Six Reasons You Won’t Get the Job
By Kristine Blenkhorn Rodriguez
You don’t need me to tell you it’s a competitive world out there. And you don’t need me to tell you it’s an unpredictable job market, either. But perhaps what you do need me to tell you is this: Given layoffs, pay cuts and slashed perks and benefits, there are more people vying for the top spots in your industry, which in turn means the ante has been officially upped in terms of what it takes to beat out all those candidates fighting for the same job. A high score on your CPA Exam or 10 years in a top firm won’t quite cut it anymore.
Don’t believe me? Maybe these six career killers will convince you.
1. What Happens in Vegas Stays on FB
It’s the Ashley Payne syndrome. In 2009, Payne, a then 24-year-old Georgia school teacher who had been in her post for two years, took a European vacation. During her trip, she sipped wine in Italy, enjoyed a pint in Dublin’s bar district—and posted jubilant photos on her Facebook page.
And when she got back? Well, she was fired.
According to news reports, Payne was dismissed because of a photograph she had posted in which she was holding aloft a wine and a beer glass, and because she used an expletive in her online comments. WSBTV reported Payne as stating, “They’re not even of me drinking the drinks and I don’t look like I’m intoxicated in any way or doing anything provocative or inappropriate…I did not think that any of this could jeopardize my job because I was just doing what adults do and (having) drinks on vacation and being responsible about it.”
“We’re oh so lucky social media didn’t exist in the freewheeling ‘70s,” jokes Vickie Austin, a career coach and founder of CHOICES Worldwide. “Many people might not be gainfully employed because of what would look like a checkered past. The Internet is forever, and so is the content you or your friends place on it.”
Jim Wong, founder of Clear Focus Financial Search, sees differences based on generation. “The recent college graduates, folks maybe one to four years out of college, think of their Facebook audience as strictly friends. They understand that everything that is on Facebook is public. However, they haven’t truly connected the dots; they don’t fully understand that because it’s in the public domain, those things can be viewed by your current employer and future employers.”
Twitter is an equally risky channel. Consider the story of the potential Cisco employee who tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” This candidate chose to announce in a public forum what most of us might say privately at the dinner table to a friend. Consequences soon followed in the form of this response from a channel partner advocate for Cisco Alert: “Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” Ouch.
Althea McIntyre, a career success coach and founder/president of The Best Career for Me, advises to always post with the hiring manager in mind. “Is your online profile the same as who you are in person? Is what you are posting contributing to your personal brand or detracting from it?”
And while many professionals are vigilant about what they post, do you have an indiscreet cousin or a wild former sorority sister who lacks filters? “Don’t feel guilty about unfriending those people,” says McIntyre. “Better yet, have a personal policy about who you friend on Facebook and stay away from those people online.”
2. You Make Scrooge Look Good
Let’s face it, you’re busy. When you’re not working you’re catching up with family and friends. And even if you had time to spare, you’d be spending it on the golf course, or at a spa, or at your ceramics class.
Well, your desire for all that “me time” might leave you out in the cold when it comes to taking the hot seat in that all-important interview for that all-important job.
“If all else is equal, giving will be the thing to push a candidate over another,” says Wong, who recalls a recent comptroller search in which civic activities were never cited as a requirement or even as a bonus quality, until the president of the company conducted an interview with the candidates. “It was a dead heat....The only thing the president wanted to focus on was how our candidate spent his personal time. Was he involved in the community? Was he active in giving back to society? Our candidate was very active in a lot of charitable organizations and was a committee lead in some of those. That’s what pushed him over the edge to get the job.”
Devoting time to organizations, particularly those within your field, also allows you to shine in ways your current position may not. “When you volunteer your time, people who could possibly be a good peer or boss in the future get to see how you lead, as well as your level of integrity and commitment to projects,” says Austin. “They see you in action and can take stock of you. Professional associations are these brilliant networking machines from pre-graduation to late career. After all, employers are risk averse. They’d much rather hire someone they know. Through these types of organizations, people outside of your current employer get to know you.”
3. You Say “No” to Networking
Imagine this: You’ve committed a lunch hour a week to catching up with past and present peers, and an evening a month to functions that introduce you to new potential contacts. Then you realize, “I’ve been working at this firm for three years, and the opportunities just don’t seem to be there. I’d like to find a new job. Who should I tap for the inside scoop on positions?”
Well, thanks to all that professional socializing (better known as “networking,” although the word “working” might be a turn off for some) has you primed for the next big thing. No starting at square one for you. You’re already squares ahead.
