Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Be Prepared!

Job security can't be taken for granted these days. Being able to launch a job search on a moment’s notice calls for ongoing preparation. So if proactive job search and career advancement techniques haven’t been part of your regular routine, add them to your New Year's resolutions for 2009. Our story fleshes out five essential tactics.

Monday, December 29, 2008

More Pain On the Way For Early '09

Job opportunities and compensation are set to contract further after the New Year, leading consultants predict, and finance departments probably won't get a pass this time around.

The media gave boatloads of ink last week to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas' prediction that more than 1 million jobs would be cut in 2009. While the figure is dramatic, the U.S. already lost well over 1 million jobs during 2008. A separate report from Watson Wyatt found that 23 percent of employers surveyed in early December said they plan layoffs in 2009.

More interesting, however, are various granular details in the Watson Wyatt report. As related in a CNNMoney story, 19 percent of respondents planned to freeze salaries in the the next 12 months, and another 13 percent had already frozen salaries. Three months ago, those figures came in at just 12 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

A majority of employers, 61 percent, planned to "revise" budgets for merit raises – nearly triple the number from October's survey. While CNNMoney's story is doesn't specify direction, it's probably safe to take "revise" as a euphemism for "reduce."

These changes are expected to play out in coming months. And the broad swath of cost-cutting measures is a strong indication that employees in corporate treasury and finance departments will bear their share of pain.

Unhappy new year: More layoffs '09 [CNNMoney]

When Your Name is Kennedy...

If we're all supposed to be adapting to an ever-changing marketplace by re-purposing ourselves to fit each new engagement, why shouldn't those engagements include some time home with the kids or three years in the Peace Corps?

That's the question raised by Anne Glusker in a Washington Post opinion piece about Caroline Kennedy that's more about the way companies view parents than it is about politics.

As the column points out, after law school, Kennedy co-wrote two books on constitutional issues, edited some poetry anthologies and lately has spent three days a week raising funds for New York City Public Schools.

So how would that translate into a saleable resume for someone with a different last name? Glusker suggests:

Rather than a privileged aberration, I prefer to view Kennedy as a bellwether, a case study in how things could be if only the workplace were more accepting of an unconventional CV, one that may brim with great experience and skills and talent but is also peppered with gaps and one-off projects and volunteering. After all, if workers can no longer expect the security of a 50-year career with IBM or Procter & Gamble, then maybe employers should stop expecting each and
every job applicant to present them with an old-fashioned sequential résumé. Maybe now's the time to change our thinking about what constitutes the ideal CV.

Glusker is on to something here. Companies want to be able to hire and shed employees at will, but prefer their hires to have resumes unblemished with long gaps of unemployment -- be it voluntary or involuntary.

In the real world, smart people do take career detours. If you're one of them, and you hope to someday return to work full-time, you've got to do your part to stay connected to your industry. Meanwhile, here's hoping the industry is ready to bend a bit, too, when you're ready to come back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Employers Strive to Avoid Layoffs, Too

Surprising as it might appear at first glance, many companies, institutions and even employees are bending over backwards to avoid eliminating jobs.

That sounds like a stretch, given that the U.S. economy lost a net 533,000 jobs last month and more than half a million new claims for unemployment benefits are filed each week.

Yet, Sunday's New York Times reports that a notable minority of employers are cutting labor costs in a variety of unconventional ways, as an alternative to the ultimate step of cutting staff. The alternatives include shortened workweeks, unpaid vacations and other "furloughs," wage freezes, scaling back or suspending pension contributions…even voluntary salary reductions. At Brandeis University, 90 out of 300 professors volunteered to give up 1 percent of their pay to help the university avoid laying off workers. In the manufacturing world, notes the Times,

Companies nipping at labor costs with measures less drastic than wholesale layoffs include Dell (extended unpaid holiday), Cisco (four-day year-end shutdown), Motorola (salary cuts), Nevada casinos (four-day workweek), Honda (voluntary unpaid vacation time) and The Seattle Times (plans to save $1 million with a week of unpaid furlough for 500 workers). There are also many midsize and small companies trying such tactics.
One such smaller firm is Hot Studio, a San Francisco Web design company. Instead of giving the usual year-end bonuses, gave its employees paid time off over the holidays.

Besides looking to maintain morale, employers want to avoid getting caught short-handed if business recovers quickly and avoid ejecting workers who have proven highly productive based on modern-day performance metrics that many businesses now use.

The movement is not with out nay-sayers, however. Yale University professor Truman Bewley, an expert on labor economics, told the Times,

If the sacrifices look as though they are going to continue for many months, … some workers will grow frustrated, want their full compensation back and may well prefer a layoff that creates a new permanence. “These are feel-good, temporary measures,” he said.

More Companies Are Cutting Labor Costs Without Layoffs [New York Times]

Friday, December 19, 2008

Your New Job "To Do" List

Starting a new job?

Use this handy checklist of things you'll need to do:
  1. Make a good impression on new co-workers.
  2. Send your new email address to everyone in your network.
  3. Start looking for your next job.
No, we're not crazy, just reading the latest survey from MRINetwork, which finds that 15 percent of people look for new opportunities as soon as they start a job.

The survey also found that 16 percent of people try to wait a year or two before looking again. The rest of you wait until you're dissatisfied.

Wait. Even in a horribly nerve-wracking economy, we wait until we're unhappy to start looking? Yes, the same survey, conducted in September 2006, statistically showed the same results.

"Conventional wisdom has always said that in a shaky economy, workers will be extremely hesitant to changing jobs, fearing that if layoffs occur after the jump they'll be the first to go," says Tony McKinnon, president of MRINetwork.

But he doesn't think that's really the case. The economy hasn't made candidates any less likely to consider new positions than they have in the past, he contends, "and getting an employed candidate's attention can be the hardest part."

Facing Behavioral Interviewing Questions

Interviewing for a job can be nerve racking. Even experienced professionals can have a hard time demonstrating their capabilities and expressing themselves effectively, given the tension of an interview situation. The best way to reduce your anxiety and increase your interviewing proficiency, is to eliminate the element of surprise by anticipating the questions you’ll be asked, and preparing some answers.

Here's how.

Communication: Important and Often Overlooked

Like breathing, communication is so second nature, it’s often overlooked as a skill to develop. So, let’s take a look at the job cycle to reveal where we need these skills to be strong.

The Resume

To get your foot in the door, a well crafted resume is essential. This is a medium that requires the writer to take the facts of work history, and weave them into a concise narrative that is free of spelling and grammatical errors.

The Interview

The interview is a verbal dance that draws on your ability to communicate value in response to sometimes unknown questions, and also to ask probing questions yourself. Being articulate and concise is necessary to make a good impression.

The Job

E-mail: It can be a colloquial medium, but writing skills still need to be applied to your e-mails. As in any other form of composition, you should be able to get your point across in a concise (there’s that word again) and error-free way.

Meetings: Depending on your role, a meeting requires verbal ability to get your points across. You may also have to provide documents, which again will draw on your ability to use the written word.

Presentations: These are the symphonys of communication. You have to be verbally engaging, your slides need to be concise and well-written, and you must convey concepts with images.

Performance Reviews: The annual review is an area of communication that can affect your pocketbook for a whole year. Many companies use a boilerplate form, but it’s always effective to bring your own supplemental materials. By doing a little salary research for your ZIP code, you can create documents that list the year’s accomplishments and what the local marketplace will bear for your position. Good verbal and persuasive writing are a must to make your case.

In addition to some of the more typical training, next year, plan to hone your communication skills. Pick up a copy of Strunk’s and White’s The Elements of Style, get a copy of Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, or join Toastmasters International. It will be time and money well spent.

Submitted by Chad Broadus.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deconstructing 'Time Theft'

Are you stealing your employer's time when you take your spouse's call at your office and remain on the line longer than, oh, 30 seconds?

That seems to be the premise behind "time theft," a phrase that crops up in HR circles now and then. A recent post on george's employment blawg discusses "time theft" in the same breath as embezzlement, stealing office equipment and pilfering an employer's products. Ominously, that post also defines time theft to include "employees fearful of layoffs play(ing) it safe by looking for their next job while at their current position."

