This wasn't supposed to happen. ... Unemployment that is. After all, it was my choice to switch.
It is said that life begins at 40. In my case, that was the year that I changed my career path, from journalism to accountancy. After more than 15 years in the newspaper business, I returned to the classroom, qualified to sit for the CPA exam, then set out to seek employment in what I'd always assumed was a well-established direction through which I would make my way toward a successful career.
Which brings me to another saying, translated from Yiddish: "Man plans. God laughs." Or, put another way: "There were a lot more steps here than I had anticipated, and a lot less security."
But you know? I'm glad. Because I've learned a few things I now gladly share.
- The apparently well-tread path is littered with sticks and holes. It will take time to get to your destination.
Even though I had passed the CPA exam virtually on my own, demonstrating what I consider to be great aplomb, I could not find a job with a public accounting firm. While sitting for the exam, I had taken a job with a bank, performing audits around asset-based lending, better known as field exams. But even after three years in that job and earning my CPA license, I could not get many interviews.
Was I too old? Surely, I was at least as smart as the youngsters coming into the field. I had a solid work ethic. I could handle the stress of the job. And...I could write one heck of a report, so I'd been told. (An accountant who can write?)
It would take me several years to realize that the path someone else has cleared isn't the one that's necessarily right for me. I have my own machete.
- Be open to every experience.
My job with the bank wasn't the end I sought, but it offered me learning opportunities I would have missed had I jumped right to a CPA firm. I traveled the country visiting many different businesses and found out what other people do all day. (I even climbed steaming mulch piles in Georgia!) I learned more about the key role of banks in economic health. And I got great training in how to conduct myself during an audit. I also made great friends I still call on. (As a matter of fact, the reason I got the interview was because I'd worked in customer service as a "bridge" job at that same bank a couple of years before.)
As I searched for subsequent jobs, I seized opportunities to meet new people and explore new options. I spent two years with a small CPA firm that provided assurance and other services to community banks. While between jobs, I attended two internal auditing conferences to see what another discipline was like. I met some extremely engaging people who have remained friends, given me great advice and provided networking contacts.
- Dad was right. Trust your gut.
If a potential job doesn't feel right, walk away. I took a position with a national nonprofit organization, in its accounting department, and realized later that I just wasn't comfortable in that sort of day-to-day sameness. I kind of felt from the get-go this might not be a good fit. But I needed a job. Instead what I lost was time spent finding the right fit. Another downside: False starts don't always make for productive, amicable relationships down the line. Better to graciously decline and move on. People will appreciate your honesty.
- You are NOT too old.
I was starting to think at one point that my age was working against me. But I've learned that I have some things that younger job candidates lack: I know how a workplace operates, no matter the arena. I have honed a sophisticated set of personal and professional skills I can rely on in a pinch and bring to the team when there's a problem to be solved. I have a track record. I've traveled. I've accomplished tasks. I've served on committees. I've completed jobs. I've also met many people I can rely on when I need input. Remember the "network?" I have one that's more than 20 years old and spans nationwide. A 23-year-old can't say that.
I eventually landed at two regional CPA firms, where plans called for me to audit small businesses and non-profit organizations, and where circumstance led me to the wonderful world of OMB Circular A-133. But even that unique niche could not save me from downsizing.
- Surprising and wonderful things happen if you let them, especially if you approach your life with integrity and with wonder.
My wife always said I should lighten up and stop trying to do everything. She said experience can deliver interesting opportunities if we just sit back and let it. I'm beginning to see she's right. All of my life I've strived to be honest with others, be genuine as possible, and be as well-intentioned as I can in my interactions.
I did not do this because I've wanted "payback." But now, it is coming back to me in ways that I am thankful for. I've been attending all sorts of networking events; I've been asked to be involved in more local charities; I've offered to help others when they need job-search advice; I've never turned down an opportunity for some training. And last week, I received four unsolicited calls from folks who wanted to hire me for contractual work.
Could this be the start of something big?