaining employees with the specialized expertise to do the repetitive, details-oriented work that bookkeeping requires, you'll find yourself back at square one more often than you'd like. That comes with a cost that exceeds the time you'll spend, estimated at anywhere from 50 to 125 percent of the outgoing employees' salary.
Ask a Staffing Firm to Send You Someone Who is Qualified to Handle AP Clerk Job Duties
A lot of companies -- once they've taken a few trips through the revolving door that the traditional in-house hiring model creates – look to staffing firms to help get the task of finding new accounting talent off of their plates entirely. Oftentimes, that's because entire teams may find themselves stretched rather thin as they handle their own work, plus the duties an accounts payable clerk would otherwise do if the position wasn't vacant and then the additional workload that assisting in the hiring process presents, like sitting in on interviews or reviewing incoming resumes to find a good team match.
A team with this much to do in a day, especially for prolonged periods of time is well on the way to complete burnout. That's where staffing firms frequently come in.
In this model, you'll contract with a firm to get – and sometimes keep -- that position filled with a qualified individual. That individual won't actually work for you, however. They work for the staffing firm you have the contract with. You simply tell the firm what you need, and they provide you with a number of good options. No time spent sifting resumes, and no turnover cost associated with rewriting salary offers and benefits packages for employees that leave a few months later.
The benefits of a model are also self-evident. It's a much quicker way to find an AP clerk, and your organization does not bear the risk or responsibility that every employee comes associated with.
This is a model that gets expensive fast, however, and most hiring firms have a fee structure that accounts for every possible inevitably, from contingency work to temp-to-hire pro rata. Just because you aren't paying your clerk directly doesn't mean you aren't paying them at all: a staffing firm's fees are generally a multiple of the employee's pay, broken down by the hour. That means you end up paying for more than just the work that's being done. You're also paying for a portion of the overhead the staffing firm associates with employing the resource you're essentially "borrowing."
Culture fit and onboarding may be challenging in this model, too, because the people who know the team best aren't the ones sorting candidates, and the fractional structure of having another company's employee onsite can mean extra attention devoted to compliance and a sticky situation, morale-wise. On top of these issues, there's the fact that if a staffing firm's employee is lured to a different firm for any number of reasons, you'll still feel the impact of turnover, both in the company purse and in the time you'll spend filling the position again.
Try a Hybrid Hiring Model by Outsourcing AP Clerk Duties
One way to control for costs associated with both finding and retaining a new AP clerk is to partner with another type of vendor: a business process outsourcing (BPO) provider.
This model is a bit of a hybrid. A good provider will work with you to determine the needs of your team and use your job description to find the right candidate to act as a virtual extension of that team. The provider then uses the information you both document during the knowledge transfer and transition process to make sure that the employee is trained in your processes and procedures and works exclusively toward your goals. Like a direct hire, they're going to be a well-qualified and a good fit, and onboarding will look very much like it does in-house.
However, though they're functionally a part of your team, they're employed by the BPO provider, like a staffing firm. A reputable BPO is the one who invests in the employee by providing benefits, perks and professional development that ultimately helps retain your new team member long-term.
The dollar amount associated with the employee does not fluctuate based on overhead, however – it's attached to the level of talent you need. That's a cost that's often lower overall, too, because a BPO isn't restricted by high regional salary fluctuations and can operate in locales that allow for a wider selection of highly qualified candidates for far less.
This may not be the option for companies that don't need or only sporadically need a dedicated AP clerk, however. Another hidden drawback to using a BPO provider is that they aren't all created equally. BPOs that have legacy partnerships and a proven track record of investing heavily in their talent – and have the ability to offer you lean accounting options instead of minimum full-time employee (FTE) contracts – are the ones that are best positioned to ensure you reap all of the associated benefits.
Deciding if Outsourcing Accounts Payable is Right for You
There's a myth associated with finance and accounting outsourcing (FAO) that says it's only a good fit for enterprise-level organizations that have multiple positions to fill and afford large, multi-year contracts. In fact, midsize businesses can see the benefits that Fortune 500 companies have had for years, even if they only need one or two additional resources.
You can and should take a deep dive into whether outsourcing will meet your needs with our Outsourcing Workbook, which will walk you through how to perform a cost-benefit analysis and gauge how outsourcing would fit into your organization based on some common scenarios. But for here's a quick-start option for you. Simply answer the questions below:
- Can you easily find enough qualified candidates for open positions?
- Do you have trouble keeping qualified AP Clerks on staff for more than 2-3 years?
- Does your current bookkeeping structure require employees to do "double-duty"?
- Does your month-end close take more than a few days?
- Are you spending less time than you'd like on strategic initiatives?
- Are you able to offer the benefits package you consider ideal to your employees?
- Do you have the work available for a single full-time hire?
If you answered "yes" to five or more of these questions, it's time to see what outsourcing has to offer. It may not be the perfect solution for you, but if it is, Personiv can help find the perfect fit for your vacant Accounts Payable Clerk position and get you off of the hiring merry-go-round and answer any questions you have along the way.
If you'd like to hear more about how these hiring models stack up to help you decide whether or not to use outsourcing the next time you need to hire a new AP Clerk, our VP of Client Services, Matt Wood, recently covered FAO in-depth as a guest on the MarketScale podcast. Listen to When Is Outsourcing Your Accounting Needs The Right Move? And check out the rest of our podcast library while you're at it.