June 16, 2020 | 5 min read
How To Survive An Economic Downturn In Public Accounting


Hiring in public accounting looks much different than it did a few months ago. At the beginning of the year, many public accountants might have been bracing for a “normal” busy season and looking forward to the summer months where they could either take a little vacation or ease into a job search. Then COVID-19 hit, and things suddenly changed overnight.

“COVID-19 and resulting ‘stay at home’ orders have had a major impact on many industry sectors as well as the general economy,” says Irv Myones, a Senior Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Accounting/Finance division. “This affects all areas of public accounting, with many firms making the difficult decision to freeze all hiring, make pay cuts, and let many employees go. As a result, accountants have suddenly been thrust into an employer-driven job market where it can be more challenging to land a job.”

As we navigate this new market, the good news is that landing a new job in public accounting is still very possible! It just may take a more focused effort on your part. “The economy may have taken a hit, but there is still public accounting work to be done,” says Irv. “There will always be a tax deadline to meet and clients to advise, especially as their financials evolve with the economy. With the work there, firms will eventually need to hire. When they do, it’s important to be prepared and able to stand out amongst your peers.”

To help you boost your marketability and job prospects within public accounting, here are four things you can do:

Obtain your CPA

Between the demands of busy season and other things that may arise during the year, many public accountants struggle to find the time to obtain or further pursue their CPA certification. If you’re not currently working or are looking to make a move, now may be the best time to commit to getting this coveted license. “Accounting certifications like a CPA can be the difference between an interview and a rejection,” explains Irv. “In a candidate-driven job market, firms might be more open to candidates without their CPA. With a tighter hiring budget, however, they’ll go for the candidate who can demonstrate they have the necessary skills, knowledge, and judgment to be successful in the role. Since the CPA can be this deciding factor, it’s important to show that you are at least working towards obtaining this certification.” Read also: 5 Reasons Getting Your CPA Is Worth It

Be strategic about what jobs you apply for

If you’re anxious to find a new role, you may be tempted to apply to every public accounting job you see, regardless of whether or not you have the right skillset or experience. While it’s understandable that you want to find a job as quickly as possible, this isn’t the most effective strategy to use. “Since firms have a lot of options when it comes to talent, they will be super specific in their requirements,” explains Irv. “If you apply to every job you see without evaluating your fit, you could ultimately burn yourself out and extend the length of your search. Instead of applying to a large volume of jobs and hoping you get called in for an interview, aim to be more focused in your search and apply for the jobs where you can check off most of the boxes.” Read also: The Best Accounting Resume Tips For Every Stage Of Your Career.

Demonstrate your willingness to learn and grow

All public accounting firms have their own ways of servicing their clients and establishing themselves. Because of this, firms who are hiring are specifically looking for candidates who not only can be trained, but who are open and willing to learn how their new employer operates. “If you do get called for an interview at a public accounting firm, make it a point to discuss your ability to learn quickly and your willingness to be trained in a remote environment,” advises Irv. “Firms know that having to train employees remotely has its own set of unique obstacles, so candidates who come in and say they’re committed to facing those challenges in order to learn and ultimately succeed will stand out the most.” Read also: Accounting + Finance Pros: 9 Ways To Ace A Remote Hiring Process.

Don’t give up

At some point, you may ultimately feel frustrated at your lack of job opportunities and may consider transitioning to a different field. While it’s completely normal to feel this way, it’s critical that you continue to stay with public accounting. “Even though fewer companies are hiring right now, firms will eventually need to hire people to help with tax filings and other financial needs,” says Irv. “The work will always be there, so try to be patient. Your persistence will pay off when hiring does eventually pick up. Public accounting is a great field that offers a ton of career benefits. Don’t let a short-term situation impact your career in the long-run.” Read also: Considering Leaving Public Accounting? 6 Questions To Ask Yourself

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