Friday, September 28, 2007

A Downside of Career Networking Sites

Employers are increasingly turning to the Internet not only to research job applicants, but to reach out to an applicant's past colleagues and other business associates.

From a job-seeker's standpoint, professional networking sites like LinkedIn and Jobster are a two-edged sword, The Wall Street Journal says. The downside is that it has become fairly easy for a prospective employer to contact "job references you can't control." On the plus side, Web-savvy candidates may benefit by taking steps to populate their online networks with people who can be trusted to say good things about them.

If your online profile is clean and you are connected to people through social networks who would say favorable things about your abilities, it may help you land the job,

the newspaper says, citing Jason Goldberg, Jobster's chief executive. Goldberg describes the networks' impact on candidates as "kind of a caution and an empowerment."

Contacts gleaned from both professional networking sites and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace let recruiters and hiring managers go beyond the traditional practice of speaking only with references supplied by the candidate. The story goes on to warn:
Such reference checking exposes job seekers to certain risks. Many site users routinely connect online to people they have only a glancing relationship with -- say, someone who simply works at the same company -- and there is no guarantee that the references will be favorable.
For example, the article quotes a headhunter saying he ruled out a candidate for sales director of a large company, after contacts he found on LinkedIn and MySpace told him the individual "was tough to work with and get along with."

But the Journal also cites a business development manager whose LinkedIn profile and associated network helped him land a job earlier this year. And LinkedIn Corp. itself quietly did 23 reference checks on Dan Nye before hiring him as its own chief executive in February.

Job References You Can't Control [WSJ]

Zen and the Art of Hearing Criticism

I have to admit that when I came across the blog Zen Habits (thanks to Lifehacker), I thought Oh, touchy feely advice from people that go ohmm…. Completely unfair, I know, especially because there's much to zen that intrigues me even if there's more that I don't understand. But I wanted to admit this upfront because I think many people have a similar knee-jerk reaction.

Anyway, Zen Habits is a delightful and sincere blog written by Leo Babauta that covers
achieving goals, productivity, being organized, GTD, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, getting a flat stomach, eating healthy, simplifying, living frugal, parenting, happiness, and successfully implementing good habits.
It's one of those blogs that has a lot to it, and even if you're not into "zen" or posts on meditation, eliminating debt or eating healthy, there's plenty of other material that's worth looking at.

Take, for example, the post on accepting criticism "with grace and appreciation."

How do you deal with criticism? I think the first reaction for most of us is to defend ourselves, or worse yet to lash back.

And yet, while criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralizing, it can also be viewed in a positive way: it is honesty, and it can spur us to do better. It’s an opportunity to improve.

We all face criticism regularly - from our boss, from co-workers, from clients, even from subordinates. Sometimes it's malicious. There are people out there, unfortunately, who use criticism as a weapon. But often it's a part of the dialogue of getting things done, and in that context Leo's absolutely right when he says criticism can be valuable. His advice on the subject is a bit lengthy, so I'll just include his subheads here.

Stop Your First Reaction
Turn a Negative Into a Positive
Thank the Critic
Learn from the Criticism
Be the Better Person
Of course, on the other side of the conversation should be the notion of criticizing with grace and appreciation. When you get those kind of dialogues going, they can be almost fun.

How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation [Zen Habits]

Speak Your Mind

Don't forget the forums available on our new JobsintheMoney. We've just launched them, so it's a chance for you to begin asking the questions and making the comments that'll get others talking.
(Does that sound impressive enough?) You can reach them here. Yes, you have to register but that's about keeping spammers away.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let's Be Friends

We've all heard there are reasons to keep work and personal lives separate. But the Cincinnati Enquirer says:
More than half of executives and 63 percent of employees report that job performance improves when co-workers are friends outside the office.

Employees who have buddies at work are more eager to come to the office and enjoy their workday, which translates to higher productivity, said David Araldi of the staffing firm Accountemps, which conducted the nonscientific survey.
It's a fascinating article, which seems grounded in the real world.

Friendly co-workers can boost productivity [Cincinnati Enquirer]

Looking for a New Job - Discreetly

Elizabeth Taylor excepted, most people change jobs more often than they do mates. But no matter how many times you do it, looking for a new position when you already have one can be tricky.What behavior is reasonable and what crosses the line?

Read the answer here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Making Yourself Stand Out

Penelope Trunk has a great write-up on personal branding over on Yahoo Finance. She points out that people who specialize tend to get better job offers, because they develop a reputation for certain areas of expertise. (She also points to a good definition of personal branding, authored by blogger Dan Schawbel of Personal Branding Magazine.
Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.
Trunk's foundation for building a personal brand are pragmatic: know what you're very good at, know what people think of you, and meet the right people. But her most important point might be in a simple sub-head: "Admit It - You're Special."

