Starting a New Career During COVID-19: Challenges and Thoughts -

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2020 may have earned the title for roughest start to a year thus far (that does not involve a major conflict). To say the least: yikes!

On a happier note, I turned 30 in February and just before that monumental birthday I had a chance to work with Business Sherpa Group (BSG) for a day, which led to shortly being hired by them.

Quick Background

Algonquin College (where I was a student) put on a networking event for all accounting programs, at which BSG headlined. While there, BSG had a contest for shadowing an accountant for a day. Spoiler alert, but I was one of the winners. My day of shadowing with Nick Adamson, co-Accounting Team Lead from BSG, was scheduled for eve of my big birthday. I was excited to gain some hands-on accounting experience – the field that I was studying.

But I was also nervous beforehand; I did not have much confidence when it came to real-world accounting as school and work can be very different from each other. The day arrives and off I go to my day of shadowing Nick. I headed up to the office and opened the door and Nick was already waiting. From there we ditched my lunch in the fridge and began our day.

Thoughts and Challenges on Starting Out Remotely

So where does that take me on the question of starting a new career during the joining the COVID-19 pandemic? During the day I shadowed Nick, I found out that BSG was hiring and a few weeks later I learned that I had made a positive enough impression and was offered a position. This offer came post COVID-19, meaning that I would be officially starting my accounting career remotely.

The kick off to my accounting career consisted of being isolated at home with a computer and Zooming to Brandon Brown and Nick (the co-Accounting Team Leads). Fun twist was that I do not have a webcam so the communication between us was chatting only. Body language makes up a significant amount of our ability to communicate and posture, eye contact and facial expressions are so critical when trying to make a point.

Now, here I am, starting a new job and trying to make lasting impressions, yet I only have my voice and computer screen. This situation mostly led to funny and embarrassing moments (I choose to laugh about them) where, during onboarding for instance, I would be sharing my screen and Brandon or Nick would ask me to click on XYZ, then I awkwardly would try to find what they want me to see. In the previously normal world, they simply would point to the screen and I would click and we would move on. In post COVID-19, this exchange can end up being minutes of back and forth. So while still possible to do, remote training has its quirks.

Pros and Cons of a Virtual Office

Today, there is discussion that some companies will continue to operate solely online and that traditional offices may stay closed. While there are a lot of positives for businesses using virtual offices (for example, limiting rent and need for office furniture and utilities), the physical office is arguably just as valuable. It is somewhere we can go to work and put our minds to the task at hand. For those of us with young kids (my son is just about to turn one), working from home can limit my productivity and focus.

For instance, if I worked throughout my son crying and refusing to nap, I make a point to double check any work done during this period because I’ve realized errors are more likely to happen during nap-refusal days. Self awareness and double checking helps ensure mistakes are caught ahead of time, but this isn’t ideal.

That’s why I really do think there are a lot of positives to having a dedicated space away where work can be the only priority one has. It can be extremely helpful to someone starting a new career to to have a space where like-minded people are working with shared priorities and where learning can happen just by opening your ears and hearing others talk to each other.

Importance of “Cultural Trade” for New Careers

One would correctly assume that at age 30 I have dabbled in other fields before my accounting career. My bachelors was in History and one of the main topics I studied was the idea of ‘cultural exchange’ that happens during trade. One of the most important parts of the office is the so-called cultural exchange that occurs through seeing how other accountants do their work, being able to ask questions about it and seeing how and if you can then implement these practices within your own work.

Cultural exchange is severely hampered while being isolated and learning on the job. It also dilutes the relationship building with everyone on the accounting team as well as with the other people who work at BSG in their respective branches. I can only imagine what I am missing out on by being in an isolated environment as I work in a new career at a new company.

In Conclusion

I feel lucky to have joined a new company, let alone a new profession, during a time of great uncertainty. It has been pretty refreshing to look back and reflect on how this opportunity has flourished. I am usually not one that goes to networking events and can be a generally shy person. Ironically, the one time I decided to go to a networking event turned out to be turning point in my life and career choice. It’s a nice feeling to stop wondering if I was going to be stuck at a Big 4 doing something I did not enjoy just in order to pay bills and gain experience. Now, I feel like school cannot end soon enough so I can continue to work and grow at BSG (regardless if it’s remote and a bit different than expected)!