Employees who have survived layoffs and are required to work longer hours still have to take care of the personal business they used to take care of on their off time. And the more pressure people feel, the more enticing an Internet break can become,

writes the blog's author, St. Louis attorney George Lenard – indicating that many employers view such actions as forms of employee theft.

The whole concept of time theft by employees has always struck me as somewhere between insulting and deluded. Employers – pretty much all of them, from what I can tell – routinely steal such huge quantities of personal time from employees of all levels, that it's hard to imagine anyone seriously asserting that a worker commits an infraction of any sort (let alone a crime) by conducting some Christmas shopping while not on an official "lunch break." (Not that anyone working in an office gets official time off to have lunch, anyway. If you're not one of those talented producers who usually lunches with clients, you very likely eat at your desk, working all the while.) If the employee will be working until 8 or 9 in the evening, isn't it the boss who benefits if they shop at their desk rather than bolt while it's still light out to hit the stores?

I relayed these thoughts to George Lenard, and here's his response. First, he drew a vital distinction between hourly and salaried workers. With the former, "it is entirely reasonable for employers to expect full attention to job duties." Courts and contract arbitrators, he adds, are "highly likely" to uphold decisions to fire an hourly worker caught violating company policy on what's permitted during work time.

With salaried workers, Lenard says it's more a question of "whether they are properly performing their job duties to expectations." However, many salaried jobs do require personal presence and/or unbroken attention to specific work functions during set working hours. A teacher in a classroom is an obvious example.

Addressing the more typical white-collar role, in which the employee's responsibilities extend far beyond what an earlier era defined as business hours, Lenard states:

It (the potentially 24-7 nature of the work) is not a matter of employers "stealing time" from employees, unless the expectations were not made clear at the time of hiring or promotion. It is simply part of the bargain for which the employer pays the salary.

I'm not sure I buy that. "Continuous improvement" has long been the norm for most workplaces – factories and offices alike. Ideally, that means working smarter by the day, generating ever greater output thanks to continually rising productivity. In reality, though, it often translates into ever-longer workdays for increasingly stressed employees. That goes double in times like today, when mass-layoff survivors get the workloads of their ejected colleagues piled on top of their own.

However, Lenard does offer this consolation:

Managers who do not learn to give salaried employees more freedom (how to allocate their time), while also learning how to carefully monitor their performance and productivity, will have great difficulty managing younger employees who are used to multitasking and 24-7 communications that blend personal and business time….In the medium-to-long-term, companies that don't "get" this will suffer a talent loss that will substantially affect the bottom line, IMHO.

The Recession and Increasing Employee Theft: Understanding and Preventing Employee Theft [george's employment blawg]

Creative Ways to Get a Firm's Attention

People are starting to do some pretty crazy things to get the attention of prospective employers. (In case you - somehow - missed it, one job seeker wore a sandwich board advertising his availability in New York. In the end, that didn't get him a job, but the blog he created sure helped.)

So when would a job seeker cross the line and get labeled a loon? It’s hard to say, but it's probably at the point when you go from assertive to aggressive, or when your innovative marketing idea starts registering on the "strange" scale. In the case of sandwich-board man Joshua Persky, he at least wore a shirt and tie under his ad, and so maintained a professional image.

Street corner advertising not your style? That's okay. Definitely don’t go beyond your comfort zone, but here are a few things that might get the attention of prospective employers:
  1. Send a business improvement idea: Don’t give a prospective manager the entire solution, but say just enough in your note or e-mail to catch his attention. For example: “I had to click through five screens before I could place an order on your company’s Web site. Imagine how much business you’re losing. I can fix that problem for you.” Blog about ways to solve technical problems and e-mail links to your postings to prospective bosses, with a note saying: “Give me ten minutes and I’ll tell you how this solution can help you.”

  2. Send something catchy: Drop off a stress ball in a package with your resume and a note saying: “You won’t need one of these if you hire me.” Or mail a prospective manager a bundle of play money with a note: “Potential savings on your next project-if you hire me.”

  3. Suggest a meeting: Leave a message for a prospective manager confirming when you’ll be by to drop off your resume and introduce yourself. She might - might - surprise you by popping out to meet you. If not, leave your information in an envelope with a note saying, “Sorry I missed you. I’ll call Friday at 10:00 to discuss my qualifications.” Be sure and write it down so you'll remember to call at the promised time.

  4. Send a short presentation validating your qualifications: Maybe it’s the outline for a business plan, two slides highlighting the business outcomes from a recent project you managed or an old west style wanted poster describing your skills and attributes. E-mail the piece to a prospective boss and then follow-up with a phone call.

  5. Host an online meeting: Draw attention to yourself and create networking opportunities by organizing a Web conference on a technical topic, or host a user’s group and send out invites to prospective managers. Line up an expert speaker to make sure managers are interested in participating.

  6. Be consistent and persistent: One call or e-mail is probably not going to do it. You’ll have to keep up your campaign until you get hired. But if it’s done professionally, a unique, personal marketing campaign will have a positive impact on your target audience.
Submitted by Leslie Stevens-Huffman, who writes about careers from Irvine, Calif.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Choices For NY-Area CPAs

Accountants who work in the New York / New Jersey area are blessed with plenty of career options, since demand continues to exist among area accounting practices, consulting firms and local and federal government agencies. Options for balancing workload with life needs also are evolving. In particular, telecommuting for part of the work week has become an increasingly acceptable choice, that can mitigate the impact of accounting's notoriously long work hours and the region's often overly long commute distances and times. Here's our story.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crisis Seen Lifting Accountants' Status

The financial crisis is raising public awareness of the value of professional accountants, a global accounting body concludes after surveying the leaders of accountants' associations in 73 countries.

In its report issued early this month, the New York-based International Federation of Accountants states:

Many respondents report that the crisis has actually benefitted the profession with professional accountants -- including those in public practice and in business – being viewed as professionals who can help to turn the economic tide…The value of their core services is more highly regarded as clients and stakeholders recognize the need for strong governance and high quality financial information.

More specifically, accountants are being asked to help clients and employers cope with crisis-related challenges, such as business restructuring and insolvency issues. They also report getting requests for information about fair value accounting.

The crisis has not had the same impact around the globe. In fact, the IFAC says that leaders of professional accountancy organizations in some developing countries or regions "indicate that the financial crisis has not yet affected their jurisdictions."

While some of the 130 leaders who responded to IFAC's survey feared that demand for accounting services may fall as economies falter, most predicted that demand for accountants' services will continue to increase in the coming years.

Which specialties will enjoy the strongest demand in the near term?

Survey respondents expect their members in public practice to be more involved in the next year in forensic accounting, corporate recovery and insolvency services, assurance services (other than audits), as well as risk and compliance related work. They see their members in business being more involved in the areas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, risk management and internal control, as well as governance and compliance.

Channeling Sarah Palin?

If this post on the Web site of Baruch College's the Ticker reflects the communications and reasoning skills of the next generation of accountants, we are surely in trouble.

The question is simply logic would any company pay you 60-100 thousand dollars to analyze and interpret the same books that they can pay an Indian student 30- 4 thousand to do the same thing you do, its not a surprise that all the big four accounting companies support this because it severely cuts costs for them in the next 8- 16 years. What I do hope for is that our government and professors can come up with viable solutions for the many accounting students who these events will affect.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Three Havens of Hiring Growth

Last week we posted about Manpower's latest quarterly employment outlook survey, including a couple of tidbits about which industry sectors expect to do the most hiring in next year's first quarter. (Mining topped the list, followed by professional and business services.)

A CNNMoney story takes another bite at the apple, drawing on sector data from the monthly U.S. non-farm payrolls report issued by the Labor Department. That article spotlights accounting as one of three sectors that enjoy hiring momentum. The other two are education and health care.

With tax season looming, the calendar is an obvious short-term reason for accounting firms to staff up. But the story also says heightened scrutiny of financial firms will pump demand for audit work. It even suggests accounting is a counter-cyclical profession, citing John Challenger, chief executive of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas:

Especially in a recession, "accounting is a great field," Challenger said. "Companies are trying to cut costs and not over spend, that puts more importance on good financial controls which requires accountants."

