For many CPAs, career opportunities abound. Many organizations are ready to offer them good money and a great title.
However, how can you know whether an employer will be good to work for? Sometimes, red flags crop up during the interview process that should signal you to proceed with caution before accepting a job offer. These warning signs don't necessarily mean that an organization won't be a good fit, but they do tell you that it's a good idea to get more information before moving forward. Here are some of them:
No follow-up: After an interview, two weeks pass and you do not hear anything at all from the organization. You send an email or leave a voicemail and still hear nothing. If you're working with a recruiter, he or she hasn't heard anything either.
Why it's a concern: As a recruiter, I try to move the process along even if the message I have to deliver is not a positive one. I place value in the process—so should you! A good employer will appreciate the fact that you're interested even though you may not be the right fit, and will follow up with you promptly. My suggestion in this case would be to apply elsewhere and not to try to follow up further.
Rigidity: The organization doesn't seem very flexible during the interview process and doesn't want to work around your schedule.
Why it's a concern: I find that organizations that are inflexible during the interview process tend to be less flexible in other areas. If an employer is not willing to make reasonable accommodations to your schedule—especially now, when CPAs are in high demand—it can be a sign that the organization doesn't place a high value on prospective employees. If an organization seems too rigid at the onset, probe further about how it operates (e.g., does it offer flexible work schedules and have realistic expectations of employees?)
Not valuing your time: It's a bad sign if an organization makes you wait for more than just a few minutes past your scheduled interview time without saying anything to you or apologizing to you.
Why it's a concern: Although unforeseen circumstances can cause delays, if hiring personnel don't acknowledge your inconvenience, it can be an indication that the corporate culture condones discourteous behavior.
Turnover: A more obvious sign to beware of is if you find out that there has been a lot of turnover—in the role you're applying for, in the accounting department, or in the organization in general.
Why it's a concern: It could mean that employees are leaving because they aren't happy with their jobs.
Ask why the position is available, how long it has been open, and how long the previous person held it. Also, ask why he or she left the role. If you find out that the position was newly created, or that the person who held it was promoted internally, great. If he or she had other reasons for leaving, though, you may need to learn more about the role itself, what the expectations are, the supervisor's style, salaries and raises, etc.
Note that you will likely be the one to bring up the question of turnover. Many times, the hiring professionals or HR staff will not offer this type of information.
Lack of upward mobility: The organization has little turnover and no one is expected to retire anytime soon. Another warning sign could be that there aren't any levels of staff between staff or senior accountant and partner, CFO, or controller (though this may just be because the organization is small).
Why it's a concern: Either of these two signs could mean that it could be hard for you to advance, if that's your goal. Ask questions about the role's growth potential, such as what the responsibilities and duties are, what kind of training is available, and whether you'll be able to learn management skills such as supervising staff and reviewing others' work. Inquire about what opportunities for advancement might be available, such as individualized career paths.
Salary mismatch: You are offered a role similar to the one you're leaving for either a lot less or a lot more money than you would have expected.
Why it's a concern: A salary mismatch is not necessarily an indication of a bad employer—it just means the employer might not be right for you. For instance, if you're offered less money than expected, it could be because you'll be working fewer hours in the new role or because you're moving to an area where salaries and the cost of living are lower. Depending on your career goals, you may be willing to make such a tradeoff. Or it could be that you are being paid more than the market rate in your current role. However, it could also mean that the employer isn't keeping up with competitors or is not investing properly in its employees. You may want to compare the employer's offer to the figures listed in a salary guide.
If you're offered more money than you expected, it may be that the organization has lost several staff and is desperate to hire. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but be sure to ask questions about how the firm operates, its values, the types of clients it has and services it offers, and why others left.
Another thing to keep in mind: Some organizations will pay more than you expected in hopes of hiring you and keeping you (the "golden handcuffs" phenomenon). That can be fine, if the organization is a good fit. But if it's not, you may find yourself reluctant to leave because you may not get the same salary elsewhere.
Questionable reputation: You Google the organization's name and learn from a reputable source that the organization or a member of its senior management has been associated with some type of lawsuit or has a criminal record. Or you discover a smaller blemish on its reputation—perhaps an executive was called out for posting offensive content on social media.
Why it's a concern: It's always a good idea to do some research on a potential employer's reputation, just to be on the safe side. Being associated with an organization known for unlawful acts or some other ethical lapse can damage your reputation, even if you had nothing to do with its misdeeds. Should you find out anything that is questionable about an organization or its senior management, ask more questions and carefully consider whether you want to be aligned with it.
If you're not sure about an organization, even after getting an offer, ask the hiring professional to schedule a time to meet with others whom you will work with and report to. Ask more questions, then go with your gut! Hopefully, though, you will interview without experiencing any pink or red flags during the interview process. Good luck!
Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.