Job-Hopping May Not Be Good for Your Accounting Career

A recent survey from Robert Half Finance & Accounting indicates that the length of time spent by candidates in previous positions is an important factor in the hiring decisions. The Chicago Tribune reports that only 10 percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) did not have this opinion in this survey.


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Robert Half Financial & Accounting’s survey of some 1,400 CFOs revealed that 87 percent made this resounding response, according to their prepared statement. Those responding were asked, “How important a factor is the length of time a job candidate has spent with previous employers when evaluating the applicant for a position with your company?” Their responses were:

  • 42 percent indicated it was "Very Important"
  • 45 percent reported it was "Somewhat Important"
  • 10 percent considered it "Not Important"
  • 3 percent didn’t know/no answer

“It’s not unusual for someone to change jobs or careers multiple times during his or her lifetime, but holding too many positions in rapid succession and without signs of professional advancement can be a red flag for employers. Hiring managers place a high value on employee loyalty, in part because it is so difficult to replace top performers,” said Max Messmer in his company’s prepared statement. Messmer is chairman and chief executive of Robert Half International. He is also the author of Managing Your Career for Dummies® and Job Hunting for Dummies® (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.).

Messmer also made a point to say that employees feeling bored or stuck in current positions should seek other opportunities within their company to search for new challenges. Messmer told the Chicago Tribune, “Supervisors are typically receptive to matching valued staff members with assignments that allow them to expand their skills and grow.”

In a 2004 survey from Robert Half Financial & Accounting, 1,400 CFOs were asked, “If two candidates interviewing for an accounting or finance position had similar skills, which one of the following additional qualifications would you find more valuable?” The responses stated in their prepared statement revealed:

  • 41 percent cited industry-specific experience
  • 33 percent looked for software/technology knowledge
  • 15 percent sought certification or advanced degree
  • 7 percent desired multilingual skills
  • 3 percent wanted international experience
  • 1 percent said personality/people skills

Messmer said in their prepared statement about this survey, “Executives value job candidates who understand the issues and challenges specific to their industries and who can contribute immediately to their company’s success.” He added, “As organizations face mounting pressure to meet corporate governance regulations and ensure the security and integrity of their financial data, technical aptitude becomes particularly important. Employers seek accounting professionals who are proficient with the latest database applications and enterprise resource planning programs and also can collaborate with IT staff in implementing upgrades and system conversions to increase operational efficiencies.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 75 percent of executive recruiters in a survey said that they used Google and Yahoo to search for more information on their candidates. Personal searches should be performed monthly and using multiple search engines in order to be aware of this information, according to Dave Opton, founder and CEO of the executive search firm, ExecuNet.

Opton also recommends that any negative information attached to your name can be removed in a request to the web site’s Webmaster. Otherwise, a brief explanation should be prepared to lessen the impact of the negative information, according to the Chicago Tribune. Creating a positive image is possible by contributing positively to industry forums or blogs on the Internet.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ May 2001 survey of 659 respondents might reveal more details into this situation. Respondents were asked about the length of time new college graduates expected to stay in their first job. Their responses were:

  • 11.68 percent expected to stay less than one year
  • 29.59 percent expect to remain 1-2 years
  • 20.94 percent will last 2-3 years
  • 10.93 percent will make it 3-5 years
  • 26.86 percent anticipate staying more than 5 years

Michael Wesson, assistant professor of management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, told Mays Business Online, “Twenty years ago, if people had two different jobs in three years, they would have a hard time getting another job. It’s almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy because students are told in college classrooms that they shouldn’t be surprised if they change job and companies numerous times.”

Wesson continued in Mays Business Online, “Job satisfaction and organization commitment are two big reasons people leave. But, if I had to put my finger on one thing that’s leading the turnover, I’d say that the increased amount of information is a large factor. There are turnover models that indicate many people aren’t really thinking about leaving their jobs, but now there is readily available information about how much money they should be making and what other jobs are out there.”

Michael Abelson, associate management professor at Texas A&M, proposed a more focused view. Abelson said in Mays Business Online, “In the accounting industry, for example, you are either up or out. In other words, you either become partner or you leave.”

The school’s director of Professional Program in Accounting, Financial Management and Information Systems program focused more on the turnover situation from the corporate perspective. Austin Daily said in Mays Business Online, “It’s fairly expensive for firms to train people and have them leave quickly. I think for the most part firms are pretty serious about really trying to reduce turnover because each 1 percent they can reduce turnover, it falls to the bottom line.”

Daily continued in Mays Business Online, “We’re finding that a fair number of students leave after two years. The structure within accounting firms is that the top people make partner, and less than 5 percent of the people who start with the firm will make partner. It seems to me the optimum time to leave would really be somewhere between five and 10 years because employees have gotten the management skills and knowledge of working with people. A lot of people just don’t hang around to do that though.”

The Wall Street Journal makes a distinction though. Job-hopping is more acceptable in technology companies than in others. In a technology company, employees do not especially build stable employment relationships over time, like law or accounting firms. A candidate’s high level of technical skills may be a superceding factor in their hiring. If their resume shows a job-hopping trend but they have advanced technically and professionally, these companies may be more willing to hire the candidate.


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