For some reason, a lot of people toiling in the financial trenches don't like to face the fact they bring a lot to the party. Even if you regard yourself as nothing more than an "average" accountant who shows up on time and checks his work, don't kid yourself about how much bosses like those things. My worry is too many people won't think about personal branding because the term sounds too "aggressive." But it's not. Personal branding is simply a way for you to position yourself as someone who's worth hiring

Three Steps to Building Your Brand [Yahoo Finance]


That Robert Half survey has me wondering: Could compliance be moving accounting toward becoming a recession-proof career?

Going and Going and Going...

Sometimes it feels like this job market is the Energizer Bunny. With all that's going in the economy lately, a lot of CFOs are still planning to hire accounting and financial staff in the fourth quarter:
Both company expansion and bulked-up compliance mandates were cited as driving hiring demand, along with a tight market for accounting and finance talent. "The most experienced candidates are receiving multiple employment offers, and more organizations are extending counteroffers to retain top performers," said Max Messmer, chairman and chief executive of Robert Half International, in a press release.
Here's the full story.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Take our Salary Survey

We're conducting an accounting and finance salary survey. Over the next few weeks, we'll compile your responses and report the results so you can see how your pay ranks against others in your field. To complete the survey, you've got to be a registered job seeker with JobsintheMoney. Take the survey here.

Poll Results

So, will all the troubles in the credit markets impact your job? Our most recent poll breaks down like this:
  • Yes 49%
  • No 33%
  • Not Sure 17%
Let me know what's on your mind. Just post a comment below.

Latest Sign That Accounting Is 'Sexy'

The Big Four's no-holds-barred efforts to appeal to new college graduates are paying off. That's music to the ears of HR departments and managers of CPA firms as they scramble to add and retain staff.

Accounting firms snagged the top three places in Business Week's second annual ranking of the "Best Places to Launch a Career." In a lengthy accompanying story, the magazine credits the Big Four's urgent focus on figuring out what today's twentysomething generation wants from a workplace, and giving it to them:

They are among the first to rethink how to recruit college grads, keep them happy on the job, or just keep them at all.
Deloitte & Touche, which placed first among 95 large employers covered, asked employees to submit short videos about what it's like to work there. The best– including a rap video – will be used in Deloitte's campus recruiting programs.

The campus recruiting Web site of runner-up PricewaterhouseCoopers includes a "faux sitcom" performed by real employees. It shows a young female associate enduring awkward interactions with older co-workers, followed by each party explaining what went on from their perspective. Third-ranked Ernst & Young uses Facebook to let prospective employees talk freely with real ones. (The remaining Big Four firm, KPMG, placed 11th.)

Business Week based its ranking on separate surveys of college career services directors, the employers they picked as the best, and college students. The number of employers examined nearly doubled from 2006 and many top picks (including PwC) were newcomers, making year-to-year comparison difficult. But the rise of the Big Four CPA firms is unmistakable. The 2006 favorites were Walt Disney, which fell to seventh this year, and Lockheed Martin, which came in ninth.

"This year accountants became sexy," Business Week proclaims. The article goes on to say:

The employers that did best in our ranking recognize that they have to accommodate this new generation. Many of them are trying to appeal to Gen Y by making themselves more transparent, flexible, responsive, even nurturing.
The Best Places to Launch a Career [Business Week]

Friday, September 21, 2007

More Good News for Auditors

Auditing client companies' books was the traditional raison d'etre of public accounting firms. The growth of newer services such as consulting, merger advice and compliance testing has reinforced the market power of both CPA firms and the professionals who work in them.

Here's the full story.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Diversity as a Solution

I've been thinking a lot about Myra Thomas's article on the risk of minority women leaving accounting. In particular, this passage:
One African-American woman CPA, who's also a firm partner with two decades in the profession, who spoke with JobsintheMoney on the condition she remain anonymous, observed that "to really move the needle" in diversity practices "requires a culture change and personal values to change, which is a huge undertaking - similar to changing race relations in America."
I talk to a fair number of consultants who specialize in diversity. (The fact that I'm married to one such consultant helps.) They're men and women, black, white, Hispanic and Asian. What they tends to echo this woman's comment. We won't really approach diversity, as a solution as opposed to an issue, until we see the idea surround and knit itself into our culture, both in the office and in life more generally.