Challenger also is bullish on hiring by pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and makers of medical equipment. Health care products and pharmaceuticals were among only nine industries that announced hiring plans in November, according to data on layoff and hiring announcements Challenger compiles each month. The industry's steady growth means finance departments are expanding, too.

The broad health care industry added 369,000 jobs in the past 12 months, including 34,000 in November, Labor Department data show. Says Diana Fitting, vice president of Adecco, a staffing company:

The healthcare industry continues to be the healthiest sector in the U.S. job market. The Baby Boomer generation is aging and it's helping to keep healthcare growing.

The third area of job growth is education. A net 9,800 education-related jobs were created in November – not just for teachers, but a variety of support roles, including financial. Here, too, there is a counter-cyclical aspect: People laid off or looking to change careers swell the pool of students in degree programs, certification programs and training classes. What's more, voter support for education is expected to keep government funds flowing.

Where the jobs are [CNNMoney]

Friday, December 12, 2008

When to Accept Lower Pay

Dice writer Sonia Lelii filed this item.

It’s a trend to be aware of, especially if you’ve been laid off and are looking for a comparable job and salary: Companies are starting to drive down wages by lowering salaries for new hires. This means candidates will have to make a choice on whether to accept a an offer below where they’ve been in the past, or risk being unemployed for a while longer.

Those who accept lower pay have to find a way to do it without appearing desperate. And there are ways to negotiate tradeoffs that can help you save face. The Wall Street Journal offers some helpful advice:

"Excess eagerness to toil for fewer bucks sends the wrong signal. Such applicants often “are really desperate,” says Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a boutique chain in San Francisco.

Rather than immediately reject or accept a lowball deal, you should mount a careful counterattack, experts recommend. You could improve your chances of winning a satisfactory compromise, with tradeoffs ranging from a faster pay review to extra perquisites.
If you decide to hold out for a better offer, it’s important to understand the longer you’re unemployed, the harder it will be to negotiate a higher salary. You have to assess the job market in your chosen profession and, perhaps, adjust your expectations. The recession is a reality that can't be ignored.

How to Handle the Job Offer You Can't Afford [WSJ]

Sandwich-Board Banker Lands Job

Having a tough time landing a job after being laid off from investment banking? Make a cardboard sandwich sign to hang over yourself as you walk down Park Avenue handing out your resumes.

It set Joshua Persky down the road to a new position, even if it didn't actually seal the deal, according to a profile in yesterday's New York Post. Laid off from Houlihan Lokey a year ago, Persky walked Park Avenue passing out his resume while wearing an MIT-graduate-for-hire sign, The Post reports.

Publicity led Persky to drop the sandwich board and create a blog, which a recruiter passed along to the accounting firm that eventually hired him as a senior manager, Weiser LLP.

Almost as amusing as Adam Nichols' feature are the comments following the story, including charges that Persky stole his advertising ideas from homeless people in New York, who apparently walk around with sandwich boards on all the time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steady as She Goes

The first quarter 2009 job market in accounting and finance is holding steady, with 82 percent of CFOs saying they won't be making changes in staff size, according to the Robert Half International's Financial Hiring Index.

Just 9 percent of the survey's 1,400 respondents said they planned to add staff, but only 8 percent planned cuts. That creates a net increase of 1 percent, explains Robert Half Finance and Accounting Manager Kathy Downs, who adds that some big differences showed up based on company size.

The survey says 18 percent of the CFOs at companies with 1,000 or more employees expect to hire in the first quarter, while 8 percent plan to downsize. At firms with 20-49 employees, an equal proportion of CFOs, 8 percent each, planned to increase or decrease staff.

She suspects the credit crunch may be creating the difference. “Larger companies are not struggling as much with credit facilities as small companies,” she says. “If you’re reliant on bank lines of credit, you’re anticipating the market being more difficult in 2009,” Downs says.

It’s also possible that larger companies are running leaner than they like to so they can hit year end-numbers. They’re realizing they’re going to have to make a move to add staff in the first quarter, she adds.

In particular, companies are looking for employees who can identify cost efficiencies or know other ways to enhance profitability, adds RHI Chairman and CEO Max Messmer. The most in-demand niches: credit and collections specialists, public accountants and staff and senior accountants.

By region, the hottest markets for accounting job-seekers are the Middle Atlantic states (a net 9 percent of CFOs looking to hire) and the Mountain and West South Central states (a net 7 percent of CFOs looking to hire). You can check local results for the survey at the RHI Web site.

By industry, manufacturing looks good (a net 6 percent increase), as does professional services (a net 5 percent increase).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winning Through Passivity

No, we're not talking about indexed investments.

Here's a phrase you'd do well to learn, if it isn't familiar already: "passive candidate."

That's headhunter-speak for an employed person who is not seeking a new job. Odd as it might seem, recruiters – retained search firms especially – go ga-ga over these non-candidate candidates. So much so that many will routinely snub any candidate who initiates contact with them (whether through answering a job posting, sending a resume, or some other form of approach), in favor of candidates who the recruiter reached out to first.

Does that seem silly? Then you're on the same page as Ronald Katz, president of Penguin Human Resource Consulting. In a recent post on ere.net, Katz exhorts his peers in the HR and recruiting communities:

What is it that makes us question the motives of people looking for jobs? Aren’t we making our jobs harder by only looking for the flaws in active candidates? I’m all for screening applicants, but lately I’ve seen recruiters time after time shooting themselves in the foot.

Are we back in high school playing “hard to get”?


There are all kinds of reasons that people are actively looking for work, and most of them do not cast a pall on the applicant. … We may find ourselves ignoring proactive, experienced team players with solid business experience just because they are actively looking for a job. Since when did looking for a better job become the mark of Cain?

The piece details diverse reasons why individuals do and don't actively search for jobs. It thoroughly debunks the myth (popular among headhunters) that passive candidates usually end up being better and more stable workers than active candidates.

But Katz overlooks an entirely different reason why retained recruiters prefer passive candidates – a reason unrelated to quality. To justify their fees, clients expect a recruiter to dig for hard-to-find candidates, as opposed to taking the lazy man's road of advertising on job boards or mining a database of resumes posted by active job-seekers. (I shouldn't have to say this, but any recruiter's client is not you; it's the employer whose opening they're working to fill.)

So whether recruiters are behaving rationally or not, you'll probably get more interviews and more offers if you can position yourself as a passive candidate. That means, instead of pursuing headhunters directly, do things that make it easy for headhunters to find you. Make yourself visible within your profession, and get evidence of your expertise and your achievements onto the Internet where recruiters will find it through search engines.

Get published or quoted in the trade press. Take a leadership role in your professional association or its local chapter. Each time you win an award or achieve some other professional milestone, send a brief notice to your alumni association(s) and any professional groups you belong to. When your exploit appears on the group's Web site, you've gone a long way toward establishing yourself as a passive candidate.

Some professionals may be able to go still further, by maintaining their own career Web site or even publishing their own blog. Before taking that step, carefully assess whether it could jeopardize your current job. Some companies and industries bar employees from publishing anything anywhere without prior approval. Lately there have been a handful of media reports about individuals fired by investment banks after they were caught blogging - even though the bloggers had published under pseudonyms and had never named their employers on their blogs.

What’s So Great About Passive Candidates? [ere.net]

The Kitchen Sink

Career coach George Stone, who once headed a top outplacement firm, offers a broad compendium of basic advice about numerous facets of the job-hunting process. It includes tips for conceptualizing and organizing your job search, goal-setting, marketing, networking, interviewing, and just about anything else related to finding a new job - all in just 700 words. Here's our story.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Little Good News

Here’s a little spark of good news on the employment front: two-thirds of U.S. employers say they’re going to hold steady on hiring in the first quarter of 2009, while 16 percent plan to increase hiring and 13 percent plan to lay off workers, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.

The survey asked about 32,000 employers in 201 metro areas: “How do you anticipate total employment at your location to change in the three months to the end of March 2009 as compared to the current quarter.”

While it won’t tell you if your boss is planning to pink slip you tomorrow, you can take a look at what’s happening in your area by checking the state and city results at Manpower’s media Web page (use the drop-down box to pick your state).

Among 13 industry sectors, professional and business services had the second highest net employment outlook: 23 percent of firms planned to hire, 12 percent to decrease staff and 60 percent anticipated no changes.

