By all accounts, now is a lousy time for chief financial officers who need to maintain their staffing levels. But while the glass is half-empty for CFOs, it's overflowing for accountants - especially those who are considering a career change.

Because there are more staffing positions than accountants to fill them, it's a good time for already established accountants who might be considering a change in specialties. For instance, an employee in accounts receivable might be able to move into auditing work. The important thing is to know how to do it right.

A tight market

Robert Half Management Resources (RHMR) conducted its "Work Place Pulse 2008" survey of Twin Cities CFOs. SALO conducted a study of senior level finance and accounting professionals from the Twin Cities' services, financial, healthcare and consumer sectors.

According to the SALO study, the financial staffing shortage has the "risk of increased workload and burnout on the current staff and to inhibit the growth and efficiency of the company."

In short, companies need to keep their accountants happy.

Jim Kwapick, regional vice president for Robert Half Management Resources, observes that in order to make a move, an accountant has to be ready.

"There's a ramp-up requirement," says Kwapick. "It's taking one step backwards to position for two steps forward."

But while the accountant might be comfortable and well regarded in a current position, that may change if he or she moves to another.

"They have to be okay with that and understand that they may not be perceived as the expert as they once were," says Kwapick.

Mistakes to avoid

Changing careers is a huge undertaking. Before embarking on a move, the accountant has to know why he or she is doing so.

"It goes to core motivations for a move," says Kwapick. "Isthe move being considered or made for a change, for enhanced career satisfaction, or for enhanced marketability, be it internally or externally?"

Accountants also need to understand what a career change will realistically mean for them.

"Another mistake we see is unrealistic expectations in terms of what the move can do for a person and the timeframe required to tool-up andhave credibility with new skills," says Kwapick.

But what if you chase down your dream job, only to discover that the dream is more of a nightmare? Can you go back to your old job? Maybe, but you might be out of luck.

"Internally, many companies move on and fill openings, so a change that does not work out may or may not be correctable," says Kwapick. "It mightnecessitate a move out of the organization."

Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer from Blaine.