You have to look hard these days to find good news among the doom and gloom, and in all fairness to the reporters bringing us a daily dose of bad news, it is a sign of our tumultuous times. Even large firms are starting to feel the financial pressure. There are still bright spots in the accounting world but just in case you find yourself out of or looking for work, we want to offer you some tips on standing out in the crowd. We spoke to our friend Dave Gombka, recruiter for KPMG, who offered some useful suggestions (and threw in a few of our own):
Build high-value relationships You never know who might be able to help you, or who you can help, so the number one best way to survive a downturn is to develop and nurture relationships. There are recruiters and HR managers all over the Internet - think of social media networking as six degrees of separation for accountants. Thanks to social media, it is quite easy to connect with hundreds of thousands of professionals on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Most people who use these sites understand the value of relationships and are more than willing to help - even if they cannot help you directly, oftentimes they know someone who can and can put in a good word for you or make an introduction. Think of it as "Meet the Firms" on a global scale.
Buff up your Online presence If a recruiter or HR manager Googles you and nothing pops up, that might be cause for concern. They can't find you if you aren't out there, and trust us, the recruiters are out there looking. Make sure you have a strong presence that is attractive to potential employers. Which brings us to our next point...
Make sure you are projecting the right online image Worse than being Googled by a recruiter who finds nothing, being Googled by a recruiter who finds your drunken Myspace pictures from vacation. Make sure that your online image accurately reflects the sort of things recruiters are looking for - if your Myspace profile is inappropriate, make it private and keep your debauchery between you and your friends. As our friend Scott Stratten told Twitter this morning, never write anything online that you wouldn't want on a billboard with your company name on it and your Mom driving by.
Polish your skill set With so many people looking for work, you're going to have to stand out from the pack to get noticed. Now is the time (especially if you have been laid off) to work on skills that you need to be a better CPA. Take some CPE classes, buff up on finance or economics with free online classes, or take a class or two at the local community college. You've got nothing but time, right? Might as well get your money's worth and set yourself up as a desirable candidate at the same time.
Know your stuff As we told you over the fall, PwC recruiters were asking potential new hires if they had any experience with or knowledge of IFRS financial statements even though the standard hadn't even officially been adopted in the U.S. Be up on industry trends (the latest and greatest, as it were), changes, and news. You don't have to be an expert, just know enough to make yourself appear knowledgeable - recruiters notice these sorts of things and will appreciate a person with the drive to educate themselves outside of work hours.
Connect with old colleagues and associates Just as Dave told us about the importance building relationships with professionals, it's also a good idea to look back into your past and try to reconnect with ex-colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, etc. Again, you never know who might be in a position to help you. We don't suggest looking up ex-boyfriends on Facebook, of course, but looking up the people in your past may be the key to unlocking a new job - what if your old manager is married to a partner of the accounting firm you've been trying to get into for months? Can't hurt to look.
Sell yourself CPAs are not really into the whole "marketing thing" as a group and generally don't even know where to begin but if you are out of work and banging down HR managers' doors, it's important to have the right sales pitch. After all, there is likely a stack of qualified resumes lurking under yours and you are going to have to market yourself if you want to be considered as a qualified applicant. You need to have an answer to the question "Why should I hire you?" - again, this is where social media can come in handy. Reach out to friends in marketing positions and get their advice on how to polish your personal pitch.
Reach out to your state society of CPAs The various state societies are all wonderful in their own right and offer a seemingly endless source of information for their members. Many state societies have job boards on their websites, offer career advice, and hold networking seminars throughout the year. If you are not already a member, join up with yours and find out what they can do for you.
Be flexible and adaptable As our friends at the Maryland Association of CPAs pointed out in a recent blog post, surviving an economic downturn requires a high level of adaptability. Especially since our world seems to be evolving on a daily basis, it is critical now more than ever to stay up on new technologies, ways of doing things, and tools that you can use for job search, career advancement, and/or networking. Recruit your local technogeek and ask them what tools they are using, because you never know which new technology might become the next big thing.
Ask! It does you no good to sit there and think that employers will somehow discover you and beg you to work for them (I think we all know that is not true). If you want something, you have to go out and get it. If you need help, ask. Put your feelers out and ask if your connections, associates, friends, and family know of anyone in need of a CPA. Your network is larger than you think and a friend of a friend of a friend may be looking for an accountant - even if you cannot secure full-time employment, it is a start and may lead to a full-time gig (like interning).
Remember that though it feels like nothing but doom and gloom these days, accountants are still heavily in demand - especially as revelations of financial fraud become more frequent, someone is going to have to clean up this mess and that someone might be you. Forensic accounting has seen a huge growth spurt and talented auditors will always be in high demand.
Oh, and a bonus tip for you: if you haven't yet made the leap and gotten your CPA, now is the time for certification. When times were better, firms didn't care too much about those three little letters as long as the accountant was qualified to do the work - now that the tide has changed, a CPA after your name on a resume will instantly bump you to the top of a HR manager's pile. Don't get left behind or brushed off just because you didn't pursue a professional license.