CPA INSIDER

Get all the facts before you accept a new job

Ask relevant questions to avoid regrets later on.
By Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA

When employers and job seekers are too quick to jump to conclusions during the hiring process, problems can arise. Job seekers may not give employers a clear idea of what their skills and experience are, and employers may not be clear on what their expectations are, how much training they are able to offer, or how quickly they will expect a new hire to get up to speed. When there's not enough communication, employers can make job offers too quickly or job seekers can accept too quickly, leading to a poor fit down the road.

Often, employers and job seekers make the wrong assumptions because they haven't had enough dialogue during the interview process about specific skills, duties, functions, or expectations. Fortunately, there are steps employers and potential employees can take to avoid a poor match:

Make sure to give employers all relevant details about your experience. Sometimes, job seekers try to keep their résumé to one or two pages and may leave out pertinent details. They may also fail to discuss these details during the job search.

For example, a job seeker might say, "Yes, I know how to prepare and review real estate partnership returns," yet the parties don't discuss the complexities of the returns he or she has prepared, or the number of partners involved. That can lead to problems later on if the returns are a lot more complex than the job seeker realized.

Ask lots of questions. Both employers and job seekers should ask a lot of questions and drill down to get the details they need. Employers should ask about what the job seeker has accomplished, the types of work they've done and how they did it, and the resources and technology they've used. Job seekers should ask for the specific types of tasks they will perform and the resources and technology that will be available to them.

Also, don't assume anything, and ask for specifics if someone makes a broad statement. For example, if a hiring manager tells you during an interview that a job will provide a lot of challenges, ask him or her to define "challenges," since what is challenging to that person may not be challenging to you. Or, if you receive an offer stating, "This is a full-time position with a starting base salary of $XXK plus incentives," ask to have spelled out, in writing, what "incentives" means.

I also recommend that both parties have more than one meeting and/or discussion. That will give them the opportunity to ask any additional questions that have arisen since their first meeting. It can also give them another chance to get to know one another and see whether their first impressions still hold.

Share where you are in the interview process. It's often a good idea for both job seekers and employers to discuss where they are in the interview process, and especially what their timetable is. It can prevent misunderstandings that could arise should one party take longer than expected to respond to the other.

Hold a walkthrough. Employers may want to invite job candidates to spend a few hours walking through their processes, software, documentation style, etc. I've even had a few clients give job seekers an accounting test (and software test) to gauge their knowledge and skills. Don't take offense if you're asked to do so — it's in your best interest as well.

Get specifics on how performance will be appraised. Employers should discuss in detail how the job seeker's performance will be reviewed (will there be a 90-day probationary period, for instance?) and in what time frame they'll be expected to get up to speed. They should also talk about the firm's workflow and processes, as well as how all of this will impact compensation and opportunities for promotion. If an employer does not offer these details, ask for them. The conversation should also address the hiring manager's expectations and how the role aligns with the organization's hierarchy and goals. 

Do your due diligence. Both sides should do their own due diligence. Employers should call references, including, if possible, someone who has directly supervised the candidate within the last few years. They should also conduct all applicable background checks and state in an offer letter that hiring is contingent upon the candidate's passing them.

Job seekers may want to meet or speak with more staff at different levels to ask them about their experiences. It's also a good idea to do some research on LinkedIn to learn about a potential employer's staff, how long employees tend to stay with the organization, and what their career paths look like. 

Don't commit to a poor fit. If either side is unsure about the fit, consider making the hire on a temp-to-hire or contractor basis. If that's not a possibility, it may be better for both parties to continue their search.

Beth Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

SPONSORED REPORT

2018 financial reporting survey: Challenges and trends

Learn the top reporting challenges that emerged in a survey of more than 800 finance, accounting, and compliance professionals across the world, and compare them with your organization's obstacles.

PODCAST

How the skill set for today’s CFO is changing

Scott Simmons, a search expert for large-company CFOs, gives advice for the next generation of finance leaders and more, including which universities are regularly producing future CEOs and CFOs.