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Should I get my CPA or CMA? I'm at a crossroad. I'm an Asst. Controller with a BA in Acct & MBA in Mgmt.


I have no public accounting experience & I’ve been working in one particular segment for the past 17 years. I’m little over 40. The recruiters insist I will get better offers for Controller positions if I get my CPA. I have no public accounting experience & I’ve been working in one particular segment for the past 17 years. I’m little over 40. The recruiters insist I will get better offers for Controller positions if I get my CPA. I'm not quite so sure. I've also taken two sections of the CPA exam but have not passed as of yet. Every time I sit down to study, I'm not focused because of anxiety. I'm convinced once I get my certification, the recruiters will say I have no public acct exp. CPA or CMA - any suggestions/


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

There is no question that controllers holding a CPA are marketable. If multiple recruiters are telling you that you will get better controller offers with a CPA, I think you should be listening to them ... especially if they specialize in placing finance executives.

To your question of whether you should pursue a CPA or a CMA, though, I think depends upon your goal. What do you want to be doing in 3-to-5, 5-to-7, and 7-to-10 years? Which certification is most relevant to the industry segment you’ve been in for 17 years and I presume you don’t intend to leave?

If controller is the next - logical - step, how many job reqs do you see that state they prefer or require a CMA vs. a CPA? Is your longer term goal a CFO? If so, in the public or private sector? The answer to that question makes a big difference on whether to pursue a CMA or CPA.

You can’t change what you don’t have (public accounting experience) so selecting a reasonable target market is critically important.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Anonymous, here's another great discussion on this topic:

"CPA vs CMA For Job Hunting"

Robert Ewalt
Title: Exam Development Manager
Company: Institute of Certified Management Accoun..
(Exam Development Manager, Institute of Certified Management Accountants) |

Cindy is exactly right. I'm concerned about your study anxiety. Maybe joining a class or study group will connect you with others working toward similar goals. Or maybe discuss it with your doctor: there are medications that can help.

Topic Expert
Brenda Morris
Title: Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chai..
Company: Boot Barn
(Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chair, Boot Barn) |

I believe both credentials are wonderful. I think you take away a great deal of education from preparing for both. I think you would enjoy preparing for and sitting for the CMA exam more based on your career to date and future aspirations. It is focused on management accounting, strategy, planning and analysis, all skills that you probably use more than auditing and other technical areas from the CPA exam. The study for the CMA will be relevant immediately. Once you tackle that you can go for the CPA! I have both and would tell you I enjoyed the prep for the CMA more and have used it more than the CPA prep over the last 25 years. The CPA has more recognition than the CMA but you can add details to your resume that help define the skills you have from the CMA and also note that you are working on your CPA exam (if you are eventually). I would say you could self study for the CMA, for the CPA exam, I would highly recommend a prep course such as Becker or similar since it is more technical and that skill set may have been barely dusted off since college and only then when talking to your auditors. My vote for you, 1) CMA first, pass it, highlight it on your resume, then 2)CPA after you see you can knock down a major exam. Good luck.

Company: JGB

I'm not sure about the CMA, but I am sure about the CPA. It is a virtual passport in the accounting world. The reasons are numerous: it's a state license, it is recognized all over the US, and maybe most important, it is perceived as the gold standard by the public, and by fellow professionals.
There may even be ways of becoming certified even without public accounting experience, if you have audited financial statements. However, I am also concerned about your anxiety, which could wreck your chances. If you do decide to go for the exam, you should look at review courses as a way of helping you pass and channeling that anxiety in a positive way.

