Landing a Job In a Strange New World

Today, online research and the electronic environment play an important role in a job hunt.
BY ANDREA T. JENNINGS AND MICHAEL HAYES

  

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  • THE ELECTRONIC ENVIRONMENT NOW PLAYS an important part in the hiring process. Internet job listings, hyperlinks and e-mailed resumes speed the exchange between hirers and job seekers, accelerating the recruitment process.
  • ON-LINE CANDIDATES HAVE ENHANCED opportunities and geographic reach, as well as an excellent method to gather information about comparable salaries and benefits.
  • THE WEB'S BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION to a job search is that it’s an excellent tool to prepare for interviews. Candidates can study a company’s products and services, position in the field and how employees rate it as a place to work.
  • A JOB APPLICANT’S FIRST COMMUNICATION with a prospective employer should always include a resume and a cover letter. Online documents are appropriate when responding to an electronically posted ad, and some managers actually prefer them.
  • DURING THE INTERVIEW it’s wise to keep “what’s in it for me?” curiosity on the back burner. But one rule remains written in stone: The applicant must showcase his or her talent to the prospective employer.
  • A CANDIDATE MUST KNOW HIS OR HER BOTTOM LINE and be prepared to walk away if the employer is unable to meet expectations.
  • THE MOST EFFECTIVE THING EMPLOYERS CAN DO to get a qualified candidate is to make a quick decision. It surpasses offering top salaries, stock options and signing bonuses.
Andrea T. Jennings is vice president of recruiter Lucas Group’s financial search and staffing division, headquartered in Atlanta. For more information visit www.lucascareers.com. MICHAEL HAYES is a senior editor on the JofA. Ms. Hayes is an employee of the American Institute of CPAs and her views, as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect AICPA views. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.

f you haven’t changed jobs for a while, you’ll probably find that much about the process is different nowadays. The electronic environment plays a significant part in the job search. A decade ago Internet job sites didn’t exist, but now such listings—along with hyperlinks and e-mailed resumes—speed the exchange between hirers and job seekers. Accountants and financial personnel can benefit from access to the Internet’s global job search network, which has postings for every position from auditor to government accountant to CFO. Wherever you are in the scheme of things, firms and companies need skilled staff, and it’s a good time to try for a better position.

Average Current Finance Compensation*
*Includes annual salary, bonus and other cash compensation.

Source: “Climbing the Compensation Chart” by Eric Krell in the “Just Compensation” supplement to Business Finance (Nov.00), www.businessfinancemag.com. Reprinted with permission.

If technology has changed the way the recruitment process works, an active job market has expanded opportunities. The signing bonuses, stock options and counteroffers that are discussion points today were rare in negotiations for middle-management slots a few years back, when employment chances were narrower. Then, anyone seeking a salary jump of 20% or more could expect the door instead of an offer. But it’s a more flexible world today. Demographic trends—primed by a drop in the birth rate 20 years ago—show that fewer employees are entering the workforce and the baby boom generation is retiring earlier than its predecessors. Many businesses welcome the chance to hire younger, more technology-savvy accountants. Some firms feel such employees are better equipped for an e-commerce economy.

Here’s a look at how the process has changed and what you have to know if you plan to hunt for a new job.

ONLINE PROs AND CONs

Internet sites specifically designed for job seekers provide employment candidates with a large and varied number of opportunities and enhanced geographic reach (see resource list, below). They also offer an excellent method to gather information about

  • Comparable salaries and benefits.

  • A company’s products, services and internal stats.

  • Whether a company excels in its field.

  • How employees and candidates rate an employer as a place to work.

Such Internet employment sites—depending on how they are sponsored—may try to interest you in a company, or they can help you hunt down information on a company you target.

Although the Internet is a fantastic research tool, it isn’t a magic wand for getting jobs. “You get jobs by talking to people,” says Don Asher, author of The Overnight Rsum. “To the extent use of the Internet causes you to avoid people, it will make your search take longer.”

