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CPA Career Advice

Ann G's Profile

I am currently graduating with a bachelor’s in accounting and I am going to get an MS in accounting next year. I have a job lined up in tax at a Big 4 accounting firm in NYC when I graduate. I am considering going back for my MBA while I am working in public accounting. Can anyone with experience in the Accounting/Finance field offer me some advice on this decision? Do big 4 firms reimburse for MBA programs (I know they reimburse “qualified” education expenses)? How possible is it- with the hours worked by a CPA- to go for an MBA while working? (I know some NYC schools have part time MBA programs) How useful is the MBA/ what career opportunities will that open for me?


Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Dear Ann, I like your ambition and forward thinking but it sounds like you should focus on the work experience you will obtain once you finish school. (The Big 4 does have tuition reimbursement programs but you'll need to prove yourself in a competitive environment to be sponsored.)

If you've already taken your GMAT to get the MS that is a positive since the scores are good for a few years. If you don't think the score represents your best effort, you might want to work on getting the best result you can. Once you've spent years in the workforce, have a family, etc. going back to take the exam will be onerous.

It's hard to offer advice at your current career stage. Just a few years into working at your Big 4 firm, you might decide you'd like to go in a completely different direction career-wise. I would lay the groundwork for the test aspect of the MBA while you are in "student-mode" but otherwise enjoy collecting some life experiences. (not to presume you do not have rich life experiences already, but surely you will have more).

Carrie Roesner
Title: Controller and VP
Company: Centro
(Controller and VP, Centro) |

My comments here are from my perspective so I definitely recommend talking to your mentor(s) or career coach(es) once you start working, not to mention continue to seek professional and personal mentors as your career progresses. I started at the Big 4, stayed for 4.5 years and have since been the accounting manager, then controller, then VP at a small to midsized business. I think it depends on what your career goals are. If you're going to stay in public accounting (e.g. the partner track), an MBA may be helpful but is probably not necessary as I do not recall many partners having an MBA when I was in public. Since leaving public, I can see more value to having an MBA especially if you want to expand outside of accounting. My boss (CFO and now COO) and our Director of FP&A both have MBAs from Kellogg (Northwestern), which helped them make the leap from accounting into finance and strategy roles. I think most if not all of the better MBA schools require work experience so I would recommend waiting a few years to pursue your MBA. It will give you time to figure out what you want out of your career so it will be a more meaningful and valuable experience at that point. it's great that you're already thinking about your career goals so keep this up. Good luck!

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Get the MBA because you want it not because you think it will increase your value to others.

Do you buy a specific brand and model of car because you want to impress your neighbors? Or, do you buy that particular auto because it is something you truly value despite what others think?

Following the first option will likely disappoint you over the long run. The second one will reward you no matter the long term outcome.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Excellent post Anonymous CFO. If you pursue an MBA for others you will just end up a statistic per the link posted above. If you pursue it based purely on your own motivations and desires for professional development, it is likely that you are the sort of individual who would thrive in business MBA or no but is glad for the added experience.

(CFO) |


Thank you for the supportive words.

They cause me to mention my own bias.

In my more than 30 year career, I've met many more unhappy MBAs and JDs than anything else. Their unhappiness was almost always a result of their having obtained either of those degrees while assuming it would take them to easy money. When that did not pan out for them, they were disappointed and, in some cases, bitter.

On the other hand, I have a few acquaintances that have degrees in music or history. Their rewards aren't financial. But they are happy with the course they've charted and the path they've followed.

The difference was the point of my previous post. ;-)

Philip Rooms
Title: Board Member
Company: Smartesting
(Board Member, Smartesting) |

A couple of thoughts. Why would you want to study for an MS in accounting then do an MBA. What is the point of having both ? An MBA is definitely more desirable and highly regarded as a passport to a future CFO position if that is your goal. Another option would be to gain a few years work experience (in the profession) and do your MBA later. With real work experience under your belt the MBA will "come to life" so to speak and you will be able to relate the studies to real life experiences. In other words you will discover that the MBA provides some of the tools you will need later in your career.

Rachel Miller
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Larimer Humane Society
(Director of Finance, Larimer Humane Society) |

Hi, Ann! I have to agree with Philip that having two masters degrees might be superfluous, and I also agree with him about having work experience before you start an MBA program. The MSA is fine to do right out of undergrad, especially since many people need the additional credits to sit for the CPA exam. Is that your main objective for getting an MSA? My program only had two business "electives", and the rest of the courses were straight accounting; I would say that it greatly increased my knowledge and skill in accounting, but it did not prepare me at all for a more strategic finance/CFO role, so evaluate carefully what your career goals are before you invest time and money into another degree! Best of luck!

Anthony Pascente
Title: CFO
Company: TWFG Financial Services
(CFO, TWFG Financial Services) |

I think that your first priority would be to sit for the CPA exam, which I am sure that the big four would pay for. I would then concentrate on getting an MBA which it would best if you want to grow into a CFO role.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

Don't pursue the MBA, unless you feel you do not have a good broad business education. Do it only if you feel you need the technical training. As a hiring manager, I am only interested in the Masters. The MBA certainly wouldn't influence someone hiring you, if you already have a Masters. With a CPA certificate and a Masters, you have the tools that employers are searching for. It's up to you to prove yourself in the marketplace at this point. MBA programs are often reimbursed, but typically have a maximum they will pay.

