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How to Find Value in the Otherwise Valueless Performance Rankings

Good day, fellow capital market servants. It’s been some time, hasn’t it? To those of you that are new-ish to this corner of the Interwebs, my name is Daniel Braddock, the resident Human Resources semi-professional. I typically cover HR related topics like compensation, recruiting trends, and topics like the always popular “how do I switch to advisory?!?”

For you regulars — hi again. I’m looking forward to getting back to our usual banter (here’s looking at you, Big4Vet). Let’s get started, shall we?
Now that exodus from public has begun, it is important not to overlook the value you can reap from explaining your performance rankings to potential employers. The job market is still tight and employers have the upper hand, which means setting yourself apart from the pack remains downright crucial. One way to do this is to turn your performance rankings into a meaningful talking point during interviews.
Highlight rankings on your resume. You have heard the phrase “everything on your resume is fair game” here on Going Concern and elsewhere before. Succinctly describing your rankings in one bullet point can set you up for a softball question during an interview. As an HR rep, I would much rather know about your back to back top rankings than the substantive testing you performed in a warehouse last quarter. Both are important, obviously, but you want to highlight — and be ready to discuss in details — some obvious positives about yourself.
Know your firm’s ranking system — This should be obvious, I know. Sometimes during an interview it can be the simple questions that you are not completely prepared for; be ready. If you discuss your rankings on your resume (or if they come up in an interview) you best be prepared to describe them in some kind of coherent fashion. Most importantly, know the scale and describe where you fall: “My firm uses a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best. I received 4s and 5s on my engagements and a 4 ranking at year end, which puts me in the top 80% of my peers.” Responding with “Uhhhh, I think the scale is 1-5?” will discredit your response. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
Explain the unwritten rules — Performance rankings are not immune to big time politics, like some of you are all too aware of. First year associates are never top-ranked. Maybe it’s impossible to receive an above average ranking without the CPA. Sometimes top rankings are limited in your office. If this has happened to you, be prepared to articulate this during an interview. Do not waste your breath bad-mouthing big firm politics but rather simply explain them matter of factly. If your year end rank is worse than what you received on your engagement reviews, emphasize the better rankings. 
Sometimes your ranking has nothing to do with your actual accounting skills. If you are a manager or senior manager and your ranking has been negatively affected because you are not bringing in enough new business, explain that. Not everyone at the management level wants to be constantly going to market. Turn this into a selling point in your interviews: “My role within the firm is becoming increasingly sales-driven. I genuinely enjoy — and thrive — within an environment where my primary responsibilities are accounting and finance driven, which is why this opportunity interests me.”
You took one for the team and all you have to show for it is this lousy ranking — This is a continuation of the of political point above. Firms are re-shuffling their practice lines; your firm brought on a new client (e.g. thanks KPMG insider trading scandal!). Whatever the reason, sometimes you are asked to take on an engagement that is out of your developing skill set. This is either rewarded at the end of the year with a great ranking or a great explanation. The latter often times goes like this: “your busy season clients were new to you and although you did nothing wrong, there are only so many 1 and 2 ranks to go around. Here’s a 3, congratulations on being average.” Explain in interviews how you were challenged by something new and how you succeeded on everything that mattered to your client – the actual work. Turn the negative into a positive
Have your performance rankings come up in interviews? Is the absence of a CPA keeping the top rankings out of your grasp? Share your thoughts.