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Sept 1991

Job hunting and the CPA. (Certified Public Accountant )

by Mendelsohn, Paul N.

    Abstract- Accountants who are in the process of job hunting should maximize all options, whether they be from networking, classified advertisements, 'headhunters' or executive search firms, cold-contact letters to companies, colleges and alumni, or professional organizations. Networking provides the most employment offers while want ads supply a great deal of information regarding the types of jobs being offered. It is important to keep options open and not to turn down any lead regardless of the offer's seeming insignificance. Hard work and persistence are the key factors to a job hunter's success.

Statistics show that networking is the means to getting a new job 60% to 70% of the time. Nonetheless, there are countless examples of people getting jobs by other means. Regardless, it may take as many as 50 contacts of any one type just to get one interview. In other words, networking with 50 people may get you one interview. Answering 50 ads may get you another one. To succeed, experts advise perseverance.

For starters, do some research. If you have any doubts about the type of job you want, then read one of the sould-searching books about job hunting, such as Guerrilla Tactics in the Job Market by Tom Jackson (Bantam, 1978), or What Color Is Your Parachute, 1991 Edition by Rich Nelson Bowels (Ten Speed Press, 1991).

In any case, read or skim two or three recent guide books on the mechanics of job hunting. Two good ones are Go Hire Yourself an Employer by Richard K. Irish (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1987), and The Robert Half Way to Get Hired in Today's Job Market (Rawson Wade Publishers, 1981). You may learn some tactics. You may see disagreements, so do not rely too much on any one author. Do not spend too much time reading dozens of books. After three, get to work.

Conventional wisdom says it takes an average of one week for every $2,000 of salary or one month for every $10,000. Some averages point to about 5.5 months, regardless of your age or salary. In any case, someone with one year of experience looking for a $30,000 job may need three months. A more senior person can spend over a year aiming for a $100,000 job. In today's market, the actual times may be running longer.


Networking generates the most job offers. But what is networking? It is the process of contacting people who can put you in touch with other people who, in turn, put you in touch with still other people.

Networking is a long-term project. It is best started before you are job hunting and it is best to keep your network alive after you have accepted your new position. You network whenever you talk to fellow practitioners at CPE seminars and exchange business cards; when you meet people at business affiars or college alumni functions; or are active in your community. It also means taking time to do a favor or make that phone call. It requires a genuine interest in the well being of those with whom you are in contact. By perfecting these skills, you become known, and when asked, the contact will have a real interest in helping you find that position.

Once you begin job hunting, make a list of people you know who may be able to help: business contacts, customers, vendors, competitors, college professors and classmates, friends, local acquaintances, even family members. Do not approach these people asking for a job. Rather, ask them if they know anyone who can be of help.

The help you are looking for is a 15 to 60 minute meeting to talk about an industry, a specific company, or a job possibility. You never ask for a job in these meetings. If you do, you will have subtly changed the nature of the meeting and added unnecessary tension to the atmosphere. This is not what you want. You are there to explore opportunities in a non-threatening way. At the end, ask the person for at least two new names. This is how you build the network. Also, take his or her business card and send a brief thank you note with a copy of your resume a few days later.

Networking Really Works

Here are three real life examples:

1. An account executive of a payroll service provided the name of the controller of one of his customers to the former payroll manager of another customer. Another vendor found per diem work for the manager. Countless former co-workers served as references.

2. One reporting manager called a friend from his days in public accounting. She gave him a list of six contacts. One, a COO, sent the manager to his CFO for an interview.

3. A senior level executive job who was discharged by a CEO got a lead from a secretary which in turn landed him a job.


Classified ads, or want ads, serve two purposes. They provide information and they provide leads for jobs that really exist. People do get interviews and jobs through want ads!

Want ads are a source of much information. You can learn what types of jobs are available, their requirements and their salary ranges. You learn the names of new companies (some still sign their ads). This is useful for sending out "cold-contact" letters. You also learn the names of headhunters. Even if you are not interested in the position being advertised, consider sending your resume to the headhunters whose names appear in the ads.