John Lewison, executive director of the New York State Society for Human Resource Management, says NYSSHRM statistics show “about 15% of all jobs are obtained through recruiters or search firms; another 15% or so are found through answering newspaper want ads; 4% to 5% are landed through family or marriage; 1% to 3% develop from candidates’ mass mailings; and 50% or more of all positions are obtained through networking.” Because the Internet lets a candidate learn vast amounts of information about a company very quickly, it is a valuable tool when networking. So far, fewer than 10% of U.S. middle-management jobs are obtained from Internet searches, says Lewison, although he notes this figure is growing.

Many people believe that searching for a job on the Web has inherent problems. Consider these additional factors about using the Web for employment searches:

  • The sites list more entry-level than mid-level or upper-level positions.

  • Although it’s easier to find out more general information about a company, it may be difficult to obtain specific information about the position or the hiring manager so you can refine your resume accordingly.

  • It’s hard to stand out in a medium that delivers thousands of resumes.

  • Once posted, your resume may languish in cyberspace.

  • Your current employer may see it.

A DATA SMORGASBOARD AWAITS

“Internet job sites are a good tool to conduct a search if you want to see what’s out there,” says Michael Blake, CPA, director of financial planning and analysis at Commerx, a business-to-business Internet company in Chicago. Blake, who recommends using the Web as a starting point for a search, visited several sites when considering switching jobs last year. “There are a lot of unknowns,” he adds. “You’re not sure if anyone actually looks at your resume, and many companies don’t provide feedback.” To get his present job, he used a recruiter referred by his alumni association after doing research on the Web.

Although Internet placement success stories vary, virtually everyone agrees that the Web has made one monumental contribution to the search process: It provides an excellent mechanism to prepare for interviews. “Once a meeting is scheduled, the first thing candidates do is visit my company’s Web site,” says Blake, whose company hired more than 100 employees last year. “In fact, I’ve never talked to a prospect who hasn’t.”

A recent survey by the Atlanta-based Lucas Group recruiting firm shows today’s candidates go to job interviews more prepared, thanks to the wide-ranging information available on the Internet.

E-MAIL ETIQUETTE

Your initial communication with a prospective employer should include your resume and a cover letter. Online documents are appropriate when responding to an electronically posted ad, and some managers prefer them. Scott Kirksey, CFO of Dallas-based Benefitmall.com, prefers to receive resumes via e-mail vs. in-box. “It’s convenient, and if candidates have my e-mail address they are probably responding to a specific request or know one of my contacts,” he says. “I pay more attention to resumes I receive online, particularly if the message line provides a brief description of qualifications or refers to our mutual contact’s name.”

Should you send a hard-copy backup? It depends. A job seeker who wants to stand out or who is applying for an upper management position should send original documents—delivered by mail or overnight service. Use good quality stock; the paper is a significant part of the impression you make in such instances.

The resume. A resume helps to get an interview, structure it, remind the interviewer of your qualifications after you’re gone and justify a hiring decision to others. It must be error free and succinct. If it is longer than one page, introduce all the important points first. “It should be long enough to tell the reader what you have to offer and short enough that it leaves the reader wanting to know more,” says Asher.

Besides making it past clerks to find its way to the person who’s hiring, a resume posted electronically must be picked up by search engines. There are a couple of conventions to styling a resume for Internet use, Asher says. Because search engines scan for nouns rather than verbs, choose keywords carefully, making sure they accurately represent your skills. If you list keywords separately to increase the efficiency of the search, place them at the end of your resume to get their full benefit. It might look like this: Keywords: attest, audit, GAAP, tax. This is also the right place to bury software skills that may be outdated but still suitable for a potential employer.

The cover letter. Send one that briefly states the ways in which your qualifications meet the ad specifications. When doing this electronically, your e-mail is the cover letter and you should set off the text of the resume with [ begin resume ] and [ end resume ], in brackets. There is no way to control typographic outcome with an e-mail, Asher says, but you can finesse the ultimate appearance by styling all your copy flush left and never using tabs. Do not send an attachment; people often don’t open these unless they know the sender, he says.

