Social media could help you build your professional network and establish a reputation as a knowledgeable accountant. Or it could sink your chances for that next job or promotion.
Kathi Mettler, CPA, director of graduate accounting programs at Fairfield University in Connecticut, tells her students that “if you think the Big Four accounting firms or recruiters are not looking at your social media presence, you’re wrong.”
She often shares with students her experience working at a public accounting firm. “There was someone that we were going to extend an offer to … and we were not comfortable with what they were sharing on social media,” she said. “We did not extend that offer.”
LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms create, in effect, a digital brand for individuals. From students and recent graduates seeking their first job or internship to early-career accountants looking to take the next step, that online brand can help — or hurt.
Alicia Williams, chief human resources officer at DMJ & Co. PLLC, a public accounting firm based in Greensboro, N.C., tells employees that, like it or not, they represent the firm online.
“You have to remind your staff about what they’re posting and the importance of making sure that they are sending the right message,” she said, “that they are portraying themselves, as well as the company that they work for, in the most appropriate manner.”
DMJ encourages employees to use LinkedIn for professional development and to support the firm, Williams said. The firm wants employees to use social media professionally and responsibly.
That means avoiding updates about confidential matters, such as client work, or anything that could appear unprofessional, Williams said. When people do share or comment, they should post accurate, relevant information, she said. Posting content from the firm, such as blog posts or firm news releases, is also a good idea.
“It’s OK to share your knowledge and share your point of view,” she said. “But think twice and refrain maybe from posting controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects.”
That said, Williams encourages hiring managers to avoid reviewing job candidates’ social media accounts. She notes that social media accounts often have personal information that might reveal a candidate’s status as a member of a protected class, and that reviewing that information as part of a hiring decision could open the company up to accusations of employment discrimination.
A professional presence
At Fairfield, students start developing a professional LinkedIn profile long before they venture into the professional world.
The school offers a nine-point tip sheet for optimizing a young professional’s LinkedIn account. Those tips include:
Using a professional photo;
Writing a detailed headline that describes you and what you want to do after graduation;
Crafting a concise summary statement about qualifications and achievements;
Relaying education and work experience; and
Using key words throughout the profile to attract recruiters. Key words mirror terms used in job descriptions and might include things like the skills required for a job or experience sought.
“They should be using LinkedIn to brand themselves professionally,” Mettler said. “I view LinkedIn as the social media platform that students should use to promote their brand and expand their network.”
Mettler and Williams both said accountants should hold their LinkedIn activity to the same standard that they would for other professional communications, such as emails, presentations, and even text messages to clients.
“What do you want your personal brand to be? You want to be known as a professional, reliable team player and a critical thinker,” Mettler said. “My biggest tip to them is that the most powerful tool they have is being an effective communicator.”
In addition to LinkedIn, students often have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms, but Mettler thinks of those differently.
“I view Instagram as their personal, not really professional [presence],” she said. “But I do tell them, don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t want your employer or your grandmother to see.”
She advises students to periodically search their own names to see what shows up and how those search results might reflect on them. Sometimes problems arise from something unflattering shared by a friend who tags or refers to them in a post.
“We have conversations about going in and asking them to take it down,” Mettler said. Because they didn’t share it themselves, students sometimes don’t realize they should — and can — ask someone else to change or delete a social media post that mentions them in an unflattering way or unprofessional context.
Carefully managed, however, social media is an increasingly powerful tool for accountants to build their personal brands, support their employers, network, and, maybe, land that next great job.