CPA INSIDER

‘Feel’ your way to a new gig

Follow this guide to quietly launch a job search.
By Dawn Wotapka

If one of your goals this year was to find a new job, you may be wondering: How do I make it happen? Is it even possible amid a pandemic?

Searching for a job in 2020 has brought numerous challenges, including a move away from in-person meetings and interviews. The rocky economy has prompted many firms to suspend hiring, and many CPAs may decide to stay put in their current roles until the situation stabilizes.

But that doesn't mean all job searches have come to a halt, and many modern techniques for landing your next dream job are compatible with the new online reality. 

"In some ways, the concept of a job search is a bit antiquated," said Joni Holderman, a career coach in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "I prefer 'open to career growth' rather than 'in a job search' because I think it reflects the reality that it is a constant, ongoing process."

Instead of an old-fashioned search, Holderman and others suggest using "feelers," which are like breadcrumbs to signal to others that you'd be open to changing jobs. But you have to do this subtly instead of marketing yourself like the rock star you are.

"This can be tricky," said John Broadfoot, CPA, director of recruiting and business development for Thomas, Judy & Tucker in Raleigh, N.C. "There could be consequences if your current employer found out that you were looking without you telling them first. However, under certain circumstances, having an open discussion with your current employer may be fruitful when considering changing jobs. They may actually be able to open a few doors through their business connections."

If that doesn't work, be aware that finding a job while working can be a delicate balance. Follow this advice to navigate the process:

Be focused. First, think about what you want to do and where, which will help you figure out where to begin placing those breadcrumbs. Assess your strengths, your unique value proposition, and your target opportunity, said Sarah Johnston, founder of the Briefcase Coach, a job search strategy and career coach service based in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Job seekers who enter a job search open to everything often struggle to find what they are looking for because they lack clarity," she said. Making a list of potential employers can help focus your energies.

Update your résumé. As you do this, work on updating your résumé, which should be done periodically to allow you to put thought into it and to catch typos, said Holderman. Have it ready before you actively start looking. "It can take a few weeks," she said, but "when a recruiter says, 'Send me your résumé,' they mean tomorrow at the very latest."

Refresh LinkedIn. Meanwhile, strengthen your LinkedIn profile to help bring attention your way. According to Holderman, most employers use the site to proactively identify candidates — even if a position isn't posted. "Today, LinkedIn is at least 60% of the job search," Holderman said. "The whole site is basically one big job interview."

Be sure that your profile uses the same focus, branding message, and work history as your résumé, she said.

You can also elect to let others see your job preferences, including title, location, and even commuting distance. This feature, which can be found under the Jobs tab, can be public or visible only to recruiters, Holderman noted. Next, beef up your skills section with industry terms that can be found as potential employers do keyword searches. Finally, she added, avoid wording like "actively seeking a new opportunity," which could alert your boss you're looking.

While turning off profile update notifications will help keep profile changes under the radar, your tweaked profile may be noticed.

"As an employer, I periodically review employees' LinkedIn profiles, so you need to assume that your employer does the same," Broadfoot said. If you are questioned, simply explain that an online presence is the modern business card. Johnston suggested something like: "In today's digital society, I want to make a good online impression for future clients or business leads."

Find contacts. Thinking back to the first tip, look at the list you made of potential employers and try to find mutual contacts. "The personal contact is always better than submitting a résumé without any sort of introduction," Broadfoot said.

Be sure to exercise discretion. "Only put out feelers to business and personal contacts that you trust," he warned.

That said, most professionals are open to a get-to-know-you coffee or chat. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these conversations are largely happening over the phone or over videoconferencing software, Broadfoot said. If you are confident the conversation will be kept private, be open about seeking new opportunities, Broadfoot said. If you're unsure, be vague with something like "I'm open to career growth. If you hear of anything, will you let me know?" Holderman suggested.

Build your brand. Longer-term work should include building yourself as an industry authority, Broadfoot advised. LinkedIn allows users to repost interesting articles and to create new content. Other options to consider include Twitter and blogging. Balance this with networking and professional events, when such things are possible again, where you'll meet people who can help in your job search.

"Making yourself visible to others is always a good thing for career advancement," Broadfoot said.

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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