A post by Juliette November.
A couple of months ago, I decided to quit my job in the accounting industry. No, I’m not one of those lazy Millennials who gave up on the hard life of deadlines and passive aggressive bosses for a life of Flycycle and an endless stream of cold pressed juice. I quit because after 3 years of working 12-16 hour long days, I was genuinely burnt out.
I’m not an expert on what a career burn out is, but for me the clearest sign was when I cried myself awake. Not asleep, awake.
Going to work was just miserable every day and the passive aggressive bosses did not make it any easier on me. When push came to shove, I realized this wasn’t the life I wanted to continue living. While my boss got to go home in his pretty little BMW at 6pm sharp every day, I was slogging at my desk till 2am and still had to come in at 9am the next day.
I tendered my resignation and decided I wanted to see Europe. I booked my tickets, packed my bags and said goodbye to an industry which gave me both a career and mental health issues.
You’re probably rolling your eyes thinking I’m one of those “strawberries” people talk about when hiring millennials i.e. “bruises” easily blablabla.
Before you go down that road, I would like to highlight that 12-16 hour days with no OT compensation for 3 years, officially exonerates me from being called a “strawberry”.
Two months after my Euro trip I decided it was time to get back in the game. I started applying for mid-level jobs which I figured, would give me fair exposure to the accounting industry from a different perspective. Initially, I was optimistic and positive about it all until I started attending interviews and here’s where it gets good.
Remember how in school (both high school and University) they would hire these “professionals” to coach you and give you seminars on interview skills and resume writing? Well, they should have been training the Baby Boomers, not us. Interview after interview, I began feeling like a contestant on a bad ciplak version of a reality show where people ask you to talk about yourself all the while, ignoring what you say.
A little bit of background before we continue: I’m 27 years old, have been living overseas for 3 years, have a total of 4 years’ industry experience. I have a Bachelor’s Degree; I am a certified, qualified chartered accountant (I didn’t buy that shit ok, I actually had to go through the exams and the fees and the nonsense trainings). The company that I worked for is not a massive brand name but neither is it small. It’s a recognizable name in the industry, let’s leave it at that.
It’s at this point now that you think I’m probably an over privileged, whiny little know-it-all who’s too arrogant and who probably showed up late, rolling my eyes and wearing skinny jeans, right? WRONG.
Not only was I dressed formally (blazer and all), I came 30 minutes early for every interview, filled up the necessary forms, waited for what seemed like an eternity for anyone to even start the interview (at almost every interview, this was a trend – making me wait WAY past the agreed upon time of interview). During these interviews, the interviewers hardly looked interested. There was one interviewer who did not even introduce herself to me, just asked me to follow her to a board room of 4 other people and made me sit down. No introduction and no handshake, I was promptly ushered to sit. It was only midway through that someone spoke up and said, “oh by the way, we’re the accounting team” – Gee, thanks for heads up but I kind of figured.
Every time this happened, I tried my best not to cringe and thought maybe they were going for the “casual chit-chat” kind of interview? But no, those were definitely indicators of their management style as I discovered later through their non-conventional (for lack of a better description) line of questioning.
Here are my favourite questions that I’ve been asked at interviews:
1) How would your parents accept that you’re switching careers?
(Never mind that I’m 27, have worked 3 years overseas and am in an interview that’s not in my home country, she still thought it was important to ask me how my mum and dad would feel. Cute.)
2) How fluent is your English?
(When all I spoke throughout the interview was English, my cover letter and resume in her hands were also in English)
3) Are you good at double entries?
(To which I replied: good enough to pass my ACCA exams without failing anything. I mean, what even??)
You know how everyone also seems to label ONLY the Millennials for being unprofessional? What with our “strawberry” ways and whiny first world problems?
Well, let me tell you about unprofessional and it has nothing to do with Millennials. I came across this weird trend while attending interviews. TWICE now, I’ve been told to do this and I like to call it the “WhatsApp me when you’re done” trend (because I’m very creative like that).
How many times have we heard elder folk complain that Millennials don’t know how to do things the good old-fashioned way? The respected way? The decent and courteous way? These were 40-something year olds who were supposedly head of departments, giving me an internal assessment to complete and then without missing a beat, asking me: “Can you take down my phone number? And WhatsApp me when you’re done?”
There I was seated in my stuffy formal ensemble, pen in hand, looking confused. Not even as a fresh graduate was I treated this informally and now, as an experienced hire, I was expected to “WhatsApp” my interviewer when I was done with my assessment.
What even?? Were budget cuts that bad in the industry that your giant conglomerate company removed all phones in the meeting rooms? Or was it too difficult to wait 10 minutes and then just come back in to ask if I was done?
If a company can’t even spring for a hiring manager to learn the common courtesy of coming back in to the room to check if the candidate is done with the questions, is it really worth the pain? The pay-cut, the learning curve, the whole enchilada? I wasn’t too upset when I did not get called back. Perhaps this was the Universe saving me.
