These credentials can help new professionals spend less time in entry-level positions—or skip them altogether.
CFA Charter | CPA License
Careers for financial and accounting professionals usually follow a step-by-step process of progression and advancement. Entry-level jobs can be good learning opportunities, but they aren’t necessarily the intellectually challenging work that you want to be doing.
For example, my colleague John Derrick is a CFA® charterholder who started in the investment world by working as a call center customer service representative while he was in college. He felt limited in his career path because he hadn’t gone to the “right” school. Earning his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA ®) charter helped him get an interview for his next, much more satisfying position. I had a similar experience: passing the certified public accountant (CPA ®) exam certainly helped me move ahead in my career.
Passing the CFA or CPA exams can help new financial and accounting professionals move into the higher-level positions more quickly, or even “leapfrog” an entry-level position. And it is never too early or late to take this jump.
Leapfrogging by passing exams
John Derrick credits his own career success largely to his CFA charter. Before obtaining his CFA Charter, John was convinced that his advancement opportunities were limited because his department highly valued the Certified Financial Planner credential.
Speaking from personal experience, obtaining the CPA certificate is a key professional move for any accountant. Passing the exam provides evidence to current and potential employers of a person’s skill set, competence, and knowledge. The CPA credential is generally preferred, if not required, for promotions and advancement to senior level positions within a company. For example, Nishil Akbari earned his CPA while in college and then started his career as a senior auditor almost immediately. Young professionals can easily spend years in an entry-level associate role, but getting their CPA can help them move up quickly, as Nishil did, by giving employers clear evidence of their skills and knowledge.
Demonstrating relevant expertise broadens your career path
Both the CFA and CPA exams are committed to staying relevant with the skill sets that employers demand. The CFA charter exam was updated in 2019 to include material on financial technology, or fintech. The updated CFA exam also integrates newer topics like blockchain technology and machine learning with traditional quantitative skills. Because the exam covers up-to-date knowledge on current financial topics, it can help you find a position in fields like cryptocurrency or financial forensics.
The CPA Exam is changing, too. As part of the CPA Evolution initiative, the exam will be updated in 2024 to include a core-plus-discipline model, in which the current Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section will be replaced by a more specialized section selected by the CPA candidate. These discipline section options include Business Analysis and Reporting (BAR), Information Systems and Controls (ISC), and Tax Compliance and Planning (TCP). As more careers become increasingly specialized, the exam’s new format and content allows accounting professionals to become experts in one area earlier in their careers.
I have spent the majority of my professional career in higher education and working with the business community to ensure accounting graduates have the required skill sets for entry-level positions. But after the graduate secures a position, there needs to be means for career advancement. The knowledge demonstrated by passing the CPA exam is an excellent way to open up career opportunities. I think this update is a great adaptation to changing business needs.
How to pass these exams
You are probably thinking, “This sounds great, but I am already working full-time and have other responsibilities so there is no time to earn additional credentials.” Here are some key strategies to make obtaining certification a reality.
1) Be committed and disciplined. This undertaking is important for your future and it can be achieved if you stay focused.
2) Start early: Schedule each exam as soon as possible, then work backwards from there to create your study schedule.
3) Use the right study resources: There are many available programs that help potential candidates prepare. For example, UWorld has proven platforms for earning your CPA license and/or the CFA charter. Nishil Akbari mentions the thorough answer explanations and active learning style as reasons the UWorld QBank worked especially well for him and helped him get his CPA license on the first try.
4) Create a personalized routine: Studying for a professional certification exam while working is different than being a full-time student. John Derrick found that studying during designated times on the weekends worked better for him than trying to fit in study time before or after work. John Derrick found that studying on the weekends worked better for him than trying to fit in study time before or after work. He focused more on being productive than on studying for a set amount of time. He helped himself focus by always studying in the same place, a local university library. I think this type of focused approach is the best, most efficient way to study for a certification.
5) Seek financial support: Studying for your CFA or CPA exam can be expensive, and the cost of preparation materials can reinforce inequality in the accounting and investment management fields. UWorld offers scholarships for our courses for both CFA and CPA preparation. I encourage anyone who qualifies to apply for these scholarships.
Although obtaining the CFA or CPA credentials is a commitment of time and resources, it is an excellent means for newly hired individuals to advance their professional careers.
—Janice Stoudemire, CPA, CGMA, ABA, ATA, is the founder and president of Palmetto Academic Consulting Services. She retired from Midlands Technical College after 25 years of teaching and is now a CPA content developer at UWorld. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.