This is a huge idea, and it's not the kind of thing that can be planned for and scheduled. It can be encouraged, which is what corporate diversity programs tend to do, but it can't be mandated and it can only be enforced to a certain point. Sure, you can "hold managers accountable" for diversity goals, and discipline workplace harassment, and develop mentoring programs and networking programs. But all those programs do is provide minority professionals with certain career-development tools. Despite what you might hear around the microwave, these programs tend not to give people an undue advantage or free them from the pressures involved in doing good work, or bringing in clients, or whatever it is they're supposed to do for their firm.

These programs also don't address the grumbling around the microwave, which is a huge if insidious part of the quiet discrimination faced by professionals of color. Indeed, nearly 80 percent of the JobsintheMoney users who responded to a March 2006 snap poll said their company was not serious about diversity. People seem to believe firms run diversity programs because they have to. They want to show they're fostering a friendly work environment, because it looks good to potential employees, might help retain existing ones, and might also impede certain lawsuits. I'm not saying firms really are this cynical, but the perception is they're exactly that.

I realize I'm not saying anything new here, and I certainly don't have any answers to all this. But I do think diversity is the kind of thing we should be talking about more - not as an issue, but as a solution.

Choosing a Resume Consultant

t's a daunting task for anyone to prepare a good resume, especially if you're the kind of person that has difficulty expressing yourself on paper. If you are one of those people, or just figure you'd like some help, does it make sense to hire one of the countless writers out there who profess to be resume professionals?

Read the full story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Do Minority Women Have a Reason to Stay?

For many minority women, cultural challenges and a feeling of exclusion make it easy to leave their current firms. They can empower themselves to succeed, but many are asking if it's worth it.

Read the full story.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Campuses Are Still Hot

This week, our poll question asks whether you think credit-market problems will affect your job. The Wall Street Journal says for most accountants, the answer is probably "no."

Hiring at the Big Four accounting firms is running at record levels, and recruiting efforts are being ramped up as growing demand collides with a talent shortage. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said job postings for accounting majors in 2006 more than doubled from 2004.

The paper goes on to talk about how the Big Four's recruiting: More video (Deloitte plans to put 14 videos featuring its employees on YouTube) and more contests (E&Y asks "Why should people become accountants?" on 75 college campuses. Winners get $1,000 and maybe an iPhone.)

Recruiters Take Hip Path to Fill Accounting Jobs [WSJ]

Monday, September 17, 2007

An Ethics Question in the Forum

One of our readers, a CPA who goes by the name of Cosmos, posted a question in our new forums about the ethics of balancing a client's books when they're not really quite balanced, and coding items in ways that might not be appropriate. He's looking for others to weigh in. Read his post and add your comment here.

Poll Results

Of course, when we relaunched JobsintheMoney, we asked what you thought of the design. The answers were:

  • Four stars - Excellent 61%

  • Three stars - Good 21%

  • Two stars - Fair 8%

  • One star - Poor 10%

You can only learn so much from a poll. So, if you have comments about the design, please let us know. Just post a comment below.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Blog on Certification Woes

Building on the popularity of the Internet as a form of communication for younger CPAs and accounting students, the New Jersey Society of CPAs' Web site now features the “Exam Cram Blog.”

Scott Sandford, a society student member who currently works for Deloitte's tax practice, uses the blog to relate the travails of studying for the CPA exam. Check it out here.

Sandford chalks up the blog's following to the commiseration factor. He muses about flash cards and the best snacks for studying, and in between snarky comments offers a realistic view of obtaining the CPA certification. “I offer a peer’s perspective on the process,” he says, “and people can see what I am going through right at the moment. What our professors told us was correct. Sudy and be diligent and that’s the best way to pass.”

Sandford has already sat for - and passed - three sections of the test, but in a recent post he says he had to reschedule the date to take the fourth section, as he knew he just wasn’t ready. “I’ve had my stumbling blocks, but I know this will help in my career," he says. "At Deloitte, advancing in the tax practice means getting the CPA, going on to law school or getting a master’s in tax, and I see that as the next step for me.”

--Myra Thomas

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Step Away from Your Laptop

I like Neil McIntyre's post about bringing his laptop on vacation. A Robert Half survey found that 38 percent of accountants take a computer - either laptop or hand-held - with them when they go off. (That's beside the 34 percent who work at night, and 37 percent who respond to e-mails or phone calls in the evenings when deadlines loom.) Neil notes:
  • I left everything when I went on vacation last month. No laptops, and the phone was off the entire time!
  • Working in the evenings is a given during busy season and sometimes necessary at other times.
  • I respond to emails if I happen to check my work address, but that doesn’t happen regularly at this time of year (see above).

