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Mid-tier Manager’s Phone Blowing Up with Calls From Big 4; Is It Time to Jump Ship?

Welcome to the winesday edition of Accounting Career Couch. In today’s conundrum, a mid-tier manager is getting aggresively courted by three of the Big 4 firms and what’s to know the True Accounting Firm Story about them before dropping his current firm like a bag of dirt.

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Back to our greener grass hunter du jour:

Caleb,

The recent improvements in the fortunes of the Big 4 have yielded some opportunities for certain of us in the mid-tier firms. In the past two weeks I have been contacted by Deloitte, KPMG and E&Y regarding open positions they are trying to fill.

I am an experienced manager at a mid-tier firm that has not quite recovered from the recession. The firm is struggling to bring in new clients and has had almost no success in this area. The Big 4 have aggressively cut fees and have a generally better reputation to rely upon. While I like the opportunities as they are advertised, what kind of situation am I stepping into at these firms? Should any of these firms be avoided? I could stay until promotion to senior manager, but the firms is currently very top heavy. I see limited benefit to staying as my share of the work increases and my pay has not kept pace. Any thoughts?

It’s pretty difficult to pick one firm over the other without details about your city (memo to advice-seekers: GIVE US LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT YOUR PROBLEM) but we’ll take a stab here.

Choosing one firm over another is purely a matter of your own preference. If you’re a fan of yellow, this is an easy decision. Prefer blue? Your decision is a little harder, unless you’re a Phil Mickelson fan, in which case there’s no debate here.

But seriously – if you specialize in a specific industry, you’ll probably meet a partner that you’ll work for when you interview with the firm. Hell, if it’s a small enough office you might meet all the partners in your group. That should give you a pretty good feel for what you’re getting into. Like we wrote last to Jersey Girl, a partner’s behavior during the interviewing process can be a good sign of who to choose.

If you’re antsy about your current firm, then you’re probably not alone. Regarding your concern about your current firm being “top heavy” the parking lot at senior manager is pretty full anywhere you go, so can’t really help you there.

Bottom line – go on some interviews and feel the firms out. Throwing darts won’t get you anywhere. Get a feel for the people you’ll be working with and your decision should be easy.

Accounting and Finance Professionals Like Their Job Prospects While the Rest of the Workforce Is Screwed

The following post is republished from AccountingWEB, a source of accounting news, information, tips, tools, resources and insight — everything you need to help you prosper and enjoy the accounting profession.

The Accounting and Finance Employee Confidence Index increased 0.6 points to 53.9 in the third quarter of 2010, according to a recent survey. The index is a measure of overall confidence among U.S. accounting and finance workers.

The survey indicates a decline in employee confidence in the economy and job market, while workers’ optimism in their own personal employment situations increased. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by The Mergis Group, the professional placement division of SFN Group, Inc.

Additional results from the Accounting & Finance Employment Report:


• Twenty-three percent of accounting and finance workers believe the economy is getting stronger, representing a 10 percentage point drop from the second quarter of 2010.

• More than half of accounting and finance workers (60 percent) believe there are fewer jobs available, up 10 percentage points from the previous quarter.

• Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of accounting and finance workers are confident in the future of their current employer, an increase of 11 percentage points from the second quarter of 2010.

• More accounting and finance workers are confident in their ability to find a new job, with 44 percent reporting confidence as compared to 36 percent the previous quarter.

“While our Accounting and Finance Confidence Index showed little movement in the third quarter, our latest report reveals significant fluctuations in workers’ viewpoints,” Brendan Courtney, president of The Mergis Group, said of the report’s findings.

“The report illustrates that workers’ confidence in the economy and job market have dimmed. Conversely, workers are now indicating greater confidence in the future of their current employers and in their ability to find a new job. Moreover, three in ten workers indicate that they are likely to make a job change in the next 12 months,” Courtney said.

“With 2011 right around the corner, employers are encouraged to make an extra effort by acknowledging employees who have weathered the economic turbulence with the company,” he said. “Employers who heed these statistics are less likely to be faced with an unhappy workforce that jumps ship at the first sign of a full economic recovery.”

Additional demographic and survey background information.

