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November 26, 2011 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Some tips for an older accountant trying to transition into a less-stressful work environment? Also, some culturally specific issues.

Family member currently works for a large corporation as an accountant. (she got her BS in accounting, worked at a nonprofit for a few years before transitioning into this job, where she has worked for 10+ years) Unfortunately, this position has gone through a lot of restructuring, has been bought out by a national and subsequently international brand, and the company cultures has become, for her, toxic. Much less focus on how much work you do or how well you do it, moreso whether you bolster the company image. E.g., 50% of her work review is based on "leadership," like whether you sponsor a Diversity Day type initiative. So she has a record of being a productive worker, but not one who takes enough "initiative."

I think part of this is because of her background (immigrated from China in the 80s) - so ESL/communication difficulties are part of it, but she also doesn't understand or like the whole go-getter/self-promotion aspect of her company. She would much rather quietly do her job, not have to go through a lot of bullshit, and then go home at the end of the day. I think she also has some larger difficulties with asserting herself, bragging, saying no, etc., and kind of views this as a permanent personality trait by this point. (seems fairly resistant to change) So right now she is looking at a lot of jobs in at nonprofits or universities, that kind of thing. She is fine with a pay decrease as long as she still has benefits. Is there a good way to couch this transition to prospective companies? Another thing, is at her age (50s), she is not really interested in learning a lot of innovative programs or having to constantly keep up with new advances. I think what she really wants is a lower-stress environment where there isn't a lot of expectation about promoting the company or padding your resume, but it's okay to just do your work. So - is there a way to indirectly ask about that kind of environment to prospective employers?
posted by leedly to Work & Money (5 answers total)
My experience is that there is no ideal way to figure out a company's culture in an interview. The best your friend can do is ask questions and read between the lines. Hiring managers are pressed for time and there are a lot of job applicants, so a potential hire who is perceived as high maintenance (whether unfair or not) is likely to be passed over.
posted by dfriedman at 7:51 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You preemptively allude to this in the cover letter, then let the company choose you.

The cover letter needs to be explicit about the kind of worker she is. Use phrases like,
    "The reason I am seeking new employment is because my current company has been bought out and the new corporate culture isn't consistent with my work style." "I'm an accountant with 20 years of steady work, looking for an opportunity to focus on my love of {numbers}." "My ideal workplace is one in which I can focus on accounting for its own sake - I find great professional satisfaction in a perfectly balanced operating account and well documented procedures." "I've learned over the course of my career that new methods may come and go, but best practices in accounting are that way for a reason. After weathering numerous trends, the field always comes back to the basic principles we can apply every day." Employers have always been able to count on me. I'm reliable and have a track record of honesty and diplomacy."
Hiring managers will read this and get the idea. Let them determine if she's a match to their culture, and they'll call her to set up an interview. Your aunt needs to practice interviewing since she's been at the same place for ten years, and regain some confidence and focus on her best attributes - reliability, attention to detail, productivity. Have her brainstorm a few examples of her best qualities, stories which illustrate the traits.
posted by juniperesque at 10:49 AM on November 26, 2011

As a hiring manager, I can certainly work with a subject matter expert who does not want the stress of a leadership role. I'd prefer someone who is willing to mentor junior staff, but I could certain deal with an SME who did not.

The deal breaker here is she is unwilling to learn new things. She has 15 years until retirement and their will be changes. I don't want to be saddled with an employee who has zero interest in learning or adapting.

Does she express a lack of willingness to learn or is that your assumption? Lots of older workers get a raw deal in the hiring process because people assume they don't want to learn new things when that's not true at all.
posted by 26.2 at 11:51 AM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

It can be difficult to figure out culture during an interview but you can ask questions about it, about how performance is measured. I always ask interviewers to describe their culture and what makes for a poor and good fit culturally.

I would not state in a cover letter that "The reason I am seeking new employment is because my current company has been bought out and the new corporate culture isn't consistent with my work style." That seems like a red flag. I would mention it in an interview when describing my preferred working environment and style. The cover letter is to emphasize that you have the skills and experience required for the job.

I work in diversity and if your relative's company has a diversity officer, this is an issue that might be discussed with them. In diversity training, cultural differences are often discussed and the topic of Asian cultures not being comfortable talking about their accomplishments is important to understand. Also, does the company have an Asian American business resource group (also called employee network or affinity group)?

Here's a short article that addresses the issue. Google asian cultural competence or inclusion, diversity in the workplace.
posted by shoesietart at 12:05 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think my relative is willing to learn new things, but the specific context in which they have been introduced in the past have been fairly stressful for her, e.g. new computer programs she is not familiar with. But more than that, she has complained that the kind of work she has been forced to do is not really her area of content expertise - sort of more systems management than accounting. Part of this is because her department has had a lot of layoffs, a lot of shifting of responsibilities. I'm pretty sure she feels like she can't stay much longer in her current position.

I'm helping her with her cover letter now - is it a red flag to say something like "Although I have learned a lot in Corporation X, I am ultimately interested in returning to a nonprofit atmosphere."

Interesting comment about diversity. My mother explicitly said she feels like the new rules about leadership constituting 50% of your work review essentially discriminates against women/minorities... I'll look into her specific company.
posted by leedly at 12:12 PM on November 26, 2011

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