A couple of thoughts struck me:

More people take computers with them on their time off nowadays, whether they're going on an out-of-town vacation or just hanging around at the local beach. I don't think anyone would argue this is a societal change - computers are all over the place, they've knitted themselves into our daily lives, and whenever you turn your head, you see people on their cell or scrolling through their PDA. You see all of these people connecting, and it's hard to resist taking a minute just to connect yourself "to see what's going on."

This means taking vacation requires a certain amount of self-discipline: Self-discipline to avoid turning on your laptop, to avoid calling into voicemail, to avoid carrying your Blackberry to the beach. Some people are better than at this than others: Lately, I've tried to put myself in the habit of leaving my laptop at home when I go away with my wife. I mean, if we're spending a bunch of money on a schooner trip or a hotel, I'd just as soon enjoy it.

Our product director, Evan Lessor points out that if you're not careful, you could come home to a nearly impenetrable inbox. Good point. To avoid that, I suggest:
  • Before you go, leave a message on your voicemail, and an auto-reply on your e-mail, saying you're be out of the office, won't be checking in, and giving the date you'll return. On mine I try to nudge people toward contacting me when I get back. And I'm sure to say "I'll respond to your message when I return."
  • Plan on using your first day back as a catch-up day. Don't schedule meetings or project deadlines too close to your return. And certainly don't think about going out for a job interview, or having your annual review.
  • If you must sneak a peek, do it a day or two before you go back to work, and just to clear out garbage messages like spam or newsletters you don't plan to read. Doing this has the added benefit of letting see what you'll be up against when you get back to your desk.
Work-life balance: Laptops on holiday [Neil McIntyre]

Will This Recruiter Get Me a Job?

Time is money. So, should you make an investment by interviewing with agency recruiters when looking for a new opportunity? The answer is yes - if the recruiter has available jobs that match your skill set and career goals.

Read the full story.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Looking Forward

Looking at all of the economic news lately, I have to wonder whether the job market's peaked. That's not to say demand for accountants is going to disappear any time soon, but it could be the high-speed chase a lot of firms have been describing could be about to hit the brakes. Why? There are still compliance issues to face, after all, and still a sense of too many jobs chasing too few professionals. But over the weekend, it seemed a lot of people began using the word "Recession" in their predictions for the economy's direction, and even though many give its occurrence odds no better than 50/50, for the first time in a long time we seem to be in real danger of suffering from more than a couple of speed bumps.

It's true the need for talent will remain, but I have to believe it's dynamics are going to morph. I can imagine a number of firms - large and small - who've managed to get by without the headcount they've wanted wondering whether they can just make do with the bench strength they've got. And some of those perks aimed at retaining top performers? They may get harder to justify.

These seem like pretty obvious observations, but then it seemed pretty obvious that people who were overextending their credit were going to get into trouble paying all that debt back one day. I don't think the accounting job crunch is any kind of reverse bubble - it's based on real supply and demand - but I do have this feeling that 2008 is going to be a year when those chasing candidates begin to slow down their efforts, even just a little bit.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Got a Story?

We're writing - Well, Dona DeZube is writing - a story about conducting a job search without tipping off your boss. She'd like to hear from people who've had to job-hunt discreetly, with any anecdotes, tips, or thoughts you might want to share. If you'd like to be interviewed, send me an e-mail, and I'll pass on your contact information. (And we'll hold your name in confidence unless you tell us otherwise.)

Building Your Safety Net

Demand for accounting and finance professionals, from both CPA firms and private industry, has been robust for so long it's hard to imagine it might weaken. But financial markets are mired in uncertainty over the near-term path of the U.S. economy. If the worst happens, are you ready for the fallout? Here are tips on how to prepare.

Read the full story.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

Well, it's not really self-promotion. But I did want to point out a new JobsintheMoney launched today. It offers a completely revamped design, continued career advice, and forums where you can post questions and opinions on networking, resumes, cover letters, general workplace issues and more. These forums, I should point out, are a place where you can really make the Web site your own, so I encourage everyone to take a look, and post about whatever interests you.

I'm pretty excited about this, mainly because it's another way to get more people talking about life in the accounting and finance worlds. The new site makes it a lot easier for you to e-mail us, to talk with other users, to ask questions, and to network.

So, I hope you'll look at it and, of course, let me know what you think.

How Do I Resign 'Professionally?'

We got an e-mail:

"We've had a management change at our firm, and I am very unhappy with my new supervisor. The one I worked with for the last five months has just disappeared. I'm planning to resign and wonder whether I can do this verbally, or must I write a resignation letter?"

Read our answer.

Don't Blow It

Of course, you want to stand out. But when you're trying to convince a firm you're the solution to their problems, there's a fine line between creative and weird.

Read the whole story.