Surprisingly, some companies in the financial activities sector -- which pretty much every indicator shows shed record numbers of jobs in 2008 – actually say they’re planning to increase staff. Although 71 percent of companies weren’t planning to add or subtract staff, 15 percent planned to hire, while only 10 percent planned to decrease staff in the first quarter of 2009, the survey found.

At the risk of pouring sour milk on your cornflakes, here are the top five cities (it’s actually more than that because some cities tied) with the weakest net employment outlook:

1. Barnstable Town, Mass.
2. Port St. Lucie, Fla., Reno, Nev. and San Diego
3. Flint, Mich.
4. Merced, Calif., Toledo, Ohio, and San Jose, Calif.
5. Wilmington and Greensboro. N.C., and Detroit

To end on a positive note, here are the top five cities with the strongest net employment outlook (FYI, mining was the number one strongest sector):

1. Lafayette, La.
2. Beaumont, Tex.
3. Houston, Tex.
4. Amarillo, Tex., Burlington, Vt.
5. Des Moines

Monday, December 08, 2008

Auditing's Minority Retention Problem

The auditing profession's reputation as an attractive career isn't borne out by retention numbers for minority and female accountants, says the co-chairman of a government advisory committee on the profession's future.

Diversity within audit firms is limited to the lower levels, says Donald Nicolaisen. Nicolaisen, a former SEC chief accountant, and former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt served as co-chairs of the U.S. Treasury Department's Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession. The panel issued its final report on Sept. 26.

Audit firms hire many women and minorities at entry level, but few of them stay, Nicolaisen told an auditing conference at Baruch College last week. There are few women in management, and even fewer minorities, he noted. The committee's 219-page report states:

In 2007, 1.0 percent of the partners in the six largest accounting firms were African American, 1.6 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 3.4 percent were Asian, and less than 1.0 percent were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native, aggregating less than 7 percent of the total partners.
Minorities made up 21 percent of all 2007 accounting graduates, and 31.3 percent of new hires at the six largest accounting firms. (Most of the latter, 21.3 percent, were Asian.) Yet almost none stick around long enough to obtain CPA licenses: In 2007, just 7 percent of CPAs were minorities, about the same representation as among partners. The advisory committee report observes:

… this under-representation of minorities in the profession is unacceptable from both a societal and business perspective. As the demographics of the global economy continue to expand ethnic diversity, it is imperative that the profession also reflect these changes. The auditing profession’s historic role in performing audits in an increasingly diverse global setting and in establishing investor trust cannot be maintained unless the profession itself is viewed as open and representative.

Its recommendations for addressing the problem include:

- Recruit minorities into the auditing profession from other disciplines and careers.

- Create focused minority retention programs, such as mentoring.

- Work with community colleges to recruit more minorities into the auditing profession.

- Cooperate with historically black colleges and universities by offering cross-sabbaticals for faculty to work in audit firms, and internships for students.

- Institute programs to encourage minorities to pursue doctoral degrees in accounting, such as the KPMG Foundation's successful PhD Project.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Say What You Want Online. Ha.

We’ve written before about how important it is to be sure what you do or say online doesn’t come back to haunt you. But, because I’m continually amazed at how resistant people are to the idea of keeping things clean on their Facebook or MySpace pages, I’ll write about it again. This item by Sarah Perez on ReadWriteWeb gave me the starting point.

You may have heard about Stacy Snyder, who was dropped from the teaching program at Millersville University of Pennsylvania because she posted a picture of herself on MySpace, with a drink, the caption “Drunken Pirate,” and some words about the supervisor of her student-teaching position.

She sued the school, and lost. The court said her student-teaching status made her an employee, and so her free speech was only protected if it touched on public concerns.

Perez, put together an excellent, detailed description of the case. I’ll sum it up:

Woman wants a career in education. Woman is a less-than-stellar student teacher, with some negative reviews. Woman posts on MySpace: “I have nothing to hide. I am over 21, and I don’t say anything that will hurt me (in the long run). Plus, I don’t think that they would stoop that low as to mess with my future.” Woman posts tacky picture on MySpace. Woman doesn’t make them private. Supervisors see them. School fires her. College doesn’t give her degree in education. Woman sues. Woman loses.

Perez makes this note:

Synder may have needed more coaching in how to be a professional - the very thing that student-teaching is designed for - but it hardly negates her years of completed course work towards her education degree. So in the end, it really was her MySpace mistake that lost her the degree after all. And if that isn’t a tale that has you rushing out to manage your profile page’s privacy settings right now, then it’s hard to imagine what will.

Not long ago, I gave a talk to some undergrads about careers and was asked whether or not they should worry about what they post on their online profiles. I said they should. I was surprised at how much push back I got, with several kids arguing that, basically, they were entitled to their private lives and no one should hold their personal Web pages against them. I’ve seen others make that argument - often on Career blogs, which stuns me. Right or wrong, whether you like it or not, employers and bosses are going to see your posts, and it’s going to impact how the feel about you. The company you work for today may be laid back about these things, but you don’t know how your next boss will be. Of course, during this talk I was responding to a hypthetical question.

So let’s go back to the real world:

So in the end, it really was her MySpace mistake that lost her the degree after all. And if that isn’t a tale that has you rushing out to manage your profile page’s privacy settings right now, then it’s hard to imagine what will.

Recruiting Video Was a Parody, Says Author

Two days ago (Dec. 3) we described what we considered an over-the-top video designed to recruit financial advisors away from Merrill Lynch (about to be absorbed by Bank of America) and Wachovia (set to be acquired by Wells Fargo).

Its creator, Darin Manis of Colorado recruiting firm RJ and Makay, has responded. Here's what Darin says:

The video was meant to be a parody on what has happened with the financial sector this year and how aggressive recruiting has become for Financial Advisors.

Most of the response we have received from advisors has been positive and most have thought it was a humorous video. There are a lot of inside jokes that people who aren't advisors likely wouldn't get.

We make fun of ourselves (as recruiters) and poke fun at a some others as well. Our other videos have been of such a serious nature that we wanted to have a bit of humor in this latest release.

Opportunities in Restructuring

CFOs and controllers who steered one company through a financial recovery are finding their experience is in demand at other distressed businesses, accounting firms, and especially at consulting organizations specializing in workout and restructuring efforts. Bankruptcy and restructuring consulting work requires more than financial expertise – it also calls for experience "on the ground," with strategy, capital investment and dealing with creditors. Here's our story.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

IFRS is the Next SOX

Looking ahead, it’s easy to predict that International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) could become the next SOX – an area where the supply of accountants who know the subject falls short of the number of companies who need that expertise.

The fact that IFRS is coming to America is definitely sinking in. More than half of all CPAs nationwide say they’re getting ready to adopt IFRS, according to a survey released by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

"The Security and Exchange Commission’s proposed roadmap calling for U.S. adoption of international standards by 2014 is clearly getting people’s attention,” said Arleen Thomas, AICPA senior vice president for member competency and development. “What our tracking survey shows is that CPAs are increasingly aware that international standards are coming and are starting to feel a real need to get training and gain expertise in this new area.”

Fifty-five percent of about 1,500 CPA surveyed by AICPA said they were preparing in a variety of ways for adoption of IFRS. That’s up 14 percentage points from the 41 percent who were preparing for change according to an AICPA survey in April.

You’re going to have to learn IFRS anyway, so why not get a leap on the competition and pick up the knowledge ASAP. Start with the backgrounder on the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) Web site .

Then take a class with your state CPA association or the AICPA (courses are typically open to non-members). The CPA review firms have also begun offering IFRS seminars.

Then, if there’s a committee preparing a set of test IFRS statements at your firm, get on it. If there isn’t, start one and viola, instant expert status.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Student Aps Up at Deloitte Scotland

In Scotland, Deloitte has seen a 34 percent uptick in applicants from students set to graduate in 2009, according to a feature in The Scotsman.

The Edinburgh paper reports that while other firms are laying off staff, Deloitte plans to hire the same number of students next year that it hired this year.

The Scotsman’s Jane Bradley writes:

Deloitte said that applications in Scotland have been increasing for the past few years, but that concern about student debt and the availability of graduate positions had encouraged more to apply early for 2009.