John LIndgren
Title: CFO
Company: in-between
(CFO, in-between) |

As was stated above, I would not suffer anxiety over which exam you will take. Each has a purpose, and if you are not looking to get into public accounting, as I was not, I would take the CMA. It used to have the CFM (Certified Financial Manager which I did), and you can still list it, but it is no longer a recognized. The CMA is sponsored by the IMA and the CPA is sponsored by the AICPA. Both have their purposes and I have found that I had no intention of going into public accounting and I can do just about anything that a CPA can do, but have a better understanding of how to run a business from the inside, and then go over the details of the financial statements with the outside CPA. I actually think they are looking to make CPA's take the second part of the exam sponsored by the IMA, but they just changed their format from four parts to two parts. You really need to investigate what you feel is best for you. Are you looking to grow within your current organization, or are you looking to make a move outside the organization. I also found that the CMA was more recognized out west than it was on the east coast. So you really need to investigate what is best for you and take some practice exams, and several universities offer the practice classes for the exam with all the materials sponsored by the IMA, but I loved the GLEIM materials the best. They had videos, lectures, CD discs to listen on your IPod, IPhone, or CD player. They are also quite specific as to how much each section of the test counts toward the whole grade. You are required to take CPE credits and it is recognized nationally and not state by state, but then again, you need to examine what you need it for. If you qualify to sit for the CMA, you most likely qualify to sit for the CPA. However, where do you want to use and what do you want to use it for because you can add other certifications such as the CIA, CISA, EA, etc., which make your stronger and more informed overall. Good luck in you decision. You will find that when you become a member of a local chapter for the CMA that the luncheons once a month are a great way to network and get to know others.

Micole Thrash
Title: Assistant Controller
Company: In-Between
(Assistant Controller, In-Between) |

thanks, I appreciate the advice. I'm going to take the CMA exam.

Lisa Baker CPA
Title: VP, Controls Manager
Company: JP Morgan Chase & Co
(VP, Controls Manager, JP Morgan Chase & Co) |

I have been a CPA for seven years and I can tell you that the CPA has been very valuable for me. I too have never worked in public accounting. I have worked in financial services (mortgage and securities) for the last eleven years.

However; I have been considering sitting for the CMA as well because of the additional skills that it provides. I would agree that if you do not plan to work in public accounting and have no desire to be a controller you should go for the CMA. However; if you would like to take on a Controller position the CPA will be valuable.

Best of luck!

scott graves
Title: CFO
Company: Armstrong Teasdale LLC
(CFO, Armstrong Teasdale LLC) |

Both the CPA and CMA distinguish you as a professional from all other "accountants" and therefore, make you more valuable. My personal opinion is that the CPA is better known, especially outside of the finance functional area, and is therefore probably more important from a professional marketing standpoint. Outside of a resume builder, however, I think that hands-on work experience and accomplishments are significantly more important in your career advancement. I've worked with too many CPA's, CMA's, etc. who couldn't translate their credentials into their work and thinking. So you have to weigh the benefits of spending xx number of hours studying for these exams vs. putting that effort into your job and driving significant accomplishments, accolades and promotions.

In the end, I think that an MBA is more valuable than either the CPA or CMA if you have aspirations to become a CFO or more. But an MBA is a longer and more expensive commitment.

Jan Schott
Title: SVP & CFO
Company: Goodrich Petroleum Corporation
(SVP & CFO, Goodrich Petroleum Corporation) |

I would recommend becoming a CPA. Take a very good exam prep class - Becker or others - to help with your confidence when taking the exam. They are worth the investment! Best of luck to you!

Dean Dillonaire
Title: Controller
Company: in-between
(Controller, in-between) |

Why not both?
I first obtained my CPA shortly after leaving public and entering corporate accounting (1991). Shortly thereafter I obtained my CMA (1996). The CMA is much more focused on the whole corporate finance function. It felt to me like I was taking a 'mini-MBA' course. At the time I took the CPA exam it was 25% writing/essay and 75% exercises/multiple choice and five parts, all manual(no computers). Converserly the CMA exam was 75% writing/essay and 25% mutiple choice - the exact opposite. It took me two attempts to pass the three parts of the CMA (my CPA exempted me from one part) while only sitting once to pass five parts of the CPA. The CMA was more difficult for me personally as it covered so much more outside of GAAP/taxes/audit/etc.

AS far as review, I used Becker for both and endorse it 100%.

After earning my MBA I am able to reflect back and see the CMA material is much better suited for corporate accounting and finance. I also see the CMA gaining much more recognition of late (both domestically and international), though still not that of the CPA.

I hope this helps you, good luck!

