The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

November 21, 2013

Seven Common Accounting Career Roadblocks

Accounting has been traditionally regarded as an excellent career option. The function is always in demand; accountants – either in-house or outsourced – are vital contributors to organizations across all industries.  Pay rates for accounting positions remain well above that of median income levels, and job satisfaction consistently ranks highly.  In recent years, the profession’s reputation has soared to new levels, as the function is no longer confined to repetitive number-crunching responsibilities, and the associated persona is not necessarily introverted and boring.  New legislation, technological advancements, global involvement and team-oriented project work have expanded the scope of the profession, making it more versatile than ever before.

As rewarding, esteemed and stable as accounting may be, professionals in the field do not anticipate lifelong commitment to a single employer, and sometimes recognize the need to change jobs. Yes, inevitably, those who work in accounting will embark on quests for new employment. Considering that an accounting career is the culmination of dedicated hard work, possibly including extensive education, stressful CPA exam preparation and exhaustingly long hours in the office, a misguided job search in this field is particularly unfortunate.  Inadequate knowledge about the accounting job search process may give way to unrealistic expectations, unnecessary frustration or the acceptance of the “wrong” job offer. 

Equipped with tremendous experience both working in accounting and orchestrating successful job placements for accounting professionals, Abacus Group has the expertise to educate job seekers in this field. Described below are seven common errors made in an accounting job search:

1. Remaining Stagnant Rather than Progressing to More Challenging Work The best opportunities are those that present clear advancements in responsibility. Employers are most interested in candidates who have assumed gradually increasingly levels of challenges.  Examples of responsibilities that signal upward career progression include management of a bigger team, oversight of a larger budget or accountability for assignments that are objectively more difficult. Therefore, accounting professionals should remain wary of roles that will perpetuate the same caliber of work. Otherwise, they’ll be perceived as incapable of professional improvement or fearful of necessary positive change.

2. Discounting the Value of Public Accounting Acquiring mid-career Public Accounting experience is a highly beneficial option that’s commonly overlooked. Professionals might assume that beginning one’s career in corporate accounting leaves them ineligible or unprepared for the transition to Public – which is not the case. With a strong background and demonstrated success in private accounting, along with the motivation to undertake a relatively demanding workload, a professional can secure a position in Public Accounting. A role specifically with a Big Four – another highly recognizable, national – Public Accounting firm is especially recommended, as it will inevitably open up more doors and boost earnings later in one’s career.

3. Waiting Too Long to Part with Public Accounting While Public Accounting presents tremendous opportunities for learning, networking and professional credibility, remaining in the industry for too long can actually stifle career progression, unless one aspires toward the Partner level. To better progress in one’s career, recruiters recommend an eventual transition to private accounting, so that a professional can invest more interest in the firm’s performance, enjoy a more flexible, balanced lifestyle and remain marketable for a wider set of opportunities in the future. Getting too comfortable in Public Accounting, on the other hand, may backfire, leaving a professional typecast for a very specific type of position, like auditing exclusively for real estate industry clients. 

4. Leaving Public Accounting at the Wrong Time Employers justifiably frown upon a job change during a Public Accounting busy season. Unless he or she has a legitimate reason, a candidate should postpone the search until after this hectic period has ended, explains Brian Regan, an Abacus Group Accounting & Finance Recruiter.  “Most hiring managers came from Public Accounting themselves,” Brian explains. “So a January or February departure that left your teammates obligated to pick up your workload won’t go unnoticed by a potential employer.” In addition to sending the wrong signals to future hiring managers, a less-than-timely exodus from Public will burn bridges with your former colleagues and supervisors.

5. Forgetting to Emphasize “Soft” Skills At its core, the accounting function is largely technical, especially as new regulations are emerging constantly. As such, candidates are often eager to validate their expertise in relevant areas like Sarbanes-Oxley or Dodd-Frank, while unintentionally downplaying their personal attributes. In an accounting job search, highlighting one’s personality is the best method of differentiation. Assuming the employer can easily confirm technical capabilities through initial phone screens, first-round interviews or skills testing, the candidate’s task is to distinguish his or herself through personality traits that will be relevant to desired positions, like leadership, client-facing communication, staff management and critical thinking.

6. Preoccupation with Position Titles If accounting professionals should opt for substantial progression over stagnancy, as urged above, then positions’ superficial components – titles – should remain insignificant. On the surface, it’s easy to favor an Accounting Manager in position in Company A over an Accounting Associate spot in Company B, but, depending on the size and structures of the organizations, the differences in responsibilities between these two roles could be fairly nominal.

7. Accepting a Counteroffer While counteroffer acceptance is emphatically one of the worst professional decisions to be made, accounting candidates are sometimes guilty of this deadly mistake. A counteroffer is an employer’s desperate attempt to “buy” back a disloyal candidate with a wage increase. Statistically, and unsurprisingly, employees who accept counteroffers end up leaving the organization in less than a year.  During their remaining time with the company, they’ll likely endure resentment from their boss and colleagues, and receive inadequate raise during the next review.  An accounting professional’s decision to change jobs should instead be firm, and remain uninfluenced by a shallow monetary bump.

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