Five Interview Questions You Should Be Ready For If You’re Looking to Switch Jobs

I received the following question last week from a GC reader:

Daniel,

I don’t know if this is up your professional line of expertise, but could you touch up questions that auditors should expect to get in an interview?
Happy Moanday,
Jeremy

Expert I am not, but I’ll do my best to help you all out.

Interview questions you should be ready for:


1. Why are you looking to leave your current situation?

DWB: Whatever you say, never speak poorly about your current situation. Many people make the transition from public to private; harp on the positives (great people/ great client exposure) but explain that you’re looking to transition into a good private situation.

2. Tell Me About Yourself

DWB: This is not an opportunity to rant and rave; no one cares that you were on the club water polo team in college. Provide a short, organized statement of your education; professional achievements and goals- describe your qualifications for the job and contributions you could make to the organization.

3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

DWB: With questions like this, you need to be careful not to threaten your interviewer, as it is likely that they will be your immediate superior and the natural promotion for you in a few years. It’s in your best interest to speak about long term growth with the company. i.e. – “I’d like to position myself in a firm like (Name) where I can learn, grow and be challenged – If I work hard and do my part, then I’ll grow with the firm and my future will take care of itself.”

Your goal should be to make it clear you’re thinking about the company in a long term sense, but not so much that you’re a threat to your soon-to-be boss.

4. What are your strengths?

DWB: Similar to the previous question, this is an opportunity to self yourself to the company. No one wants to hires someone that plans to come in and shake things up (unless it’s part of the job description). Focus on your natural, daily tasks – Team Player, Quick Learner, Efficient, Organized. Convince your interviewer by providing a real world example.

5. What are your weaknesses?

DWB: Do you sleep in on Fridays? Do you smoke 14 times a day? Whatever your real weaknesses are, avoid sharing them at all costs. Focus on the more HR-friendly ones – Trouble Delegating Work- Take too much on for yourself, etc. I suggest providing an example of how you recognize the weakness and what youre currently doing to make the best of the situation.

Staying or Going: What’s the Best Work Experience for Accountants?

Happy MOANday, everyone. If you missed Friday’s post because you were enjoying summer hours, be sure to get caught up on things before anything else.

I left of Friday’s post leaving up to you, the readers, to discuss which person would be better qualified for the situation. I did my best in laying out assumptions for the hypothetical, and many of you responded with wonderful feedback.

Here’s a taste:


From SouthernCPA:

Just for fun, let’s tweak the assumptions a smidge. Same 4 years of public experience, except the job offer has a 30% bump in total comp. Also, the person in the position before you was essentially like you (i.e. 4 years of experience, even came from the same firm as you) and they got promoted within 2 years with a 15% increase in pay. The hours are better (average 45-50 hours a week rather than 60 or so with more consistency), but the new job is less flexible (i.e. less vacation). Would you jump ship?

DWB: SouthernCPA brought up an important aspect that I overlooked – non-financial perks like benefits and – in this case – vacation days. Public accounting firms are generous with vacation days because they know many of you will have stretches of non-chargeability. Private industry average two to four weeks. But like in Southern’s case, a 30% bump in salary more than offset the vacation day situation. And remember what I mentioned above – benefits. Find me a hedge fund that doesn’t completely pay for or greatly subsidize health benefits and I’ll take you to lunch (no, really). This is savings that offers both more money in your wallet and peace of mind.

From Guest:

I would also agree with Southern CPA to the extent that it depends on the experience gained in industry vs public accounting as well as the bump experienced by leaving at a senior vs a manager level. However, there are also other factors that should be considered as well such as the ability to find a job at different levels (senior vs manager). While few talk about it within the big 4, I have personally watched over-specialization as well as too much public experience become an issue when searching for jobs, particularly for individuals at a manager/senior manager level.

DWB: This is the precise situation I wanted to hit home. Sorry, Jeff. Tanya is by far the more qualified candidate. And here’s why:

• Tanya has an ideal mix of public and private experience – assuming the private role is not a demotion – she can hit the ground running at the next level. She understands her respective industry from both the public and private side. She can come on board at the next role (most likely a promotion) with an easier transition than Jeff.