If you are serious about your job search, you will look for want ads in many places. Want ads are classified alphabetically by job type. Look under accounting, comptroller, controller, finance, management, and tax. Do this regardless of the level of the job you are seeking. If there is a particular industry of interest such as construction or retail, look in those classifications too.

Ads for a CFO have been found in the accounting section. Likewise, Assistant to the Controller spots, that are really senior accountant positions, have been advertised under Comptroller or Controller. If you see these ads and other job-seekers do not bother to look for them, you have a head start.

Do not forget to look in trade journals as well as local newspapers that may have ads. The CPA Journal and Journal of Accountancy also have classified ads.

If you are currently employed and have not announced that you are looking, you should proceed with caution. You cannot afford to broadcast your search by answering every ad you see. Many ads are "blind" box ads, meaning there is a box number to which you send your reply. You do not know where your reply is going. Discretion is the better part of valor; avoid these ads! Also avoid ads that sound like they may be from your company.

If you are not concerned with keeping your search quiet, answer any ad that interests you. Do not eliminate yourself from consideration if you do not have all the requirements. Make sure you list those you do have in a short cover letter. Be specific and use the same wording used in the ad. If they want LOTUS and you have it, say you know LOTUS. Do not just say you have PC experience.

Also, quickly mention that you are a CPA with however many years of experience and what your highest academic degree is.

To Disclose Salary or Not To

Disclose Salary?

There is some controversy about stating salary history or requirements. One advantage is that it clarifies whether you are in the same ballpark. One disadvantage is that you can be eliminated before you have had a chance to consider the position and decide if you can accept the compensation offered. Most experienced human resources professionals can guess your salary range from your resume. However, many hiring executives cannot or do not want to be bothered trying.

All in all it might be better to state your latest salary or the salary you are seeking. If you are currently out of work and would consider a lower salary, do not say so in those words. Mention a lower salary requirement and leave it at that.


Headhunters fall into two categories. There are search firms or executive recruiters that work on retainers and there are recruiters who work on commission. Each can be of use to you.

Search firms rarely handle positions paying less than $50,000 and often limit themselves to $100,000 and up. They are paid a retainer by the hiring corporation, whether or not they place a candidate.

Search firms seek out job hunters only when they have a position to fill. They are often not responsive to job seekers who want to submit a resume or seek an interview. Your resume will be accepted and filed. You will be contacted only if they see a potential match between you and a job order. This may happen a year down the road once you have a new job and are no longer looking.

Recruiters who work on commission are constantly trying to drum up new business. Most will gladly take your resume and talk to you, even if they have no job interview for you. Some have the demeanor and reputation of used car salesmen. Others are very successful in placing candidates.

You can find headhunters from many sources. First, start with the ones who have called you out of the blue. Second, ask friends who they know and like. Third, as mentioned above, contact those who have advertised lately. Fourth, get a copy of the Directory of Executive Recruiters (published by Consultants News in Fitzwilliam, NH).

The directory is very well indexed by geography, job functions and industries and is very good in identifying search firms. It is available at many libraries.

Again, if you are currently employed, use discretion in speaking to headhunters. Contact a handful who make you feel comfortable. If your job hunt is not a secret or you are out of work, get in touch with as many recruiters of all types as quickly as you can.

There are no disadvantages to talking to many headhunters. Job seekers have been told by recruiters not to do this. But limiting yourself only benefits the headhunter. Remember, the recruiter gets paid on a commission. He or she does not want you to be available to the competition.

In the case where two or more headhunters present your resume to the same company, the first one in gets paid if you are hired. If the company likes you, they do not usually care if two or more headhunters know you. If they do not like you the first time they see your resume, they will not do anything worse to you the second or third time.

Because search firms work on retainer, it is unlikely that the same job will be available through more than one. Sending them your resume is a shot in the dark so you should take many shots and send out many resumes.