Mark Sutherland
Title: CFO
Company: Profit By Design CFO & Controller Servic..
(CFO, Profit By Design CFO & Controller Services) |

Hi Ann, I took my MBA when I was in my 40's. I can tell you that I got a LOT more out of the material than the 22 year olds in the program who had no prior business experience. Having 5 to 10 years of actual business experience provides you with a business "point of reference" from which to interpret and absorb the MBA material; i.e. it's a much richer, more meaningful learning experience. I also agree that in general, the CPA with an MBA would serve you well. I'd skip the MS in accounting until I had maybe 5 years of accounting work under my belt. At that point, if you're head over heals in love with accounting, then maybe get the MS instead of the MBA. Good luck to you.

Ray Salomon
Title: CFO
(CFO, ) |

I would not make this decision now since this is one of those instances where time will improve your decision. At this point you don't know whether you want 1) a career in public accounting, 2) a career focused on accounting (perhaps in the private/not for profit/government sectors), 3) a broader finance career, or 4) something different.

After starting with your big 4 firm and gaining experience, you will be able to answer questions #1 and #2. You also will see what value your firm would put on an MBA. Additionally, you will be able to focus on passing the CPA exams and getting those behind you.

If you do pursue an MBA, I would recommend going full-time, if at all possible. My observation of those going part-time is 1) they have very little time left for the rest of their lives, 2) their compensation is often not adjusted to MBA levels because their employers "don't notice a difference on the day they graduate", 3) they lose the chance to evaluate a firm or industry during a summer internship, and 4) people notice if you begin taking "personal days" towards the end of your program.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Warning Will Robinson!

Although I know that it is common belief that an MBA is a ticket to success, I've encountered more than a few hiring managers in my long career who flat out reject any applicant who presents more than one graduate degree on their resume.

Is this wrong of them? Perhaps. But, there are many who perceive such achievements as being representative of a perennial student rather than a serious employee and not worthy executive level material.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

"'I've encountered more than a few hiring managers in my long career who flat out reject any applicant who presents more than one graduate degree on their resume."

Has that been your experience in the private sector as well?

Perhaps an undergrad, followed by an MBA, and then a PhD would make your statement ring true, but a great majority of CFO positions in the private sector have an MBA as required if not preferred.

Most of my clients have multiple degrees, and may have the CPA or CMA credential as well. Those make them "more" marketable in passing the threshold to acceptance, not less. In fact, in today's fast-evolving technological age, life-long learners - not degree earners - are a necessity.

Topic Expert
Paul Benedetto
Title: CFO, Director of Finance, Consultant
Company: Nextwave Software, Rethink Fabrics
(CFO, Director of Finance, Consultant, Nextwave Software, Rethink Fabrics) |

Congrats Ann, that is a great honor to be lined up with a position at a Big 4 firm before you graduate, especially in this still tough economy. I followed a like path back in the early 90's but was in audit, not tax, at C&L. I lasted less than 2 years, as I found looking at historical numbers was not my bag. Instead, helping businesses look forward is what excites me to this day and thus I sought out growing responsibility in the private sector, moving up the ranks to accounting manager, controller, director and CFO roles.

While I was in public accounting I found little time to even study for the CPA exam, so I would be hesitant to suggest going for a MBA after starting with the firm. I agree with others - when the time is right, do it for you, not someone else.

In my career the resume experience of public accounting has opened many doors - interviews and initial opportunities, so do your best work, with a smile at your firm.

I am an unlicensed CPA and do get questions from time to time on "do you have your CPA"?, but it mainly comes from folks at tax time... I don't get the MBA question very often, but have helped many friends with enough of their coursework, so feel like I should have an "honorary degree" :)

If you find that you like tax work after being at the firm, I would stick with your CPA. Investment banking - position yourself to get into a program after a couple years, but before you get into a family mode. If you want to be a controller or CFO, get into the audit or consulting group at your firm for more accounting experience and then lateral over to private industry and keep moving up.

In the end what has driven the most success is (1) experience and (2) positive/can do attitude; that in my mind is what employers are ALWAYS looking for. Best of luck to you!

David Gouttiere
Title: President
Company: DMG Consulting LLC
(President, DMG Consulting LLC) |

This is a topic I have given a fair amount of thought to over the years, as I was charting a course for myself. This is were I ended up. I pursued a double major in accounting and finance, which I believe was one of the smartest moves I ever made. It has opened doors for me that having only the accounting background with a CPA would not have opened. My analogy is that having the core competency in Accounting gives you the background in knowing the rules of business, the finance background will provide you with thought process to design strategies that will enhance the success of the business.

I have never understood the value of an MBA to an accountant. If you look at the outlined curriculum it usually includes 2-3 accounting courses which will be redundant for an accountant, a finance class or two (which was redundant in my case). The rest of the curriculum is often comprised of a combination of business management, operations, marketing, statistics/data analysis and perhaps risk management classes. Through my thirty years I have learned that the marketing and operations, particularly marketing is highly industry specific depending on the environment the business operates in and its channels to market, i.e. direct to consumer, B2B, reps, retail, etc. You would be investing a lot of time, money and effort for a curriculum that would only moderately advance your skill sets. MBA degrees have a huge value for people coming from the technical side, but my bias is that they have little value for people coming from the business side.

Depending on what you want to do in you career, I believe a masters in either finance or accounting would be most meaningful, and if I were the hiring manager in you future, I would question why you got the MBA.

As for me, my choice after the double major in accounting and finance and earning the CPA was to get an engineering degree. My career has been in troubled companies where I have been pulled in to oversee functions beyond finance where it has enabled me to understand technical issues and communicate more effectively with operations and technical personnel. My experience is that often there is a huge disconnect between finance/accounting and the operations / sales organizations in a company, which this has helped me bridge but I remain at heart a finance guy. Effectively, I did the reverse of what an engineer / technical person does when earning an MBA.


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