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

If you feel you need a qualification, then do the CPA, and just take the CMA exam. I have found that most people either don't know what a CMA is, and of they do, they under-rate the accomplishment.

Topic Expert
Brenda Morris
Title: Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chai..
Company: Boot Barn
(Board of Directors, Audit Committee Chair, Boot Barn) |

Another tidbit is that there is a new designation, Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA). CGMA recognizes the CPA/CMA combination and your experience and skills globally. The CGMA can add power to your CV/resume by demonstrating your business acumen, technical knowledge, ethics and commitment.

The route to CGMA is through the AICPA or CIMA, and CGMA includes a combination of examination and experience which is equivalent to a master's degree. The CGMA is offered through the combined the expertise and outstanding global reputations of the AICPA and CIMA. The designation is offered to AICPA and CIMA members through a not for profit joint venture called the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, formed in January 2012.

So if you have both or are interested in getting both - this will allow another certification for you that can be very influential in your job search and add credibility to your dual certifications. My best, Brenda

Topic Expert
Stephen Wares
Title: International Expansion Expert
Company: CCW Business Solutions
(International Expansion Expert, CCW Business Solutions) |

I am a British ACMA and now a CGMA. I decided to do the equivalent of the CMA qualification because I didn't want to become an auditor reviewing statements of past performance. Instead I liked that Management Accountants focused on providing financial information that enabled decision making. I definitely agree that the CMA qualification is not as widely recognized or valued in the US as it is in the UK or other parts of the 'Commonwealth' and that as a result you should be thinking about what you would like your role to be within an organization over the next 5, 10, 15 to 20 years and pick the qualification that best matches those aspirations.

Christopher Vincent
Title: Accountant, BPA, MBA
Company: Atmospheric Fund
(Accountant, BPA, MBA, Atmospheric Fund) |

Yes, you are mid career the boat has sailed, I don't see how public (external) auditing experience can be obtained now without great financial cost. You need an accounting designation to augment your MBA( hopefully specialized in finance). The CMA is your best bet.

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

Well, California has really loosened the audit experience requirement. Maybe it's time to give it a second look?

"Increased Opportunity Since audit hours aren’t required, you can acquire the experience you need for licensing from any CPA in California with an active license. This means you can train under the CPA who is the information technology director at Warner Bros. or a CPA who works for herself in Lodi just as easily as you can under a partner at one of the large international accounting firms.

Your predecessors may have had to work only with firms that performed audits, but your employment possibilities are wide open. "

I've got way more than 500 hours of experience under CPAs. But, none in the last eighteen years. How on earth would I find my old bosses from that long ago and convince them to sign off for me? :-(

Micole Thrash
Title: Assistant Controller
Company: In-Between
(Assistant Controller, In-Between) |

thanks for the advice.

Gary Spencer
Title: Managing Partner
Company: Meon
(Managing Partner, Meon) |

I believe that both CMA and CPA designations are great. I would advice obtaining an advance degree if you want to go for the CFO slot. That could be either a MsAccountancy, MsFinance, or an MBA Finance. Either designations will not hinder your advancement. If you can, and depending on your age, you should get some public accounting training. Nothing helps you more in the future than learning cash reconciliation, journal entries, GAAP research, financial statement preparations, and tax preparations. These are things that you will have to do whether you are a controller, VP Finance or CFO. They cannot be replaced. If you are getting up there in age, I would go for the CMA and see where it takes you.

Andre Davis
Title: Administrative/Financial Executive
Company: Banks DIH Limited
(Administrative/Financial Executive, Banks DIH Limited) |

The CPA is surely the way to go. I'm amazed at the opportunity the came about just by signing up for the CPA and announcing that I was doing the program.

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

The CPA certificate is the "passport" for your career. Get it and your marketability should improve. There are a number of CPA review courses. Normally, a college with a good accounting program may be holding CPA review courses. There are also typically Becker CPA review courses that are held. These may reduce your anxiety as you aren't just studying online.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I have heard several CPA's fresh from the exam say the Becker is the best and the only way to go! It's costly but I would say totally worth it!


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