Regardless of the level of your position, from entry-level on up to CFO, you should consider sending letters cold to companies that interest you. You need to settle on three points first:

* Which companies interest you;

* Who at the company you should contact; and

* How to set up a form letter.

To determine the companies to contact, you need to go to at least one library to do some research. There are many sources of large companies such as the Fortune 500 and Forbes 400 to name two. Other directories published by Wards, Dun & Bradstreet, Standard & Poors and Value Line offer lists of thousands of companies. There are directories for specific industries such as the Literary Market Place (LMP) for publishing. Consult the Directories in Print for a complete list.

You will want to contact the most appropriate individual at the company. This depends on the job you are seeking as well as the size of the company. If you are interested in a nearby division of a large company headquartered far away, contact people at the local division.

If you are looking for a staff or supervisory level position, write to people such as assistant controllers, controllers and human resources managers. For higher level jobs, you need to go straight to the CFO, COO and/or CEO. The people in these positions will be named in the directories.

What to say is also important. Compose a letter that quickly spells out why they should want you. Do not send a resume to management. Do sen a resume to human resources.

Start your letter with one key attribute that makes you valuable, such as:

"As the Assistant Controller of a $60 million manufacturer, I reorganized the Accounting Department to cut operating costs by 19%, while increasing the quality and timeliness of reports."

That is an impressive way to grab attention. Next, you state why you are writing:

"I am writing because you may be in need of a Controller. If you are, you may be interested in my other accomplishments."

Then in two to five paragraphs, list what you did in your current and prior jobs. Note that even if you are no longer employed as Assistant Controller of the $60 million manufacturer you can use this format. Note also that you should never give enough information to identify your companies.

Of course, mention that you are a CPA. State your education, especially if you have an MBA. Close with a request for specific action such as "Please contact me at home to arrange a personal interview."


Other sources of leads are your college and your graduate business school. This is especially true if your school is nearby or if there is a local alumni association. Call your old school's career services or vocational guidance department. See what they offer to graduates.

You may be able to obtain many helpful hints this way including help writing resumes, information about interviewing and where to get other information. Additionally, you can find out which companies and recruiters have shown an interest in graduates from your school. You may also learn about specific positions.

Importantly, if you can get a directory of local alumni, do so. You can start networking here. The connection is that you are both alumni. This fact alone will start many a conversation. You should focus on alumni of two types. First you want to contact those who might be in a position to hire you or to refer you to someone who might. If the directory lists occupations and titles, look for those people who are at the appropriate levels of management in the industries that interest you. One clue is to contact those who graduated before you.

The second type are those alumni who work for companies or, more generally, in industries, of interest to you, regardless of their positions. They can tell you about the company or industry and answer specific questions. They also can sometimes network to higher-ups within the company.



In addition to colleges and alumni, try any relevant professional organization. Many local business or professional groups make membership lists available to members. You can always meet new people at meetings and conferences.

Some professional groups operate resume exchanges. This is done by the printing industry in New York City and by some state CPA sociesties. For example, NYSSCPA has a program called PENNY, the Professional Employment Network of New York. Some college placement offices operate similar services. A candidate who is a member or alumnus can provide copies of his or her resume that the sponsoring group will then circulate or make available to interested employers. There is no charge to the candidate.


Job hunting is not fun in good times or bad. It takes its toll. The best chances lie where you have sought out an opportunity and perhaps anticipated a need for your skills and experience. Remember not to burn any bridges. The person that you are tempted to shun or be critical of may turn out to be an important referral source or contact at the next opportunity that comes to you. To make the effort more rewarding and move along faster, never turn down any lead, no matter how strange or hopeless it sounds. Those are often the ones that can lead to the job you've been looking for.

Paul N. Mendelsohn, CPA, is Director of Royalty Accounting for Simon & Schuster. He held prior positions with ASCAP and Arthur Young & Co. He is a member of the AICPA and the NYSSCPA and presently serves on the latter's Publishing and Printing Committee.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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