• Jeff spent two years managing – budgets, staff, expectations. Very little of this matters. One could argue that senior staff members are the real managers of engagement teams anyway, as they are forced to handle the demands of staff, partners, and managers. The longer you’re a manager, the longer you’re away from the nitty gritty hands-on work.

• Audit is reviewing other people’s work. Tanya has two years of doing.

• Tanya will require a slightly higher salary, but oftentimes the private/public mix of experience is worth the cost. The more technical the role, the more private experience that will be required.

Please, leave your comments below. Let’s hug talk it out.

New Hartford CFO Is Latest to Flee from AIG

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

Perhaps he wasn’t crazy about the new forced ranking method on pay?

The Hartford Financial Services Group announced late on Tuesday that Christopher Swift will join the insurer as chief financial officer effective March 1.

Swift, 49, is jumping ship from American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) where he was CFO. ALICO is a subsidiary of American International Group, which the bailed-out insurer is trying to sell to MetLife for $15 billion. The deal is currently hung up on a tax issue.

Hartford, which received $3.4 billion in government aid, has been undergoing a major executive shakeup.


Liam McGee, a former head of consumer banking at Bank of America, took over as chief executive in October from Ramani Ayer, who had led Hartford’s aggressive push into variable annuities and retired at the end of 2009.

Shortly after taking over, McGee tapped Hartford’s current CFO, Lizabeth Zlatkus, for its chief risk officer position. She’ll move into that role when Swift officially joins the company.

AIG, for its part, has been bleeding talent. More than 60 managers have left the company since it was bailed out in September 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Pay practices at AIG have been under intense scrutiny by the public, as well as the government.

Swift began his career as an auditor in the Chicago office of KPMG where he focused on financial services. He was made partner at 32. He then became executive vice president of Conning Asset Management, a subsidiary of General American, where he was responsible for finance, sales/marketing and information technology. After MetLife acquired Conning in 1999, Swift returned to KPMG and was eventually appointed head of the firm’s Global Insurance Industry Practice. As leader of this segment, he worked with clients in both the life and P&C segments, globally and domestically. He was responsible for matters ranging from strategic and regulatory to audit, risk, advisory and tax services.

Three Social Networking Tips for Accountants

Depending on where you’re working these days, you might already be or soon to be under snow. Why not put that much-needed day “working” from home to benefit your next career move? Here are three steps that you can take now to better your social networking profile to prepare for post-busy season.

Update your LinkedIn account – When was the last time you refreshed your LinkedIn account? Dig up the password, log in, and revamp your profile. Those 23 requests sitting dormant in your inbox? Accept them. Update your work experience. Include details about both the industries you work in and the responsibilities you’ve accrued. Remember, recruiters are constantly filtering through LinkedIn profiles looking for potential matches.

Also, make sure you upload a respectable picture. If it is something you wouldn’t want your client seeing, pass on it. But whatever you do, do not leave the picture option blank. Recruiters are much more inclined to review a potential match if the profile includes a picture. Worst case scenario – have your roommate, significant other, or spouse snap a photo one morning before you head to work (the post-work look of disgust should be avoided).


Be socially responsible – No, I’m not talking about going out and saving the whales. For those of you who are active on social networking sites, you need to be cognizant of the fact that you’re constantly creating an online footprint.

Facebook – Double check the settings in your Facebook account. Facebook is continuously altering these; oftentimes the new defaults leave your information wide open for the general public to see. Your Facebook profile — including status updates, wall posts, and photo albums — should be off limits to viewers who are not your Facebook friends. Speaking of photos, lose the keg stand picture from senior year. You wear a button-down shirt to work now.

Twitter – The email address on your resumé is most likely connected to your Twitter account. Block your tweets from the general public if you are discussing things you’d rather not share with a potential interviewer.

Dig up those old recruiter emails – You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re cold, robotic emails that tease you on random weekday afternoons. Typically they’re titled, “New Opportunities in hedge funds” but the more apt title is, “How to get the $*@! off your current engagement and home in time for dinner.”

Dig through your old emails and find some of these. Read through them. See what sparks your interest. At the very least, try to figure out what you want to do next, what qualifications you already have, and what you can do to prepare yourself for the next step. Your current engagement might be providing you an opportunity to expand your skill set; jump at that possibility.