Career Questions

Have a question on finding a job or furthering your career? CSCPA member and Robert Half Management Resources Division Director Greg Lainas has answers.

Lainas, who led two complimentary career workshops this summer for CSCPA members along with fellow member and Robert Half International Division Director Duane Sauer, has been a recruiter in the accounting field for more than 20 years.

The following questions came from CSCPA members who participated in the summer career workshops.

Career Questions

By Greg Lainas, CPA, Division Director, Robert Half Management Resources

How can I approach strangers who may be able to help me look for jobs – and start the conversations?

Everyone has heard the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Networking is important for career advancement, and many professionals are finding it’s not an optional activity – it is critical for sustaining your career. HR professionals estimate that more than two-thirds of open positions are filled by word-of-mouth, so you need to constantly build relationships to hear about them. This means making connections with people whom you may not yet know but who might be helpful to you in your job search or professional career.

Here are some tips to do so successfully:

  • Don’t immediately offer up your business card: When approaching a stranger, don’t hand him or her your business card right away, as this may appear awkward. Strike up a conversation first. If both of you feel you could learn something from each other, exchange cards just prior to ending the conversation. You should follow up with a hand-written thank you note and determine when to contact this person again. You might consider sending your resume.
  • Develop an “elevator pitch”: Most strangers are not looking for your life history. They are looking for your bottom line. Imagine you ride an elevator from the lobby to the 20th floor with a hiring manager. The elevator pitch is your best tool to quickly grab his or her attention and get you an interview. It should briefly explain why you’re looking for a job, what you’re looking for, and prove you’re good. For example, a 10-second pitch might be: “I’m a CPA with the majority of my career in the packaged goods industry. I am able to implement SOX compliance programs. My key strengths include both an eye for detail and an understanding of the bigger business strategy picture.” Again, follow up with a hand-written thank you note.
  • Attend events of all kinds: In addition to attending community group and industry association meetings that you’re familiar with, go to places you don’t usually go. Some examples include the CSCPA Friday Focus for Members in Industry and CSCPA CONNections in Rocky Hill, Torrington, and Easton. Consider attending an American Society of Women Accountants (ASWA) or Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) meeting.
  • Stay in tune with topical subjects: Read the Journal of Accountancy, Strategic Finance, and newspapers. Watch the morning business programs such as CNBC. The more you reach out to the world around you, the more you have to offer your contacts and the more reach you’re likely to have within your community. Document who and when you meet a new contact. Also, continue communicating with those new contacts.
  • Show appreciation: After meeting someone new, be sure to thank him or her for giving you time, encouragement, or assistance, even if his or her efforts don’t pan out. You never know when or where you’ll run into him or her in the future.

While it’s true that networking is a numbers game, it is just as much about the quality of your contacts as how many you have. It’s all about people. Getting to know strangers, building relationships, and being remembered. Don’t just try to gather the biggest network possible ... that’s not going to do you or anyone else any good, because you won’t have time to build relationships with all of your contacts.

How can I find prospective employers with job openings?

Today’s job employment market requires you to be especially proactive and resourceful. You’ll have to do much more than scan help wanted ads in the Sunday paper or go online to Monster, CareerBuilder, or Ladders. These approaches have a place, but you need to be creative about prospecting for job openings, especially those that are unadvertised.

There is both a visible and an invisible job market. The visible market is just the tip of the iceberg and includes jobs you can find listed in Sunday paper want ads, online job sites, and employment sections of a company’s website. You’ll have to use reactive, formal approaches to respond to these opportunities. It can be difficult to get noticed because of the sheer number of applicants you’re likely to compete with, and many jobs are filled by the time they’re advertised.

Most job seekers have better luck finding a position within the invisible market, which is unadvertised. You need a proactive, informal approach to uncover opportunities such as:

  • Internal openings that companies fill through staff recommendations
  • New positions that a company might create specifically for you
  • Modifications to existing positions to fit your skills
  • Jobs that are soon to be added at expanding companies (you may be able to uncover potential opportunities by studying business journals or other media)
  • Your network

You must use your networking skills to reach the key decision-makers who wield power in the invisible job market. And remember ­– you cannot fail at prospecting unless you fail to prospect!

What can you tell me about phone interviews?

Telephone interviews have become more common as a tool for winnowing down candidates, especially when hiring managers have a large number of applicants who look similar on paper. Of course, you’ll have to make a good impression during a phone screen to land an in-person interview. Phone interviews can be tricky, though, because you can’t make eye contact or observe the interviewer’s body language. But these tips can help.

  • Be punctual: Treat the phone interview as you would any important appointment by “arriving” early.
  • Use a land line: It’s more professional to use a land line for phone interviews. It demonstrates that you’ve made an effort to carve out a special time and place for the call, and you’ll have a better connection.
  • Observe quiet: Do your best to remove all distractions and background noise, such as barking dogs, the sound of kids playing, ringing cell phones, radio, or TV.
  • Refer to notes: Keep notes at your fingertips and jot things down as the interviewer talks. Also, have some questions of your own ready to ask.
  • Speak clearly: Make sure your interviewer can hear you okay. Speak directly into your phone or headset and let others finish speaking before you respond. And avoid talking too fast!
  • Smile! This may sound like odd advice, but if you smile when you respond, you’ll come across as more energetic and positive. Some people even suggest putting a mirror in front of you to help you remember to smile and be engaging.

In closing, state your desire in obtaining the position and ask what the next step is. Follow up. Send a hand-written note or email thanking your interviewer and reiterating key points.

Have more career questions? Where’s the profession going? Should you find a specialty? How can you make yourself indispensable to your firm or company? Add your questions in the comments below and Lainas could answer your question (anonymously, of course) in an upcoming issue of Connecticut CPA.