The follow-up note. A post-interview thank-you note is good manners but not absolutely necessary, says Asher. Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the job search bible What Color Is Your Parachute? demurs. About a thank-you note, Bolles says, it sets you apart, “helps the employer remember you” and indicates “good people skills.”

There are other issues to consider. If your e-mail address does not sound professional, don’t use it. (Although it’s rare, candidates have actually sent resumes from addresses that refer to partying.) Another important note: If you provide prospective employers with cell phone or pager numbers, do not answer until you are in an appropriate location and have time to devote to the call. Discussing your career path while you are sitting next to children at play or racing through traffic may not make the impression you want.

What Employers Find on the Web

The influence of the Internet is a mixed bag for hirers. Resumes obtained through Internet sites tend to be less informative than those referred by an associate who has had a chance to learn more about the candidate’s background and salary history, sources say. The absence of screening means the employer must perform this HR function or hire a background-checking company to do it. Entering information electronically speeds up the process, however.

More duds may show up among Internet-solicited resumes than among those secured through other means, but the hiring company does save on fees charged by recruiters. As with so many decisions, a business has to weigh the value of time vs. money. Still, some employers prefer to pay for the services of a headhunter. “I’ve used Internet sites to find candidates and haven’t found many I’m interested in,” says Scott Kirksey, CFO of Benefitmall.com—a Dallas-based Internet company devoted to small business employee-benefits brokers—which hired 100 employees during an 18-month period.

The good news: Technology has accelerated the entire process. Five years ago, recruitment took up to three months. Today, most candidates are hired within six weeks of a job posting, largely because the labor shortage has caused employers to make quicker decisions. From the employer’s perspective, the single most effective move it can make to snare a qualified candidate is to decide quickly. It surpasses offering top salaries, stock options and signing bonuses. In a competitive job market, it just makes sense.

YOU STILL HAVE ONLY ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION

The lucrative perks available in today’s hiring climate may encourage a candidate to forgo the basic strategy of selling his or her strengths to a prospective employer. Don’t make that mistake. Your mission is to find out what a company is trying to achieve and position yourself accordingly. Use your many research options to prepare answers to some questions:

  • What problem is the business trying to solve?

  • What solution can you provide?

  • Why should they hire you?

The most crucial component of the recruitment process has not changed: It is still necessary to showcase your talent and prove your value. Besides assessing an applicant’s skills, an employer wants to determine how the job seeker will fit the office culture and enhance it. Candidates who are hired based on the company’s perception of them as valuable contributors experience the most long-term success.

Because the present market so strongly favors job seekers, some candidates have developed a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. But remember, to a hiring company, potential staff members who are skilled, reliable and put the company’s needs first are the ideal. If the first words out of your mouth are “What are you going to pay me?” it’s a turn-off to the employer.

Of course you need to know if a job is in your desired salary range from the start, so you don’t waste time. And you may want to ask general questions about benefits you’re particularly concerned about. But there is an unwritten rule that says the first person to divulge salary specifications loses.

It’s all about negotiation tactics. If you, the job seeker, reveal to the employer that your salary requirement is $50,000 and she’s willing to pay $60,000, then you just lost out on $10,000. But many employers use salary as a screening device, too. If an employer has a $50,000 job, she doesn’t want to consider applicants making $80,000. It’s sort of a cat and mouse game. The best advice is still probably to save specific questions about salary and benefits for the negotiating stage. If you simply must know more about pay and other aspects of the position before you get too far into pursuing a job, online research or an insider at the company may be able to provide the information you need.

Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression, be sure to dress well—especially when interviewing in the finance profession. If you suspect the work environment is very casual, ask what’s appropriate. For an informal office, men might consider sports coats and women something less severe than a suit. Remember, there will be plenty of time to wear khakis if you get the job.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Once an offer is on the table, express your appreciation of the offer and interest in the company. Then state your understanding of the position and your requirements. Before you get to this point, however, you should have researched what a top salary for the job is. Choose your words carefully. By now, you should know your bottom-line expectations and be prepared to walk away if the employer can’t meet them. (If you’re squeamish about this part, you may be more comfortable using a recruiter to search for a job. They’re skilled at negotiating salary—after all, they get 35%.)

