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Alexandra DeFelice
Alexandra DeFelice

Finding Accounting Jobs Through Social Media — It’s Who You Know En Masse

Can accountants find jobs through social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or are those tools just child’s play?

February 18, 2010
by Alexandra DeFelice

Not everyone has bought into using social media sites to search for employment. But financial professionals who have done so successfully say this is just the next stage of networking (see related story). After all, it’s not what you know, but who you know. That was true way before these online networks ever existed. These forums just help take the “who” en masse — even if the people never meet each other face to face.

When Cortney Smith was laid off from his auditing job last May, he immediately turned to social media and even started his own Web site where he posted his résumé in hopes of finding a new job quickly. Even so, he didn’t want just any job. He searched for companies in the California Bay Area where he lives that were dubbed “best places to work,” then looked on those companies’ Web sites to see whether they were hiring.

That’s how he found Rothstein Kass, a top-20 public accounting firm serving privately held and publicly traded companies as well as high-net-worth (HNW) individuals and families. The firm has eight offices in the U.S., including two in the Bay Area and was named one of the “50 Best Small & Medium Companies to Work for in America” in 2009 by The Society for Human Resource Management and The Great Places to Work Institute, Inc.

At the time, there were no job listings, but Smith decided to dip into LinkedIn to see whether he could link up with any insiders by searching for people he might know through various degrees of separation either through a common person, place of employment or school.

Sure enough, he found an employee there who happened to have gone through the same accounting program at Brigham Young University. So Smith extended a request to join that person’s network, with the original message soliciting information on how that person felt about working at Rothstein Kass. Because LinkedIn allows members to select how they are connected (school, colleagues, etc.), the person accepted Smith’s invitation and they connected.

When a job became available, Smith forwarded that person his résumé and that person sent it to the HR department at Rothstein Kass, completely bypassing the step of submitting his résumé through the firm’s Web site and landing him his current job as staff accountant in August.

“If it wasn’t for LinkedIn, I wouldn’t be working where I am now,” Smith said.

But the rules of engagement are the same as they would be offline, he cautioned (see sidebar).

“Avoid cold calling or doing the (equivalent) on LinkedIn. You need some kind of connection to get noticed,” Smith said. “Don’t ruin a chance by just finding the partners or decision-makers’ profile and sending a message. That may put a bad taste in their mouth."

Also, if possible, start building connections when you’re already employed and don’t need to rely on them as much. “People are definitely more willing to help out when they know you’re already established,” Smith said. “When you don’t need it is the most important time to do it, but if you’re actively looking, you better be on LinkedIn and searching.”

Staying in the know while employed can also open new doors, says Jeff Onesto, a CPA who found his current job as director of product marketing for OptionEase, a provider of Web-based equity and stock administration, valuation and compliance applications, through his use of social media last fall.

Onesto was writing a blog about things to consider when buying business applications related to Microsoft ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) products and became a subject matter expert with a following of analysts with whom he developed online friendships. One of them happened to be in his area and asked him to meet for coffee and told him about OptionEase. Three weeks later, he got a job offer for a position that was never even advertised.

“I found this company via networking with like-minded people who have their fingers in a lot of pies that said, ‘This came across my desk and it reminded me of you -- go check them out,’” Onesto said. “The idea is to find the job before it hits the street.”

New Venues, Better Results

When Michael VanderGoot was notified that his position as operating officer for a real estate developer was being eliminated, he did not even know what LinkedIn was. Another operating officer from a different office told him about it, he signed on, became a constant "updater" (letting people know what he was doing) and decided to open his own CPA firm in the greater New York City area.

He wrote a whitepaper about one of his areas of interest — commercial lease audit. As he was finishing it, another CPA told him he should advertise his bookkeeping practice on Craigslist, which although he doesn’t necessarily consider a traditional social media site helped him land a job.

“I had been on there before to see about selling some old books, but that was the extent,” VanderGoot said. “When I went onto the site, there were help wanted ads for my area. One was for a commercial lease auditor. As a shot in the dark, I sent [in] my résumé and was hired about a week later.”

Accountants need to realize that they can use social media as a way to get beyond the rigid controls that existed when the main way of searching for jobs was through newspapers, says John Anderson, a CPA and financial and IT business consultant based in Boxford, Mass.

“I define social media as including LinkedIn Groups and old listservs, distributed via e-mail, so I have found some high-end engagements essentially from ads on these sites. An exceptional one resulted in the creation of a $1 billion NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) company where I spent a year working on this reasonably large North American rollup,” he said. “Like the ads you used to see more often in The Wall Street Journal, this is a rare occurrence. My point is simply that one newer medium has simply replaced an older medium.

“What happens today in social networking media, which is a refreshing and new improvement, is that I can either review the free ads from others while searching and finding opportunities of interest or run my own free ads and receive free replies,” on various social networking groups with notifications appearing in his e-mail inbox, he said. “If I go to the right social networking sites or LinkedIn Groups, in theory, I can be more targeted and effective than I could have been in a newspaper.”

It’s also allowed him to expand his network beyond his local area, including to other countries by using social media sites specific to the EU (European Union), mainly XING.

“There are many more organizations in midtown Manhattan that need my services than there are in the Village of East Boxford … and these electronic media outlets serve me well. Only through this activity could I be simultaneously expanding my network in Eastern Europe, the sub continent, the Middle East or even developing countries like Ghana,” Anderson said. “My social media ads have been the main source of the expansion of my network, producing several important new high-quality business contacts that I network with now almost each and every week. These are VPs at hedge funds, private equity funds and other potential customers and influencers.”

Listen and Learn

Most people listen but don’t participate in social media, according to Onesto. But both can be helpful, especially on Twitter, where Onesto says not only do many people post job openings but employers talk about topics that interest or concern them right now.

“In interviews, having topical awareness is key. The more you know, the higher the likelihood of being hired,” he said. Keeping a job in today’s economy utilizes the same skills necessary to land a job. This is not a one-time use-and-forget skill.”

Those few who participate with frequent postings may stand out as thought-leaders.

“If you are a confident subject matter expert, this is a great way to create demand in the brand You,” Onesto said. “Take a chance and talk about some subjects, beliefs and approaches and people will very quickly find out if you’re good or not.”

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Alexandra DeFelice is a Journal of Accountancy senior editor and an AICPA CPA Insider™ columnist. To comment on this story or suggest future technology column ideas, e-mail her or call (212) 596-6122.