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What furloughed or unemployed accountants should be doing right now

Getting noticed by recruiters while unemployed or furloughed

[By: Stephanie Ng]

Unless you’ve been avoiding the news for the last few months, you already know the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many experts think that the current unemployment rate is temporary. That’s good news if you’re a furloughed or unemployed accountant. But until the economy goes back up, don’t think that you don’t have anything to do while you’re underemployed. In fact, the opposite is true. Now could be the perfect time to start planning for advancements in your career.

Unemployment Rates for Accountants

Historically, the unemployment rates for accountants are lower than rates for other white-collar and blue-collar workers. But 2020 hasn’t been “normal” by any means, and some accountants now find themselves out of work. By April 2020, U.S. unemployment rates soared to 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And it’s the highest since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started to keep records in 1948.

In April 2020, the US economy lost 67,000 accounting and bookkeeping jobs. The numbers rebounded a little in May 2020, with 13,200 accountants back to work. But still, many remain furloughed or unemployed. In the list below, you’ll see some ideas to rejuvenate your career despite the down economy.

Top 5 Things for Unemployed Accountants To Do Today


Complete your CPE

Most credentialed accountants must complete CPE (continuing professional education) to maintain their designation. For example, CPAs must take CPE courses every 1-3 years to renew their licenses. CPE allows professionals to sharpen their skills and get updates on new regulations and best practices. Unless you have no plans to renew your professional credentials, now is an excellent time to finish your CPE.

As a bonus, maybe you’ll learn something new that could open other doors in your career.


Pursue Additional Accounting Certifications

If you haven’t yet pursued post-graduate credentials, now is the time to consider them. Your options could include the CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CFA (Certified Financial Accountant), CIA (Certified Internal Auditor), EA (Enrolled Agent), or CMA (Certified Management Accountant).

When you make an effort to get one of these designations, you’re likely to see tangible results. For example, credentialed accountants make much more than non-credentialed accountants. How much more? At least 10-15%, but often more. Plus, credentialed accountants usually enjoy greater job stability and more upward mobility opportunities in the job market.

And while review courses that help you prep for credential exams can be quite pricey, many providers are giving out significant discounts to help during the pandemic. So if your budget can allow it, now could be an opportune time to get the CPA or another credential because review costs are lower than usual.


Update Your Resumé and Apply to Other Positions

Yes, the economy is down in general. But according to HR professionals, accounting positions in the fields of creative content, digital businesses, and supply chain logistics have been more stable than other accounting jobs. Plus, the agriculture, construction, and real estate industries are growing. So now could be an excellent time to look for your next position.

You should always keep your resumé up-to-date. And if you’re currently furloughed or unemployed, then you have the time to perfect your resumé and ensure that it reflects who you are and where you want to go. Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure to list all of your academic credentials, including accounting credentials you might have like CPA, CMA, CIA, CFA, EA, etc.
  • Keep your resumé current—no one cares about what you did in high school or that part-time job you had in college.
  • Don’t lie. But don’t be too humble either. Brag on yourself.
  • If you’re stuck, you can even hire a resumé writer. These trained professionals know how to make your resumé stand out in a crowd.

Pursue a Higher Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics job report for August 2020, people with a bachelor’s degree or higher were less likely to be unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. So if you haven’t finished your higher education degree, it’s time to consider it.

Plus, if you are thinking about pursuing specific accounting credentials per tip #2, you might need a higher degree. For example, in almost every jurisdiction, CPA candidates need 120 hours of higher education (basically, a bachelor’s degree) to take the CPA Exam and at least 150 hours to get the CPA license.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, consider a master’s like an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or MAcc (Master of Accounting) or maybe even a PhD. A master’s degree could allow you to reach the higher-level position you’ve wanted. Plus, many colleges and universities hire adjunct instructors with a master’s degree. And in periods of economic decline, many students return to school when they find themselves out of work, which creates a significant demand for adjunct instructors.


Look for Freelance Accounting Jobs

More and more professionals choose the freelance route because of the flexibility and the ability to work anywhere. You can even find freelance jobs as an accountant if you know where to look. You might find some opportunities through your local accounting society or job boards. Or, you can look for freelance gigs on specialty websites like Upwork, FlexJobs, and Freelancer.

And don’t limit your opportunities to those that are easy to find. It doesn’t hurt to look for freelance or temp jobs on major job websites, but remember that everyone else who is out of work will be applying to these jobs too. Instead, now is the perfect time to tap into your professional network. Reach out to your contacts and ask about employment or temp work. You never know when a great company will be looking for new talent.

Portrait of author Stephanie Ng

Stephanie Ng is the Executive Committee member responsible for Finance at New Sight Eye Care, a charity registered in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. She oversees the financial aspect of New Sight in Hong Kong, including accounting, taxation, financial management, and compliance.

She began her career as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York and Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong. She later joined her client to work in the Group Finance Department, where she spent five years specializing in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and debt refinancing. She also extended her role to management accounting and financial accounting and obtained her U.S. CPA qualification.

Stephanie also is a published author of the book How to Pass the CPA Exam. Additionally, she created I Pass the CMA Exam, the first CMA help site. Her guidance and mentorship have helped hundreds of thousands of candidates pass their exams.

Stephanie graduated with Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago, majoring in economics with a second concentration in public policy studies.