Even in a job seeker’s market, it’s not wise to allow yourself to appear as though money is more important to you than commitment to your career—whether or not it’s the case—so leave some room in the negotiation. For example, if extra vacation time is attractive to you, indicate that you are very dedicated and expect to work late many weekday evenings and would like to have an extra week of vacation added to your benefits.

Once you accept a new job and give notice, your present employer may make a counteroffer. Some experts have said accepting counteroffers is career suicide and that reneging on a deal damages your professional reputation. Today’s job market is eroding this guideline, however, and in many instances employees have been retained with a generous counteroffer and it has worked out well.

“We have had valuable employees resign for other positions and we have almost gone to our knees to beg them to stay with a counteroffer. Often they do, and we’re delighted,” says Lewison.

Still, if you think that you might leap at the chance to stay put if your present employer offered more money and more interesting work, then maybe you are overdue to discuss your goals with your present company. Try it before embarking on a job quest.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

Evolving technology, dynamic business forces and market trends have forever altered the process of looking for a job. Smart, innovative job seekers can use the resources of the Internet to maximize opportunities. As such, the Internet is an invaluable tool for rounding up vast amounts of information about a marketplace or a company very quickly and helping to lay groundwork for a successful job search. What it can’t give you is the wisdom to demonstrate your value and sell your skills to a potential employer. Even in a strange new world, that part’s up to you.

Savvy e-Search Starting Points

Search engines scan the universe of organizations that list job openings and provide them as URLs to the job seeker. Try the following:

  www.searchaccountingjobs.com

Accounting and finance jobs are posted here as are one-page employer profiles, ads for job fairs and articles of interest both to job seekers and recruiters.

www.accountingopps.com

Accounting jobs are listed as well as places to post your resume and research employers. Employers can post jobs as well as search available resumes.

www.askjeeves.com

Type in accounting jobs to bring up many options.

www.careerbank.com

Financial services job seekers and employers get access to an extensive database of job opportunities, resumes and other HR news about e-recruiting.

www.careerpath.com

This site has merged with www.careerbuilder.com, offering twice as many choices for job seekers. A query for accounting brought back 480 hits.

www.careers.yahoo.com

Highlights include a job-search engine, a salary calculator that compares salaries by region, company profiles and trend information.

www.hotjobs.com

Check chat rooms where job seekers share anecdotes about their experiences with prior employers as well as the usual job seekers’ fare.

www.jobsinthemoney.com

The options here are in more specific fields, such as commercial and investment banking, corporate finance and trading.

www.jobstar.org

This site has an extensive collection of salary surveys by industry and position.

monsterboard.com

This is truly the monster of all job search engines. A query of accounting brought back more than 1,000 hits in many different fields.

www.yahoo.com

Type in jobs and you’ll get about 150,000 URLs. Most will take you to sites that have to do with looking for a job or a job specialty.

www.wetfeet.com

This site brings together potential employees and employers. Research jobs by industry or company, compare salaries by region and get advice from corporate recruiters on interview techniques.

Also

Look at company-based Web sites, which list a wealth of information about a company as well as all of its current job openings.

Search public documents such as 10K filings (available on Edgar from the SEC), which will tell you gallons of information about a company and its officers.

Check local newspaper classified links to state and county job banks.

Recommended Reading

Job-Hunting on the Internet, 2nd Edition, Richard Nelson Bolles. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. May 1999.

Job Searching Online for Dummies, Pam Dixon. IDG Books Worldwide, Foster City, California. May 1998.

110 Best Job Search Sites on the Internet, Katherine K. Yonge. Linx Educational Publishers, Inc. March 1998.

The Overnight Rsum, Don Asher. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. July 1999.

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2000, Richard Nelson Bolles. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. January 2000.

Who’s Hiring Who: How to Find That Job Fast, Richard Lathrop. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California. November 1989.

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