Over the UK as a whole, applications rose by 40 per cent. Jim Boyle, talent partner for Deloitte in Scotland, said: "I've found that some graduates who might ordinarily take a post-university gap year have been applying to Deloitte during their final year rather than wait until they return…"

Sarah Shillingford, graduate recruitment partner at Deloitte, added: "The current economic climate has not affected our graduate recruitment plans. At this stage, we are anticipating around 1,000 graduate vacancies, broadly the same number of graduates as previous years. A number of graduate recruiters have cut back on recruitment figures and, as a result, more students are competing for our positions than ever before."

The company added that graduates were keen to secure a stable job amid rising student debt.

That’s a very interesting remark given that the average student debt in Scotland is about $17,000. But, back to the story:

Shillingford added: "Students graduating in 2009 face a tougher job market than those who graduated in previous years. The value attributed to job security by students is higher than I have seen before, both in terms of the employers they are attracted to and the timing of their applications."

Here at home, a Deloitte spokesperson declined to say whether the company has seen a simliar increase in applications from students, but our best guess is that if it's happening there, it's happening here, too.

Gloves-Off Recruiting

Sharks in the water. Stacks of bills. Flaming martinis. A big bank's chief executive struggling to hold tight while riding a charging bull.

Those are just a few of the strikingly un-subtle images in a YouTube video a Colorado recruiting firm is using to persuade retail financial advisors to leave Merrill Lynch, Wachovia and other big financial services firms that are either being acquired or are on life support.

Financial advisors, the heart of any institution's sales force, see themselves as independent business owners whose income derives from the client assets they manage or bring in. Now, pending mergers have placed a large chunk of the U.S. advisor community "in play." That's setting off a feeding frenzy among rival institutions and headhunters competing for the allegiance of these brokers, who control tens of billions of dollars in household wealth.

Near the center of the battle is Darin Manis, chief executive of financial services recruiting and consulting firm RJ & Makay, in Colorado Springs. A video featured on RJ & Makay's Web site is an anthem of the hard-sell approach to recruiting. It revels in jangling music and seductive images of cash that awaits brokers who choose rival banks' "transition" packages over the "retention" packages that Bank of America and Wells Fargo are offering advisors from Merrill Lynch and Wachovia, respectively. And it delights in bad-mouthing the competition.

"The deals are hot. You'll be a better golfer. The deals are sky-high," the video proclaims. It goes on to warn that "your executive management" – presumably, meaning Merrill Lynch/B of A – "is taking care of themselves. They didn't forget about their retention deals." Cue to photos of a luxury car, secluded beachfront, resort villa, yacht, corporate jet, and fat-cat cartoon. RJ & Makay ridicules one wire house for giving advisors "flat-screen TVs as their retention package" (a joke, apparently) – then asserts that Merrill's retention packages from Bank of America are even worse.

The ironic thing is, Darin Manis is one of the more thoughtful voices in the career management arena. His blog contains numerous detailed and useful advice articles for job-seekers, on topics ranging from sanitizing your professional contact information, to personal career Web sites, to recovering from interview mistakes.

But business is business. And recruiting sure can be a crude business at times.

RJ & Makay Video To Financial Advisors [RJ & Makay]

SEC: Don't Save Money By Cutting Compliance

Some good news for compliance specialists: The SEC says financial firms shouldn't consider compliance an area for cost-cutting.

In an open letter to the chief executives of registered financial firms, Lori Richards, the commission's director of compliance inspections and examinations, admonishes firms to "be vigilant and proactive" in making sure their follow accepted practices.

While many firms are considering reductions and cost-cutting measures, we remind you of your firm's legal obligation to maintain an adequate compliance program reasonably designed to achieve compliance with the law.

Firms must be vigilant and proactive in preventing, detecting and correcting problems that could occur. Firms should pay attention to ensuring that their interactions with investors meet high standards, that sales and trading practices are appropriate, that financial, valuation and risk controls are followed, and that all disclosure obligations are met - as well as meeting all other obligations in conformity with the securities laws.

Compliance is one area of Wall Street that's experienced continued demand and relative security in total compensation. In tough times, insiders say, firms need to retain professionals who are overseeing critical legal and regulatory functions. So not only will some firms be adding in this area, bonuses may reward compliance officers and analysts across a range of specialized areas.

Ex-Bankers Make Good Accounting Candidates

If hordes of unemployed investment bankers and fund managers are contemplating a switch to finance-related jobs, Seiki Murono hasn't seen the evidence. The managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search's San Francisco office says he's received a few extra resumes from ex-bankers - but hardly an onslaught. Still, he thinks Wall Street's refugees could have a future in accounting, if they want it. Here's our story.

Another Nudge on IFRS

From California, James Rubin writes:
U.S. accountants who work internationally will have to learn a new set of standards and interpretations over the next five to 10 years as American firms adopt International Financial Reporting Standards. That was among the points touched on at a panel discussion last month at Town Hall Los Angeles. The event included Ian M. Eddleston, director of quality for the Pacific Southwest area of the assurance and advisory business services practice for Ernst & Young, Rosalind Tyson, regional director of the SEC's Los Angeles regional office and Brent A. Woodford, senior vice president, planning and control for the Walt Disney Company.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Kolb Hires Four

Kolb+Co., a management consulting and accounting firm in Brookfield, Wisc. that focuses on closely held businesses, recently announced four hires.

Johnnie Bannier, Jr., joined the firm as a tax specialist. He recently served in the U.S. Air Force, and holds a M.S. in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a B.S. in aeronautics from the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks.

Valerie Johnson joined as director of wealth management. She holds a Certified Financial Planner certification and has 28 years of experience in financial planning.

Randy Pinnow joined as a health care consultant. He is a CPA with more than 12 years of experience in the health care industry and a B.B.A. degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

Peter Schubilske joined as audit senior. He holds a CPA license and M.B.A. and B.B.A. degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Kolb+Co. SC Welcomes Four New Employees [Press release]

Monday, December 01, 2008

They're Having Some Fun Now

It's probably not a surprise economic pressures are weighing on the shoulders of chief financial officers, leading to unusually high turnover - but continued demand. Gordon Grand, head of CFO recruiting at Russell Reynolds Associates, calls CFO "the least secure job in America." Research by another search firm, Crist|Kolder Associates, bears that out: Nearly 20 percent of CFOs at the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 left their jobs in 2007, up from about 14 percent in 2006, says The Wall Street Journal.

Adding to the long-cited reasons for increasing pressures on CFOs – Sarbanes-Oxley and related responsibilities – are new challenges, like handling the credit crisis and a tanking economy.

When they leave, though, CFOs have options. "The surge in CFO turnover puts a premium on finance veterans," the Journal notes.
As demand for CFOs rises, so does pay. The median compensation for finance chiefs in the S&P 500 rose 5.2% to $2.9 million last year, including salary, bonuses, the value of equity grants and other compensation. The increase was bigger than the 1.3% jump in CEO compensation, according to data tracker Equilar Inc., of Redwood Shores, Calif.
That's the good news. On the flip side:
Some experts expect the high turnover to continue amid the slowing economy and depressed stock market. CFOs "will absolutely bear the brunt and, in some cases, take the fall," says George Herrmann of Right Management, a unit of Manpower Inc. "All of that stuff has really made the job, in a nutshell, less fun than it used to be."

They're Making Cuts in China, Too

The Shanghai Daily ran a feature last week about layoffs at KPMG’s China offices. Zhang Fengming writes in an off-the-cuff style that’s spread from Hong Kong’s English language papers to mainland cities: "Employees deemed to have performed poorly will be the first to lose their jobs.”

In addition to the layoffs in the auditing service offices in Shanghai, KPMG was also planning cuts in Bejing, according to an unnamed source.

Other interesting tidbits from The Daily:

Redundancies are rare in the industry in China, which has seen high growth in recent years with booming initial public offerings.

Ernst & Young, another of the big-four, said last week that it didn’t rule out salary cuts and job losses if the slowdown in the economy got worse.

Accounting firms are redeploying staff with the shrinking of IPOs and shifting emphasis to mergers and acquisition services and tax services.

