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

By Rob Forney, CPA, Staff Auditor II, Internal Audit at WSFS Bank

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Reading Time: 4 minutes – Posted: October 2020
Like many during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, I found myself out of work. Waking up to a world that literally shut down overnight, it was concerning 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 startup cash? My family was in a tough spot having just lost half of its income to the pandemic. 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 resume. It was time to start looking for a new job.

Early in the state-wide shutdown, I was able to find 20-30 jobs that were within my skillset and interests, but as February turned into March, and March to April, the opportunities started dwindling. New opportunities at that point came to a halt, and companies and CPA firms to which I applied were putting positions on hold indefinitely. Thankfully, a professional recruiter I was working with found my current position as an internal auditor, 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 for the foreseeable future.

Lessons Learned
Through all of this craziness, I have learned a few things that I’d like to share.

The first lesson is to understand and acknowledge how mentally draining this situation is. Try to allow yourself the opportunity 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. This program says the first thing to do in a survival situation is to STOP: Stay calm, Think, Observe and Plan. This can easily be translated into 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. Layering 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 overarching lesson this taught me is the importance of knowing what your goal is. One of the best degrees to have in the Philadelphia job market is an accounting degree. I was finding roles 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.

When my recruiter first sent me the listing for my current position as a staff auditor at a bank, he mentioned 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 job title. I wanted this position in this industry.

I recognize that I was 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 into something you’ve been wanting to pursue.

The 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 had remembered that I have a family friend that works there. Between when I submitted my resume 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. Just like in the stock market, 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 new job, just know, there is hope, and there is help. 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, and many offer CPE along with the way. Governor Wolf has allowed unlimited self-study CPE for this year, so start getting ready for the 2021 renewal cycle! 1 2

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 those, and are still looking, maybe now’s the time to study for that additional credential you’ve been wanting to attain. Or, you can take it the other way, and reexamine a hobby you’ve always wanted to try. For me, it was running and writing!

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.

This article originally appeared on the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) CPA Now Blog.




About the Author – Rob Forney, CPA
Rob Forney, CPA, is a Staff Auditor II, Internal Audit at WSFS Bank. He has a passion for leveraging the latest technology and techniques to streamline workflows while fighting fraud and producing top-quality Customer deliverables.



1 https://www.picpa.org/attend-cpe-events/cpa-cpe-requirements-in-pennsylvania

2 https://www.dos.pa.gov/Documents/2020-03-22-Continuing-Education-Suspensions.pdf