Newly minted accounting graduates or those with a few years of experience under their belt often begin to think about the many certifications available to advance their knowledge and finance careers. Maybe you think that a CPA is your best option, even if you have no intention of becoming a public accountant. Here, we explore this and other certification options that can move your career forward and help you build up your resume.
What's the Best Certification for Your Career?
If you're going to graduate with your accounting degree or have just finished school, this is a great time to think about which area of accounting you would like to begin building your career on. It's not too early to complete a certification that builds strengths in those areas. For example, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification gives you a wide base for a career as a personal financial advisor, corporate accountant, or another role.
Whichever course you decide to pursue, internships are often a great way to determine if a particular specialty is something you can spend the rest of your life doing. Also, you are more likely to get hired in any role with some experience under your belt. Say you are interested in auditing as a career path. Then, a CPA is going to become necessary at some point, so it's the way to go. For an accounting graduate interested in taxation, an Enrolled Agent (EA) certification provides a depth of knowledge of tax law and procedures.
Some controllers pursue a CPA for credibility with accounting staff and outside vendors and consultants, but a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) designation provides a unique perspective, as well as a talking point for interviews, on oversight and control responsibilities. A CPA license is undoubtedly the most requested designation in financial job descriptions, but that doesn't mean you can't get an interview and land a position with a well-framed resume and earnest summary stipulating your career path goals.
Network and Ask Around
Still not sure what you want to do for the rest of your life? Well, you're not alone, but you can get great advice from people in the field. Ask credentialed accountants and finance pros how they feel about the decisions they've made and whether they wish they had pursued another certification. If you don't know anyone in the field, that's not a dead end. Hop on LinkedIn and reach out to those with the certifications you are weighing against one another. Many people will be happy to offer their opinion, and this is a forum built for just such interactions.
For those considering a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or CPA credential, consider reaching out to your local Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) chapter, the state association for CPAs or the professional association of the American Institute of CPAs. These groups support those in the field and those wishing to be, so it's another way to get information from people who want to help you.
If you think that both certifications will help and have the wherewithal to pursue them at the same time, that is a great way to move to the top of any resume pile, especially since just over 5,000 professionals hold both.
Be Willing to Learn and Be Humble
Knowledge is always apparent and cannot be faked. With credentials to back up your passion and expertise, you can go far. Learning from others is essential, whether you're determining your career path or attempting to upload a journal entry. If you want to learn, you have to approach mentors and tasks with a bit of humility, whether you have certifications or not.
When you exhibit the ability to zoom out and get a firm grasp on the story behind the numbers, real-world accounting begins to make sense and intricate applications soon become routine. Understanding GAAP or IFRS standards is more than an academic exercise, it's part of the job. Often, that means asking questions upstream that could become uncomfortable, it's also impossible to ask questions if you don't fully comprehend the intention and content of the guidelines.
Asking questions and keeping up with changes based on accounting practices and trends helps you grasp the full extent of the rules and regulations. This is another great opportunity to find in-person or online mentors to bounce ideas off of. Mentors with greater experience levels give you insight that you can't get from any degree or textbook. It's also good to remember that humble employees and students receive nurturing and learning for their patience.
Look at All Opportunities
Maybe the CPA path is the perfect credential to kick-start your career and get you up and running as a public accountant. Just look into all your options before investing the time or money to pursue this or any degree. The more open you are, the surer you will be later that you chose the right way forward. Start with understanding what you find interesting and motivating because you'll spend a lot of time doing it.
When you're looking for a job, be just as picky. Don't take the first job that comes along. You don't have to be grateful to the first company that wants to hire you just because no one else did yet. It's hard to resist the allure of your first paycheck at your first job, but now is the time to be picky. Feel out the culture and make sure that the people you work for care about your interest and goals.
Change is (Always) Coming
As a new accounting graduate, you're entering a brave new world of continual innovation as the tech boom heats up and changes the face of finance. Business evolution means that you're constantly going to be challenged to pick up new terminology, new technology, and other change agents. Patience and flexibility are key in this field.
For instance, downsizing is a continual threat as business cycles rise and fall. Don't be the sloppy team member with quality challenges that moves to the top of the line for the chopping block. At the same time, if you are let go, make sure you have built up a professional network that helps you land a lucrative new role quickly.
Is an MBA Right for You?
About four out of seven controllers have an MBA. This means that it's valued by the people who hired them and that they will respect it on resumes for their replacement when they move up in the organization. If you go for a Master's in Business Administration, be sure to take courses that emphasize finance applications.
This is a degree you can get at night, on weekends, and online. It doesn't have to interrupt your career, finances, or livelihood. The same is true of the tougher CMA, CPA, or other certifications. The main thing will be aligning your career goals with the certifications that can help you move forward and vice versa. Don't rush into the first one that's recommended or the one that everyone in your office has. Chances are you won't stay at the same company for your entire working career, so look outside your current organizations to feel out the best fit for your goals.
Where Are You Headed?
Whether you want a CPA license or not, we're here to help. Contact ICS for plenty of opportunities that fit your specific career path. We'll be happy to place you in a company that values what you bring to the table, so check out our open positions today! Who knows, you could be farther down your career path in a month.