PricewaterhouseCoopers is likely to cut flexible pay first in its Singapore office but no such move has been announced in China.

Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte bosses say they expect slower growth in China over the next few years. However, it still stood out as a market with higher growth when compared to the West.

Last Month's Poll

In the spirit of the election, last month we asked which candidate had the best understanding of accounting. The results:
  • Barack Obama - 41%
  • John McCain - 27%
  • Ralph Nader - 13%
  • Joe Biden - 10%
  • Sarah Palin - 9%
Given the amount of attention the economy's going to get from the incoming administration, it may be a good sign that the election's winner earned such a score for his accounting acumen. We suppose some CPAs would argue that if people on Wall Street and in Washington had given more credence to basic accounting, maybe sub-prime mortgages wouldn't have become so very popular over the last few years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Looking into the Gloom

Accountants have been more or less lucky this downturn: While other areas of finance have been imploding, demand hasn't let up for the likes of CPAs and tax specialists, and increased interest in risk management and compliance have pushed demand for people with accounting skills.

But now comes the latest quarterly survey by the AICPA and the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, reporting:
Expectations for revenue, profits and employment showed their sharpest decline in the survey's history. Half of respondents expect revenue decreases and 55% expect profit decreases. Only 19% expect to be able to hire more employees. That figure was down from 38% in January.
The emphasis is mine. According to the Journal of Accountancy, the survey also found CFOs, CEOs and CPAs working in business and industry aren't very confident in the economic outlook:
  • 36 percent either had or expected to freeze hiring, 31 percent reported layoffs or expected layoffs and/or compensation freezes, and 34 percent had restricted staff travel or planned to.
  • 66 percent of the CPAs said their organization was being impacted by the credit crisis, up from 55 percent in April
  • 8 percent of CPAs expect the economy to begin improving in the first half of 2009.
So, this isn't a tidal wave of bad news but it hints at some trends worth noting. What got my attention: The increasing impact of the credit crisis and the sinking rate of hiring expectations combined with planned or already implemented hiring freezes indicates the corporate finance job market is coming under pressure, like so many other areas of the business world.

Good News for Restructuring Specialists

As the economy drags more firms under, mid-size accounting firms may see a boost in their restructuring business, points out a feature in London’s Financial Times. Will the story be the same here in the United States? Jennifer Hughes writes:

The dominance of the Big Four in traditional accounting work is set to boost mid-tier rival BDO Stoy Hayward as it scoops uprestructuring work they are unable to take on, according to its head.

Simon Michaels, managing partner, said it was more likely that the Big Four firms, comprising PwC, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte, would find conflicts with their regular work, such as audit or advisory, for struggling companies, meaning his group could pick up the pieces.

BDO is working on the administration of Dawnay Day, the property and financial services group, and has taken on the independent valuation of Northern Rock, the nationalised bank. Both are among the biggest projects it has taken on and Mr. Michaels said it had the capacity for more.

"We find ourselves less conflicted than the Big Four so I can only see it going one way with us getting more of the work," he said.

The Big Four audit nearly all FTSE 250 members plus a significant proportion of smaller companies. Many groups will already have a relationship with two or more companies of the four, meaning theycould be ruled out of restructuring work for their clients.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus go...

When the economy turns sour, you need to spend extra time looking over your shoulder because that's when people are more prone to blame someone else for problems they have caused, according to a management professor who studies behavior in the workplace.

"We're pretty obsessed with assigning blame in our culture. In the workplace, there usually are more challenges and failures during tough economic times, and because of self-serving attitudes, it's common to want to make sure the blame is on someone else," says Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire.

"It's a common human tendency for people to convince themselves that they are the cause of the good things but try to assign blame to others when things go wrong," Harvey says. "It's an ego defense mechanism that helps people feel good about themselves."

The history of accounting includes plenty of scapegoating. "For example, Enron fired Arthur Andersen in an apparent attempt to redirect at least some of the blame and criticism being targeted at Enron,” Harvey says. “Not to say Arthur Andersen did nothing wrong, but if the information the auditor receives from the company is flawed, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the auditor shares in the blame for creating that information. Yes, Arthur Andersen should have been able to catch the deceptive numbers and their subsequent shredding of documents to cover their tracks didn't help their case, but to try to shift blame for lies that originated within Enron is a pretty clear (and fairly desperate) attempt at scapegoating.”

Being personally targeted as a scapegoat can be devastating, whether or not the allegations are true. If you're the target, trying to explain the real cause of and responsibility for the problem may appear as desperate excuses or, ironically, attempts to blame someone else.

And if the person throwing you under the bus happens to be your boss, the situation becomes even more complicated. "When that happens people usually have to stand their ground and hope that, over time, the facts help to vindicate them," Harvey says.

According to the professor, the better approach is to avoid being made a scapegoat by proactively making sure everyone knows your responsibilities and structural limitations beforehand when you see a problem developing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Six Ways to Not Get the Job

If you want to know all the stupid things people do when job hunting, ask Ed Navis. He's been reading resumes for two decades as a human resources consultant to mid-size companies and non-profits. Here are the top six mistakes Navis see job hunters make.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'll See You in Court

Finance-related lawsuits are booming, and criminal charges stemming from the housing and banking sector cataclysms may be coming down the pike. For some accountants, that's good news.

Litigation support has long been a recognized accounting niche. Now, corporations and financial institutions defending against private lawsuits, regulatory probes and indictments will have to ramp up their use of auditors and consultants with sophisitcated accounting skills.

Valuation work is a hot niche already, according to a recent JobsintheMoney story that cites RSM McGladrey and the New York search firm Careers on the Move. It looks to heat up still further, driven not only by litigation, but by tougher regulatory scrutiny and the heightened importance of fair-value accounting.

A potential lawsuit milestone came in October when Bank of America agreed to an $8 billion-plus collective settlement of homeowners' claims against Countrywide, the California-based mortgage lender that B of A acquired earlier in the year. That settlement, which investors in Countrywide mortgage securities also signed off on, provides for modifying the financial terms of potentially hundreds of thousands of individual mortgage loans.

That broad-based settlement "could set the stage for a deluge" of mortgage suits, wrote Andrew Jeffery on the Minyanville blog. The likeliest targets, he says, are two big banks whose subsidiaries wrote the most "option ARMs," a particularly toxic type of mortgage loan. They are JPMorgan Chase (current parent of Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns) and Wells Fargo (which bought Wachovia).

While suits over everything from predatory lending practices to balance-sheet writedowns will clearly propel demand for CPAs with specialized skills, related criminal cases against corporations and individuals will require accountants too – on both sides of the aisle.

The FBI is probing possible fraud related to sub-prime and other securities at 26 firms and the SEC has 50 open investigations, Bloomberg News reported last month. At least 12 former Lehman Brothers executives including Chief Executive Richard Fuld and CFO Erin Callan reportedly have received grand jury subpoenas. According to Bloomberg,

In the Lehman probes, investigators subpoenaed Ernst & Young LLP, Lehman's auditor; U.K.-based bank Barclays Plc, which bought its North American brokerage; and the New Jersey Division of Investments, which runs a pension fund that lost $115.6 million on a $180 million investment in Lehman's $6 billion stock sale in June, according to people familiar with the case.

Also subpoenaed were Putnam Investments LLC, the Boston- based mutual fund firm that oversees about $163 billion and bought Lehman bonds and shares; New York-based fund manager BlackRock Inc., a Lehman creditor; AIG; and New York-based C.V. Starr & Co., run by ex-AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg, according to the people familiar with the probes.

Executive Focus and You

It’s not much of a surprise, but business leaders are paying less attention to workforce issues and more to confidence and risk management. The Wall Street Journal, reporting on a survey conducted over the summer by the Conference Board, says executives are shifting their priorities away from finding and developing talent, succession planning, diversity and labor relations. As the research group’s CEO Jon Spector puts it: “The people-management issues … have moved off the front burner.” Writes the Journal’s Cari Tuna:

The results are even more striking when compared with a similar Conference Board survey a year ago. Then, executives listed revenue growth, profit growth and finding qualified management talent among their top-five concerns. Bolstering corporate reputation and promoting creativity and innovation were in the top 10 last year but fell in the new survey.

