NJ Recruiters Provide Helpful Tips for CPAs in Transition

By Don Meyer, CAE posted 09-23-2013 09:37 AM


From time to time, NJSCPA staff members and I receive emails and read posts from Society members who are experiencing difficulty finding work. Ironically, these messages often materialize when we post articles about how “great” the accounting job market is.

Although it's difficult to develop a profile of these members, many have 15-25 or more years of experience 
and were either laid off or are trying to transition into accounting. In the abstract, experience is viewed as a positive attribute, but in the real world "experienced" is often a synonym for "old". To see what I mean, read my exchange with a professional on LinkedIn.

Other staff members and I try to offer advice, but the reality is that we're not making hiring decisions, at least not at public accounting firms. So I went straight to the experts.

I contacted a number of firm administrators, recruiters and human resources personnel at firms throughout New Jersey to ask for guidance. Here's what they had to say:

According to Joan Kampo, Director of Human Resources at WithumSmith+Brown, it all starts with networking. "Candidates should be out there at professional organizations networking – getting the word out that they are looking. If they meet a Partner and they hit it off, they’ll have an in – at least for an interview!"

Robert Biddle, Principal at Bowman & Company, agrees. "Mid-career professionals should network as much as possible and correspond with as many people as possible."

And make sure that your networking includes a complete and updated profile on LinkedIn, says Lori Graham, Human Resources Generalist with Wiss & Company. "Candidates definitely need to be on LinkedIn and connecting with other professionals," said Graham. "Your LinkedIn profile should demonstrate your work experience, job stability and detail the type of opportunity that the candidate is looking for. It's the equivalent of the old fashioned cover letter."

But if you're really looking to set yourself apart, Joan, Bob and Lori have two words: get licensed. In their own words:
Joan: Anyone looking to transition into public accounting should have or be pursuing their CPA license. That means they need to have 150 college credits.
Bob: I can't emphasize enough the importance of pursuing the CPA license. It's valued.
Lori: Being a CPA sets you apart. If you're working toward certification, mention in your LinkedIn summary and cover letter that you're actively pursuing certification.

Special thanks to Janine Zirrith, Firm Administrator at Wilkin & Guttenplan and Vice President of the Association for Accounting Administration (AAA) Board of Directors, who shared my questions with a colleague who recently experienced difficulty finding work. They shared their perspectives below:

What advice would you give to a mid-career professional who’s been looking for work for six months or more?
  • Don’t give up hope. You are employable.
  • Have your resume reviewed by a professional recruiter. Make suggested changes.
  • Register with several recruiters in the area that specialize in placing financial and accounting professionals.
  • Network, network, network! – This is critical and most effective approach.
  • Don’t feel funny reaching out to people you know… You’re not asking them for a job. You will find that most people are willing to help.
  • Consider taking on temporary assignments and/or special projects. This will help avoid large gaps on your resume.
  • Determine the minimum compensation package you would be willing to accept. Use what you were making last as a starting point but remember that right now, you are making zero. You may have to take a (significant) pay cut to get your foot in the door.
  • Consider a career counselor.

What are some ways that mid-career professionals can distinguish themselves from less experienced professionals? What should mid-career professionals emphasize on their resumes or in cover letters?

  • They should emphasize just that…their experience. The fact that they will be able to “hit the ground running” without a lot of training and supervision.
  • Whether in their cover letter or during the interview, let the hiring manager know that you intend to work for at least 5-10+ more years, if that’s the case.
  • Emphasize your ability to utilize your experience to work on strategic initiatives, in addition to your regular duties. Younger employees will not have the “been there, done that” experiences to bring to the table.
  • Prepare for the interview. Research the company thoroughly, search for any news items, check their LinkedIn page…do your homework. Prepare for the “tell me about yourself” question so you are prepared to succinctly highlight your background and what you can bring to the firm. Prepare a few insightful questions about the company and the position. This will make you stand out as someone who goes the extra mile.
  • When you do have an interview, always “Ask for the Order”, make sure the interviewer knows you are interested. Always follow-up with an email or hand-written note thanking the interviewer(s) for their time and candor. Reiterate something you discussed in the interview and close with restating your interest.

Does having or pursuing a CPA license give a mid-career professional a leg up on the competition?

  • Having your CPA license will help to differentiate one candidate from another.
  • Take the time in between careers (especially if you received a severance package from your former employer that will allow them time to study and pass the CPA exam) but do not postpone the job search in the interim. Perspective firms want to know that you are making strides and focused on passing the exam and plan to obtain your CPA license.
How important is it to maintain an active profile and look for connections on LinkedIn? Do job boards work or is it better to research and contact prospective employers directly?
  • In today’s job market, it is critical to create and maintain an active profile on LinkedIn. More and more companies are using LinkedIn as their primary recruiting tool for identifying qualified candidates. Even if you use a recruiting firm to identify job opportunities, the first place a prospective employer will look is LinkedIn, especially for an experienced hire. As such, your LinkedIn profile must be current, error free (spelling and grammar) and consistent with your resume.
  • In my opinion, job boards have limited value, at least certain ones. By the time a job hits the job boards, it has likely been out for several weeks and/or months. The inverse is also true in that many jobs that have already been filled, are still listed on the job boards. If you choose to post your resume on these boards, I would start with LinkedIn, followed by CareerBuilder, and Monster. The alternative to relying on job boards is to network with your professional contacts (remember, you’ve been around for a while and should have a lot) with a special emphasis on bankers, lawyers, and accountants. You can also join a few local networking groups. While these will be filled with other professionals seeking employment (your potential competition), it is a great source of encouragement, support, and leads.
Should a mid-career professional who’s been unemployed for six months or more consider part-time or per diem work with firms?
  • Candidates should consider part-time or special project work for several reasons; it’s income, it prevents gaps in time on their resume, it keeps their mind sharp and their sense of self-worth intact. In addition, many part-time or temporary assignments could potentially turn into full-time positions.

Looking for more advice or just some support? Try the NJSCPA's Members in Transition Community.




04-06-2014 08:20 PM

I would love to see a follow-up on how to find part-time or special project work.

09-23-2013 10:27 AM

Thanks for this. Great post.