Are You Being Unrealistic in Your Job Search?

When searching for a job, it's important to be optimistic and set ambitious goals. At the same time, don't let your optimism blind you to the realities of the process.

March 20, 2008
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

When searching for a job, it's important to be optimistic and set ambitious goals. This approach will carry you through the daunting, sometimes protracted process of researching potential employers, filling out applications and going through multiple rounds of interviews.

At the same time, don't let your optimism blind you to the realities of the process. While the job market continues to be strong for experienced accounting and finance professionals, you will impair your efforts if you develop unrealistic expectations and fail to do your homework to prepare yourself for your pursuit. The following suggestions may help you keep your job search grounded in reality.

Honestly Evaluate Your Objectives

If you can't find open positions that interest you, it may be that some of your assumptions may be flawed, or at least have caused you to drift off the mark. Are you seeking your ideal job, rather than one more likely to be found in the real world? Keep in mind that no one job is likely to deliver everything you desire — top-of-the-range salary, prestige, professional connections, perfect benefits, a generous vacation allowance and stimulating work. Most likely you will have to be willing to make trade-offs. This is especially true if you lack extensive professional experience that you can leverage in job negotiations.

Accurately Assess Opportunities

Take a fresh look at openings in your area. Are employers hiring for the kind of jobs you are qualified to perform? If you're applying for the controller position at a large firm, for instance, and you currently work as a staff-level accountant, your experience may not measure up to the job description. Review your job search strategy to determine if you have the right background for the positions for which you're applying. If you are having trouble being objective, ask a trusted colleague or financial recruiter for their opinions.

Double-Check Your Desired Salary Range

Job seekers often have unrealistic salary expectations that cause them to pass up on a viable opportunity. Check that your desired salary range is consistent with what's offered in your market for the job position and level you're seeking. You can get a good sense of salary ranges for a variety of positions by speaking to industry recruiters or reviewing publications such as the Robert Half Finance & Accounting 2008 Salary Guide. You can also check with the professional organizations to which you belong for guidance.

Refine Your Application Strategy

It's possible that missteps in the application process are hampering your efforts. Start by looking for obvious problems, such as typos and grammatical errors in your résumé and cover letter, as well as issues with organization and overall presentation. Many employers eliminate applicants who have even a single misspelling in their resumes. Also, replace vague language such as "responsibilities included," with examples of specific on-the-job accomplishments. In addition, try altering your summary or work history sections by focusing more or less on past experiences and roles depending on the requirements of the position.

Revisit Your Interview Demeanor

If your job hunt repeatedly stalls at the interview stage, check for problems in this area. Polish your approach by role-playing an interview with a trusted friend or recruiter. Ask them to watch out for physical gestures (excess hand movement) and verbal crutches (the "ums and ahs") that suggest nervousness or uncertainty.

It's possible that the problem is not your overall presence, but specific answers you've given. For example, some over-eager job seekers have inadvertently betrayed unrealistic expectations by telling employers that their goal is to work in an entry-level position for six months and then advance to vice president of finance. It's a good idea to rehearse your answers to common questions with someone whose opinion you value.

Making untenable demands at the interview stage can backfire. For example, it's counterproductive to request extra benefits at a time when companies are tightening their budgets. Your prospects will be better if, for example, you are willing to accept a future bonus for accomplishing clearly defined performance objectives.

If, even after some "fine-tuning", there are times when you fall short of your job search goals, don't allow this to diminish your drive. If you approach each step of the process realistically and knowledgeably and make the best possible case for your candidacy, you will eventually achieve the desired result — an offer for the job you've been seeking.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world's first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.