Boosting your professional image online

Experts offer advice on how to maintain your digital reputation to reach clients, colleagues, and future employers.
Boosting your professional image online

Accountants know P&L statements, they know clients, and they know audits. But with everything the modern accounting profession demands, it can be hard to also carve out time to develop a professional presence online.

But today’s job market requires finance executives to plug in online to stay up to date on industry trends while also conveying their business acumen to potential employers, clients, and others.

A recent survey by the financial staffing firm Robert Half found nearly half of hiring managers were impressed when job candidates provided online portfolios of work or already had connections with employees on professional networking sites.

Having a strong presence online, especially on business networking sites such as LinkedIn, can help professionals build up their networks while learning about important trends, said Andrew Codd, ACMA, CGMA, a management accountant based in Ireland who works as a consultant to create more engaged and influential finance professionals.

When Codd first started dabbling in online forums, he had little idea about what he was doing. He’s now an expert — with a robust profile on LinkedIn — and founder of the popular podcast about the profession called #SITN Strength in the Numbers with listeners in over 160 countries.

“It never cropped up once in our accounting education,” he said about his start in accounting in the early 2000s. “There weren’t many resources other than stumbling through and making loads of mistakes to figure out what really works.”

Instead of stumbling through your own set of mistakes, Codd and other management accountants active online shared tips on how to manage one’s reputation online.

Choose the right platform. It’s nearly impossible to be effectively engaged on multiple social media platforms at once, Codd said. Twitter can be overwhelming to new users and isn’t always the best use of time for management accountants and finance executives. Facebook gears toward more personal sharing and is not ideal for professional interactions, he said. Instagram requires visual engagements, which can be important if a professional is trying to target a younger crowd of potential clients, for instance. But LinkedIn tends to be the most promising platform and where most business professionals should focus their efforts, Codd said.

Assume everyone looks. Realise that anyone you have professional contact with is able to look you up online, said Michael Steinitz, the executive director of Accountemps, a division of Robert Half focused on accounting.

And if you’re job hunting, it’s nearly guaranteed any future employers will look you up online before any initial interviews, he said.

Steinitz suggests people Google themselves, to notice what pops up and make adjustments where possible such as untagging themselves from a university-era photo or deleting comments from a regrettable back-and-forth on LinkedIn. If you share aspects of your personal life or political views freely on networks like Instagram or Facebook, consider adjusting those settings so that only friends can see, and not a future employer or client who may come across it.

Be prepared as well to discuss anything negative that you can’t delete or eliminate.

“It certainly allows you to think of the way to approach it in advance rather than all of a sudden on your feet,” Steinitz said.

Know your brand. As you engage more online, think through the type of interactions you want, said Jenny Okonkwo, FCMA, CGMA, CPA (Canada), president of the Canada-based Transform Consulting.

For example, Okonkwo brands herself as a public speaker, finance leader, skills-based volunteer, and diversity and inclusion advocate in the not-for-profit sector, which she bolstered by founding the Black Female Accountants Network.

Those identities help steer her online interactions and focus on activity central to her personal brand.

“Those are kind of the key foundational steps that need to be in place even before you jump into social media,” she said. “It can all get very confusing, frustrating, daunting, and intimidating if you haven’t done that groundwork.”

She also emphasises those attributes with her choice of pictures for her profile, using photos of herself at speaking events, for example, to signal her comfort and expertise at public speaking.

Provide value. Take control of your online presence by setting out plans of how to be more strategic about posting content and interacting online. For Codd, that’s morphed into the podcast he hosts, where he can share episodes and give other professionals a chance to share their expertise and knowledge with a broader, global audience.

But you don’t have to start as big as that. One way to build your online reputation is to offer up knowledge by authoring an article on LinkedIn or simply relay an interesting take on an important topic, said Larysa Melnychuk, ACMA, CGMA, founder and CEO of the UK-based FP&A Trends Group and managing director at the International FP&A Board.

“It’s very important for our colleagues to understand the latest trends and developments in our profession,” she said.

Content needs to be original and interesting. She has found the most success posting her ideas on LinkedIn, where she has also created groups that she then hosts and helps feed regular content. She also posts content on the website of her FP&A organisation.

Her advice is to follow your interests and build up a following from there. You can start by connecting and following leaders in the profession you respect and sharing content from professional publications you’ve found useful.

“If you’re curious, knowledgeable, and passionate about the profession and like to share your expertise, people really like to hear about new ideas,” she said.

Don’t go looking for romance. Female professionals also face their own challenges and can become targets of unwanted attention online.

“It can be disconcerting for women if they are being propositioned in a certain way on a platform that’s intended for professional networking,” Okonkwo said.

The primary purpose of LinkedIn is for professional interactions, she said. She suggests those who receive unwanted attention make clear it’s not welcome and then disengage. And those considering crossing those lines need to take a reflective moment and consider whether their intentions are appropriate. People who use LinkedIn are seeking to build their networks by making high-quality connections or are looking for professional development and collaboration opportunities, industry insights, and career- and job-search-related information, Okonkwo said.

Be polite and stay polite. Of course, not everyone online behaves well, and it’s important to stay away from anyone trying to look for a fight, Codd said. He has had interactions that have become tense on LinkedIn and has chosen to simply disengage by closing up his computer and walking away.

If things do become heated, simply state it’s OK to disagree and leave it at that. Remember, others are likely watching the interaction, and you don’t want to give the impression you are quick to fly off the handle, Codd said.

By being strategic and thoughtful about online interactions, management accountants can stay on top of trends and build up networks to enhance their careers.

— Sarah Ovaska is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at