Questions to help find a job that suits you

A mismatch between what a job candidate expects and what the company offers can contribute to a poor fit.

About half of UK professionals have left a job in the first 12 months because of mismatched expectations, a new survey report shows.

Incorrect or misleading job descriptions and training below an expected level were two of the leading causes for a role’s failing to meet the employee’s expectations, according to the What Workers Want Report 2018 by UK recruiting firm Hays.

The research suggested that both candidates and organisations must work harder during the recruitment process to ensure better fit and avoid disappointment.

Focus on values

Recruiters say this mismatch, as it relates to accountancy candidates, could be caused by a trend towards focusing more on culture and values than primarily on monetary rewards. Marcus Williams, associate director at global recruitment firm Morgan McKinley, said that as a younger, more values-oriented generation moves into qualified roles, cultural fit is becoming as important as salary. This shift requires candidates to spend more time researching an organisation to learn whether their expectations around values will be met.

“Five years ago, job searches were all about money, but now other factors are in play, including working conditions and environment, flexibility, being part of a dynamic culture, and having clear career progression,” he said.

With so many roles — 49%, according to the survey — falling through in the first year, what else can you do to ensure a better fit before accepting a role?

Here are some basic questions job-seekers could start with, based on interviews with recruiters:

  • Does the role fit your career progression goals and offer good potential for development?
  • What is the range of projects on offer?
  • Is the salary in line with the average for your role, according to the latest salary surveys? Before an interview, a candidate should consult salary surveys and other sources to know what the market is paying.
  • What are the specifics of the benefits package? Examples could include an onsite gym or planned social activities.
  • How does the organisation approach work/life balance? For example, what are the hours, where is the role based, and what is the commute like? Is a flexible schedule or remote work available?

Beyond this, much of the “fit” comes down to culture and values. “When you work for a company whose values you believe in, and are comfortable with your own, you will thrive and deliver your best performance,” said Lee Owen, director, Hays Accountancy and Finance. “So identify the type of culture you want to work in. This can cover a wide range of factors from how inclusive they are to how they progress their employees and recognise success.”

Understanding your values may require some self-analysis. For example:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Do you excel in a more formal or a more relaxed environment or in a small or larger company; or in a role that involves lots of interpersonal communication, compared to something more technical?
  • In what sector and with what types of people would you like or not like to work?

For example, Owen said, management accounting roles in large companies can vary dramatically to those in small and medium-size entities, with each benefiting people differently. “It depends largely on your personality, ambitions, and the stage of your career,” Owen said.

Some accountants, especially young graduates, can become disillusioned and leave within a year of starting a job, said Kush Shukla, the CEO at Arivu, a London consultancy. This is because they often do not know exactly what they want or what to ask.

To understand more about the company’s values and your own, he suggested asking:

  • What do you want from an employer and the job and why?
  • What are the deal-breakers that would make you walk away from a role?
  • Where are you willing to compromise?
  • Some companies try to mould the personality type they want — for example, to encourage a more competitive or ruthless edge. Will a company look to mould you and how? And are you prepared to let the company do so?
  • How important are aspects of a company’s culture to you? For example, if you are looking for a high-performance culture, what are the rewards for success and how important are each of them to you?

“Ask for opinions, but do not just go on hearsay, peer pressure, or the standing of the company,” said Shukla. “Dig deep and ask yourself what you really want.”

To know yourself better, try different roles in different environments, either at work or through secondment or volunteering.

Independent verification

You may need to do more in-depth research, as companies do not always publish the information you want. More than three-fifths of finance professionals look for information on financial performance when researching a potential employer, according to the Hays survey. However, only 23% of employers believe this is important.

Furthermore, 59% of finance professionals look for information about working environment, but only 36% of employers make this available.

Some organisations have pages in the careers section on their website to give an idea of working environment. These may talk about values and vision or have anecdotes from existing employees. Their social media pages may provide more of a glimpse into culture, for example, by showing pictures of social events.

But you need to dig deeper.

It is crucial to find out more at interview. Go to several interviews and ask questions such as these to gain deeper insights:

  • What is a typical day like?
  • What are the biggest challenges in the role?
  • Why did your interviewers join the company?
  • What makes them proud about working there?
  • What do they not like about the job?
  • What is the flow in business activity during the year, and how does the organisation or department manage more intense periods? That may give an insight into actual work/life balance and how the team pulls together in challenging periods.
  • What about the team you will be working with — who are they, and how will you be expected to interact with them? What are they like to work with? Meet them if possible.

Shukla advised looking for independent verification on these issues. In the survey, 41% of part-qualified accountants and 32% of qualified accountants look for online employee reviews.

This information is readily available from research on Google and LinkedIn; forums such as Glassdoor, where people post comments, good and bad, about ex-employers; and through networking with current and former employees, customers, and other partners such as suppliers.

The most important questions to ask at this stage are:

  • What is the company’s track record in retaining employees?
  • Could the employer be making false promises to sell the job?
  • What have you done to test what they are saying?

Do not be too rigid, as no employer or role is perfect. Keep an open mind throughout and make sure you give the process enough time to assess fit thoroughly rather than being put off by first impressions.

Asking important questions should give you a much higher awareness of your own needs and goals, help you avoid the disappointment of a mismatch, and ultimately lead to more rewarding roles and career progression.

— Tim Cooper is a freelance writer based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.