Now imagine this: You turn up to work one morning to the news that your firm has been forced into layoff mode. You’ve kept your nose to the grindstone, turned down offers of lunch from peers, and hit the “delete” key every time the professional association you joined sends you an invitation to a networking breakfast or other event. “I don’t have the time or the energy,” you tell yourself.
But now, with the threat of job loss looming, you realize that you know no-one in the industry who can point you in the direction of a lucrative new position. You have to start at square one, and you’re up against a slew of people who realized from the beginning that networking is at the top of the career-building priority list.
Wong is adamant that accounting professionals meet with former peers, staff and managers at least once per quarter for coffee or dinner to stay in touch. “And the focus here is not on how they can help you. Figure out how you can help them.”
That reciprocal relationship will kick in when you need it most, as long as you’ve been generous with your time, contacts and resources. “It’s an awfully small world. The sophisticated employer may never mention that they know someone from one of your previous jobs, but they will go through their informal network channels and say, ‘Tell me about this candidate I just had in for an interview. What was he or she like at work?’” says McIntyre.
4. You Lost Them at “Hello”
“Many accountants go into the field because they love the numbers,” says Austin. “The social side of the profession is not attractive to them. I think it’s a function of style versus substance. If the substance is there, you still need the style so people get it. Successful accountants are great listeners.”
McIntyre agrees, explaining that, “If we look at career progression, what it takes to be an excellent employee is different than what it takes to be an excellent manager, which is different than what it takes to be an excellent leader.” In the past, she says, your success in the accounting world was mostly based on technical expertise. Often that was good enough to get you the promotion. “But in today’s new work world, that’s not good enough,” she says. ”With the advent of outsourcing and the technical expertise available through those channels, now it’s important to be seen by your clients as a trusted advisor, a partner, someone who can explain all the technical nuances in a way that makes it easy to understand for non-technical people.”
In other words, while technical astuteness is a must to get your foot on the first few rungs, soft skills—the ability to communicate effectively, be adept in social situations, and know the intricacies of interpersonal and business etiquette—are what will propel you to the top of the ladder.
And nowhere are your soft skills under greater scrutiny than in an interview setting. It’s not only about work experience but cultural fit. Are you a person that the interviewer feels they can get to know and enjoy working with? Or is the fact that your handshake was half-hearted, you couldn’t maintain eye contact and you were uncomfortable engaging in any convivial small talk leaving anything but a favorable impression? I think you know the answer.
5. You’re Stuck in the Tech Stone Age
A survey cited in a Strategic Finance article explained that, “39% of chief financial officers expect accounting professionals to have a greater influence on technology and information systems initiatives over the next five years. This makes it even more important to assess and improve your technical proficiency on a regular basis. Take the initiative.”
Apropos advice for the times, right? Only “the times” were actually January 2003. The emphasis on a working knowledge of technology has only increased, says Wong. “The top-of-the-list requirement is some level of proficiency with tech. Microsoft Excel and Access. Then you need to know at least one ERP tool such as Oracle or SAP. After that, you need proficiency in reporting tools like Hyperion. Companies generally won’t train you on these programs; you’re expected to come in with the skill.
“Senior managers tend to think they don’t need much knowledge about the everyday software tools used,” Wong adds. “However, today companies want hands-on strategic senior managers.” He cites a recent CFO search in which the company required the candidate to be proficient in Microsoft Excel. “This person would have a fairly large staff reporting to them and they had members of the staff come in and quiz the candidate on the details to be sure he knew what he was talking about…it’s part of the do-more-withless environment,” Wong explains.
6. The Legislation is Over Your Head
The financial and accounting world is subject to ebbs and flows in reporting rules and regulations. And as such, your astute knowledge of said rules and regulations, and the challenges of their implementation, will make you shine, like a supernova, in the galaxy known as “the job interview.”
“Employers want to know that a candidate is very careerminded and focused, that he or she has an eye for and an awareness of current accounting pronouncements and issues,” says Wong. This is one of the best reasons to take advantage of the continuing professional education associations offer. These associations stay on the cutting edge of developments in your profession, and, in turn, the information they disseminate then keeps you on the cutting edge. All you have to do is enroll, turn up and listen.
It’s important for your future clients, too, to know that you are up-to-speed on the legislation that impacts them. And it shows a potential employer two vital aspects of your professional personality: Your commitment to giving clients the best possible service, and your commitment to continuing education and professional growth. Who can say no to that?
Looking for a Career Coach?
To learn more about career coaches with expertise in the area of accounting and finance, and to find a coach who is suited to your specific needs, visit the Illinois CPA Society website at www.icpas.org/find_career_coach.htm today.