In other heartening news to go with your coffee, the Conference Board says the labor market will continue to sink “well into 2009.” It’s another sign the economy’s going to be pressured next year. Gad Levanon, senior economist at the Conference Board, explains:

… demand for goods and services in the U.S. is declining, and businesses are responding by aggressively slashing their payrolls. Unfortunately, it seems this environment will persist for several more quarters and business leaders will continue reducing their workforce.

This isn’t about “the sky is falling” and we should all be paranoid about our jobs going away. Accountants, after all, are still in great demand. At the same time, remember everyone - accounting firms and corporate finance offices includes - are looking for ways to save money, or at least not spend money. Approach your job with that in mind. The phrase “work smarter” is way overused, but nowadays it’s a good piece of advice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Niche Trade Finance Business Booms

Are there any hot niches left in finance? Lending for international trade shipments.

Accounting and finance professionals skilled in evaluating credit risk or reviewing import-export transactions should sit up and take note.

Not that trade itself is booming. Quite the contrary: shipping volume is taking it on the chin lately as the whole world plunges into recession. But big global banks' flight from all types of lending is forcing importers and exporters to seek financing elsewhere, says a recent Wall Street Journal story. That's creating a flood of business for various niche trade-finance providers that include small hedge funds and boutique investment firms.

Global trade is a $14 trillion annual business, and 90 percent of it is shipped on credit. The most common mechanisms are letters of credit, factoring of receivables, and loans secured by the goods being shipped. Now that default is on everyone's mind, interest rates and other charges for these loans have climbed sharply, but so have lenders' risks. Says the Journal:

Demand for export and trade finance is so high that the operations of these small firms are being tested to the limit. They have to be careful about who they lend to, even though they are being offered what can seem like extraordinary incentives to make a loan.

Ship Comes In for Trade Financiers [WSJ]

Premium on Valuation Experience

Valuation work is shaping up as a beneficiary of the financial sector's troubles, thanks to increasing regulatory oversight and forced consolidation among banks. Here's our story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Your Credit Report Matters

What's true then is even truer now: When you're looking for work, you need to be buttoned up, and that includes having your credit report in good shape. Last year, we published this story by Dona DeZube. In today's economy, it's worth reading again.

More and more companies are checking the credit and background reports of their employment candidates. Before sending in a resume, smart job-seekers should pull their own documents to make sure their information is correct. Here's how you do it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

KPMG Cuts 400 jobs

KPMG has laid off around 400 people nationally, reducing by about 2 percent its workforce of 24,000 people in 80 U.S. offices.

“KPMG’s business remains quite strong,” says company spokesperson Dan Ginsburg. “Clearly, the economy has caused some businesses to delay some discretionary projects. In order to improve efficiencies, we have had some very targeted force reductions.”

Despite the cuts, KPMG is still active in the hiring market. “We continue to recruit on college campuses, as well as in the experienced marketplace for specific skills,” Ginsburg says.

Why recruit and cut at the same time? Ending recruiting can cause problems when the economy turns around. For example, cutbacks during the last recession led to the current shortage of accountants with seven to 10 years experience.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another Straw in the (Ill) Wind

A high-end financial headhunter in San Francisco tells JobsintheMoney that his volume of search assignments has suffered "the biggest fastest freeze up" since he entered the business 28 years ago. Paul Herrerias of Stanton Chase recruits for partner openings in CPA firms and senior-level finance slots in corporations. This is a relatively small slice of the hiring market but is considered a strong indicator of larger trends. Here's our story.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fearful Workers Are Staying Put

In job-market sentiment surveys, people who say they expect to remain in their current job are routinely tallied as expressing a pessimistic view of employment conditions. If that strikes you as counter-intuitive, then an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal should help clear things up.

That "Careers" piece by WSJ reporter Sarah Needleman starts off noting that,

A growing number of professionals are saying "no, thanks" to prospective employers asking them to change jobs.
A newly released survey by Accenture (conducted in mid-September) found just 13 percent of 322 U.S. middle managers said they were actively looking for a job. And 46 percent said it's "risky" to switch employers in the current environment.

Those findings align with anecdotal reports from headhunters, who the WSJ says "are having to work harder just to get professionals to hear out job opportunities they have to offer." One reason employees fear to move: the occasional horror story about someone who left a steady job only to lose their new job shortly thereafter – perhaps even before starting work.

If you're an intrepid soul who is still willing to fish in today's treacherously choppy waters, the WSJ also has several good tips about limiting the danger that jumping to a new boat might capsize your career. They include performing due diligence on the new employer (through a variety of methods – direct questioning, searching news stories and SEC filings, and seeking out past and present employees to get their opinions), and asking for a severance package before coming aboard.

The article's concluding paragraph also struck a chord with me. I've often found that my friends and family usually are clueless about the business world – so their advice, well-meaning though it is, can't be relied on. Says the WSJ:

It's wise to weigh the pros and cons of a job change with a professional career coach or mentor, says (executive coach and recruiter Paula) Marks. "Don't discuss it with friends and family. They bring their own baggage, their own fears."

Hooray, It's Review Time

If you're dreading that upcoming meeting where you and your boss will review your performance (and/or separate meetings you'll hold with your subordinates to review theirs), here's some good news: Performance reviews are valuable tools if used correctly, a number of career experts say.

Our story explains how you can profit from the annual workplace ritual, by turning your weak points to your advantage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Burr Pilger & Mayer Sets up in Novato

Burr Pilger & Mayer, LLP (BPM) is opening a new office in Novato in Marin County, California. The office is the fifth Bay Area location for the firm, which offers full service accounting, assurance, tax, business consulting and wealth management services.

"We have work space for up to 20 people and we are already actively trying to fill the open positions," said company spokesperson Constance Jorritsma. North Bay business leader Jim Petray will manage the new office.

“Our new location will enable us to better serve our North Bay clients, including an expanding base in the wine, technology and professional services fields,” said Stephen D. Mayer, BPM co-founder and managing partner.

The Novato office will be located at Hamilton Landing Hangers. The firm’s other offices are in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose and Walnut Creek. Currently, the firm has 350 employees.

Recent firm-wide initiatives include going green in all BPM offices; an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), offering all employees an ownership interest in the firm; and a new joint venture with MacKenzie Communications, a Bay Area marketing communications agency, to form a corporate responsibility and sustainability practice.

‘Previsualization,’ and Practice, Make Perfect

Chad Broadus sent this in:

Want to nail your next interview? Consider a proven technique Olympic athletes have been using for years to achieve a peak performance. It’s called “previsualization,” where you mentally practice a successful event, as realistically and positively as possible, before even leaving the starting line.

Dr. Lynn Joseph, author of The Job Loss Recovery Guide: A Proven Program for Getting Back to Work - Fast!, suggests previsualizing the whole process from interview to post-offer celebration.

…take ten minutes daily to relax, close your eyes, and mentally rehearse a peak-performance job interview. Engage all your senses as if it were a real interview, listening to the questions and giving answers confidently-even receiving an offer. When you do face a real interviewer, you’ll appear as a polished, self-confident professional with a winning attitude.

After each mental rehearsal of an interview, imagine your future self having your ideal job. Imagine it as if you have it now, in minute detail and with all the excitement and satisfaction of accomplishment that you can. Mentally celebrate with your family and friends.

Professional athletes rely on visualization exercises to prepare for their sports events. Mental rehearsal improves confidence and feelings of control, resulting in greater focus and insight in the face of challenge.

Although a natural fit for the interview process, previsualization’s application doesn’t end there. Just think of all the difficult situations that could apply it to, like annual reviews, that meeting with your boss to pitch an idea, meetings with challenging clients.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Avoiding Burnout

As layoffs spread throughout the economy, in coming months more and more staffers will find themselves shouldering added duties formerly handled by axed colleagues.

A post we saw on a blog called Mergers & Inquisitions offers seven useful tips for avoiding burnout when you work 80 to 100 hours per week and may be on call even while away.

Although Mergers & Inquisitions is written for investment bankers, we agree with its anonymous author that many of his tips apply to anyone who spends the majority of their time in an office.

