Oct 09, 2020

Unemployed During COVID: A CPA’s Perspective and Lessons Learned

Robert Forney, CPABy Robert S. Forney Jr., CPA

Like many during the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself out of work. It was concerning waking up to a world that literally shut down overnight and not knowing where I would find my next paycheck. Should I start a bookkeeping firm to bridge the gap between jobs? Should I find a trade? What can I do with a CPA license and zero start-up cash? So, I did what any finance professional would do: I pulled up last month’s spending budget, found places to cut, and started updating my résumé.

Early in the crisis, I was able to identify 20 to 30 potential jobs that were within my skill set and interests, but as February turned into March, and March to April, the opportunities dwindled. Companies and CPA firms to which I applied were putting positions on hold indefinitely. Thankfully, a professional recruiter I was working with found an internal auditor position and contacted me to fill it. I interviewed on a Thursday, received an offer on a Monday, and two weeks later – after 87 days – I was back to work, onboarding virtually and working from home.

Lessons Learned

Woman at laptop doing a job searchThrough all of this craziness, I learned several things that I’d like to share with those who are in a similar position or may find themselves there.

The first lesson is to understand and acknowledge how mentally draining unemployment can be – especially during a health and economic crisis. Try to allow yourself opportunities to unwind and get your head on straight. When I was in the Boy Scouts, I had a chance to teach the Wilderness Survival merit badge. The program shares that the first thing to do in a survival situation is to STOP: Stay calm, Think, Observe, and Plan. This is easily translatable to what we’re experiencing now.

The mental stress of the COVID-19 lockdown is the most difficult part of the pandemic for many. Having to worry about occupying the kids and taking care of a barking dog downstairs is difficult enough. Layer in the uncertainty of how to provide for your family takes it to a whole other level.

Find time for yourself. Meditate, pray, breathe deeply, read a book, go for a walk, get lost in Hamilton for the 12th time. Taking care of your mental health should be the first thing you do.

The second lesson this experience taught me is the importance of knowing your goals. One of the best degrees to have in the Philadelphia job market is an accounting degree. I was finding opportunities from all over the region for financial reporting, financial accounting, bookkeeping, and senior accounting positions. Although they would pay well, I knew I couldn’t see myself in any of those roles over the long term. It was hard, but I had to keep my goals in focus.

When my recruiter first sent me the listing for my current position as a staff auditor at a bank, he mentioned that, on paper, I looked overqualified because of my three years in public accounting. I reassured him that this is where my passion was, and I didn’t want to throw away my shot because of a title. I wanted this position in this industry.

I recognize that I am very lucky to have found this position in such a short amount of time, but my suggestion through all this is still the same: if you are financially able to do so, stick to where your interests are and use this as an opportunity to pivot toward something you’ve been wanting to pursue.

A third lesson is the importance of keeping up your professional networks, and that doesn’t just mean people in your industry. When I learned about the opportunity with WSFS Bank, I remembered that I have a family friend who works there. Between when I submitted my résumé and when I had my interview, I was able to revisit a conversation we had back in late 2019.  

These conversations allowed me to ask better questions during the interview and have an insider’s perspective on the culture. A true insider’s perspective is always better than what you’ll find online. The good news is this type of insider information is legal, so use it!

Resources Available

If you’re still looking for a job, know that there is hope and help is available. The PICPA offers some great educational resources through the complementary CPE they offer. The Big 4 and other CPA firms also offer free webinars on all different topics. Gov. Tom Wolf has allowed unlimited self-study CPE for this reporting period, so use your time wisely and get a jump on the 2021 CPE deadline!1

The PICPA also offers career guides and job boards that have listings from employers from all over the state. If you’ve taken advantage of all of these tools and are still looking, maybe now is the time to study for that additional credential you’ve been wanting to attain.

Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn if I (or someone in my professional network) can help in any way. And remember to stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

1 CPA CPE requirements in Pennsylvania and continuing education suspensions

Robert S. Forney Jr., CPA, is an internal auditor in the Philadelphia banking industry and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at rob.forney.cpa@gmail.com.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.