Moving on to everyone’s favourite bit: Money. For someone with a mere 4 years of experience, I wouldn’t describe myself as an infinite well of wisdom but I have had my fair share of crazy clients and demanding bosses and after 4 years… you learn to smell BS from a mile away especially when it comes to the hiring and firing of accountants.
Trust me when I say, if a company is in the market for an accountant it’s always one of 3 things.
1) the accounts are in a mess and they’re looking to hire the cheapest dumbass to clean up the mess.
2) the company is expanding and they’re looking to hire the cheapest dumbass to work like an ass.
3) the accounts are in a mess despite that, they’re STILL looking to expand, they’re in denial and they think the people who have left are ungrateful Millennials who should work themselves to death because well, they’re paying salary.
Either way, you’re screwed. The only difference is the level of suck you’ll have to embrace and this is the reality we’ve all come to live with. Therefore, the expected salary that I fill in on candidate forms is usually pretty high because I figure, they’ll negotiate it down anyway so I might as well start high (it’s high but not sky high, I’m not that syok sendiri). If they don’t negotiate it down, at least I gain more money and if they do, at least I don’t lose THAT much.
I attended this interview where the interviewer outright told me my expected salary was too high for them. I appreciated the honesty and told them I was open for negotiations and they could counter-offer what they thought would be a more appropriate figure, but they cut-me off and said, “— by the way, we can’t promise you a bonus as well, things are quite bad in our industry now, we’re trying to save money where we can” — this was AFTER she had openly admitted her accounts were in a mess, she needed someone to not only help straighten things out but ALSO be willing to work overtime (without compensation).
FYI, lingo for work over time is now: “We hope to hire someone who will go beyond their normal duties, beyond the 9-5 hours and treat our company like family, do everything you can to help out *nods in Baby Boomer*.”
Baby Boomers, as it would seem, like to preach to us Millennials about “experience” and “exposure” just so they can pay you less but still squeeze you for all your worth.
Unless you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, don’t expect to be able to hire good people who are willing to go the extra mile for you. If the only thing your company has going for it is “experience” and “exposure”, it’s time to do the dirty work for yourself because you’ll be hard pressed to find good talent. Like a good matte lipstick, you get what you pay for, hunty.
Throughout the numerous interviews I’ve attended, I was hardly ever asked technical questions. Never mind that I had experience in financial statutory compliance and had my fair share of exposure and knowledge in financial reporting standards, they were more interested in whether I was willing to travel an hour to reach their office (I was already there for the interview, you would think this was a good indicator of my willingness) and if I knew how to take meeting minutes (never mind that this was a job interview for an accountant, not a secretary but ok #priorities).
All these questions were posed to me by a CFO who told me she was trying to pull their company out of the deep end, who told me she was looking to streamline her processes but did not even ask me one technical question to gauge my ability. I could not help but wonder, perhaps she had already made up her mind about me and she was asking questions to kill time. I smiled politely, answered all her questions as enthusiastically as I could and tried not to be offended at the irrelevance.
Whenever people talk about unemployment, the Millennials are always the first to be blamed. We’re too whiny, we demand too high of a salary, too full of ourselves and show no respect for higher management but the hard and simple truth is that nobody wants to be bullied.
I spent a good 8 years of my youth studying and qualifying to be a chartered accountant, why should I discount myself out of desperation for a job? Switch jobs too much and they call you a job hopper, but what about companies whose turnovers are high? You ever stop to think it’s them and not us? The fact that you can’t retain enough manpower to get you through the next financial year, should be an indicator of what crappy management you have.
Don’t even get me started on the “tried and tested” management mind-set that if you’re not working overtime, you’re not doing enough. Talk about a trend that should not have survived the 90s, never mind the Y2K scare.
The simple fact is, young blood is attracted to money (and really, who isn’t?). Yes, I did 8 years of business school and chartered accountancy, I don’t expect a red carpet and a bottle of Chardonnay but if you can’t pay me a living wage and I can’t use the name of your company as leverage on my resume, I would rather start an online business selling washi tape and unicorn tears.
At least then, I would know I was doing something I truly loved on my own terms.
Dear companies, if you’ve ever wondered why you can never retain a Millennial, you need to start looking at the managers you have sticking around the company. Managers who refuse to acknowledge that the world is changing, that people need more than just a salary and a promise of “exposure” in order to stay loyal.
Sure, some Millennials give other Millennials a bad name, but not all of us carry around a Unicorn backpack while sipping lattes from metal straws. Some of us are just bewildered individuals, genuinely wanting a job but not seeing the relevance in being asked, at 27 years old how my parents would feel about me switching careers. *stares blankly in Millennial*
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Cover image courtesy of Servicefutures.