Here's a synopsis of his advice:

1. Take vacations. They can be timed to coincide with the completion of a major deal or project.

2. When not at your desk, exercise, instead of watching TV or surfing the Web. This might require joining a gym that's open 24/7. Major cities have plenty of those, so you needn't worry about racing out of work to get to the gym before 9 p.m. Even while working out, you can still check your Blackberry every 15 minutes for urgent messages.

3. Take mini-vacations. If you can't afford a whole week off, there's bound to be a Saturday when things get slow to break away for a few hours at the spa, or even a day-trip to some lovely out-of-town spot.

4. Live with friends. Having company around during your minimal time outside the office fights burnout and helps you stay away from TV and Web surfing. Sharing an apartment cuts living expenses too.

5. Spend time with non-bankers.

6. Minimize unimportant work.

7. Learn to Say "No." Even if you're the low man or woman on the totem pole, you don't always have to take on every project that gets thrown at you. Mergers & Inquisitions explains:
If you have other looming deadlines that are more important, "I can’t do that right now - I have to finish all these other projects by tomorrow" is an excuse that works well (you can’t do this right away - you need to have been there awhile and established yourself).
And from a strategic standpoint, he adds,
there are diminishing returns to how much you learn with each new project, and you’ll learn that putting in 20% more hours for a 5% higher bonus is often not worth it.
7 Simple Steps to Avoiding Investment Banking Burnout [Mergers & Inquisitions]

Talent Fuels Acquisition in Philly

Doubting that demand for accountants is still high? RSM McGladrey Inc. Director of Business Development Nick Araco tells us that acquiring talent was a driving factor behind the firm’s recent purchase of Simonson, Lipschutz & Fogel PC (SLF) in Philadelphia.

“It’s easier to acquire talent in one swoop, and to complement it with entry-level hiring and one-by-one hiring,” he explained. “This economic unit of McGladrey was a 75-person office four years ago and with this acquisition we have 240 professionals locally.”

The 35 people RSM picked up are only the start. “We plan to expand our experienced- and entry-level recruiting, even given the state of the economy and the job markets,” Araco said.

RSM has seen a fair amount of resumes from folks shed by Big 4 firms and they’re vetting those people carefully. Those looking for a long-term commitment to a full service firm with a global reach and a sophisticated client base are making it through the selection process. “We want to make sure they’re not renting us and we’re not renting them until the Big 4 come back,” Araco said.

RSM has studied the numbers and feels supply and demand will continue to be balanced in job-seekers’ favor. In response, it actively works on ways to keep its Baby Boomer employees engaged, to offer flexible schedules to keep its mid-level career folks working and to groom young talent.

A second motivation for picking up SLF was the firm’s real estate and construction client base. While RSM is big in those areas nationally, it lacked market share in Philadelphia. Acquiring a local firm with RSM’s targeted clients was a win-win for both firms. The locals gain national-level opportunities, while RSM picks up more local clients and additional talent familiar with those industries.

The Philadelphia office will remain at the Center City location where SLF is currently based. RSM ends up with 240 professionals in four regional offices – Blue Bell and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Moorestown, New Jersey and Philadelphia. The SLF acquisition currently makes RSM McGladrey and McGladrey & Pullen the sixth largest firm in the region according to the 2008 Book of Lists.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boomers Who Refuse to Quit

Recently while reviewing past JobsintheMoney stories, I came across one with a striking message – not in the article itself, but in the seven reader comments published beneath it.

Both the story and the reader reaction dealt with the attitude of employers toward "mature" workers. The thing that struck me was that every one of those reader comments came from a perspective far less cheery than the article's.

The story first appeared a little more than three years ago. Arguing that the aging of America's work force will ultimately force many companies to relax their boycott of older job applicants, the article cited soothing comments from the Conference Board and a Robert Half recruiting manager. But author Jane Carruthers didn't sugar-coat the issue. She wrote,
Entrenched age prejudice and traditional retirement patterns have created a work environment which does not accommodate those mature workers with little desire to sit in a rocking chair and reflect on their lives.
It's not all clear sailing for mature jobseekers, however. "Being viewed as overqualified is a risk many older workers face," (Robert Half manager Keith) Feinberg says.

However, those cautionary notes pale beside the poignant testimonies of JobsintheMoney readers. Some had backgrounds in financial services – an industry with a special reputation, in one reader's words, as "more inclined to value you at your age, not your qualifications."

Having the resources to retire from full-time work while still in your 50s is a bit of a luxury, as a few comments pointed out. That's something you never hear in all the HR publicists' rhetorical hand-wringing over "Baby Boomer retirement" (another theme that seems more ubiquitous in the financial services industry than anywhere else). A reader who identified himself as Paul M. LeBas wrote,

There are many of us, like myself, 56 years old, MBA in Finance, with over 20 years of professional experience, who while aging, have not achieved financial independence, who are still physically and mentally robust and energetic, who have no desire ever to retire completely, and who are just hitting their professional stride. Nor are we all in a financial position to retire. I certainly hope that we can remain competitive participants in the workforce. Can we expect an end to age discrimination?
My personal feeling is that the answer will forever remain "No" until some organized group musters the will and the resources to mount a comprehensive campaign of blind testing and presents their findings to a court or a regulatory body.

The blind testing technique – in which identically qualified individuals who differ only in one legally protected attribute apply separately for the same openings – proved highly effective in combating race discrimination in both employment and housing.

The fact that no one seems to have used it to fight for mature workers is another reason why the laws against age discrimination in the U.S. are taken about as seriously as the laws that still exist on some states' books that define adultery as a criminal offense.

Mature Workers: A New Challenge for Employers [JobsintheMoney]

Looking for Accountants in South Florida

In Florida, it seems many of the newly unemployed are heading to local job fairs to look for work, and accounting firms are there to look for accountants. Tampa Bay Online quotes Don Selvage, who works in human resources for accounting firm NCT Group, at a job fair sponsored by Heartland Workforce and South Florida Community College:
"We're always looking for good accountants," Selvage said. "I find even in slow economy that good accountants are still in demand."

NCT, which has offices in Sebring, Winter Haven and Lakeland, is looking for a full-charge bookkeeper that can handle everything from journal entries to payroll and financial statements.

"What we really are trying to do here is plant the seed in young accounting students." Selvage said. "So that when they get their two years done and they go to Webber, UF, UCF they'll think don't forget their is a public accounting firm back in Highlands County that I want to talk to."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Seeking a Counter-Offer Has Pitfalls

Just about everyone is chopping heads these days, it seems. Yet strong performers remain in demand – even in financial services, an industry that's downsizing more furiously than any other. So it's hardly an anachronism for an employee who's received a job offer to think about obtaining a counter-offer from his or her current employer.

A recent Wall Street Journal Q&A article explored the ups and downs of directly asking for a counter-offer. The WSJ's Toddi Gutner offered these tips:

Before taking such a step, know your firm's culture - the attitude they've demonstrated in past instances where someone brandished an outside offer to request a raise. Some employers view this as hostile behavior.

Decide if you're ready to leave before informing your current employer about an outside offer. Then, instead of asking for a counter-offer yourself, just give notice and hope your employer needs you so badly that they initiate a counter-offer. In contrast, Gutner suggests that the questioner's approach might actually place his loyalty in greater doubt than if he'd just given notice.

I'm not sure I buy that last point. A staffer lured back by a counter-offer after giving notice can be perceived as holding a gun to the boss's head even more so than one who started the negotiation by emphasizing their desire to stay.

On the other hand, a well-known rule of negotiating is, the other party always will feel better about a step or provision that they initiated, than one that you presented to them. So from that perspective, perhaps it is wiser give the boss every opportunity to counter-offer without having to be asked.

When the employee has already asked for a raise, Gutner cautions,

You may need to assuage worries … that you just got another offer to leverage a pay increase—whether or not you did…

The most important thing is to do is to turn around any negative perception that you put your boss into a bind and forced him to raise your salary with a counteroffer. If you're able to do that, are happy in your current job and believe you can keep up the quality of your work, then "your future success with your current employer should not be affected ," says Ms. Baranello [Alane Baranello of executive recruiting firm Eileen Finn & Associates]. If you're not sure you can do that, you might want to consider the offer you received – or plan to look for another job even if you don't jump at the current offer.
Is Asking For a Counter Offer a Good Idea? [WSJ]