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Do you really need a CPA to work in the company?

Hi All, I have been working in the accounting field for more than 5 years as Senior Accountant. I got my current job right after I graduated and I was promoted two years ago to the current position. It's a small wholesale company but very rapidly growing. Since, it's been a while I am in the same company, I am looking for a change. Actually, I even posted my resume to various online sites. I got some interviews but I didn't get any offer. The reason I get turn down is because I don't have a CPA certification. So, my question is should I really go for a certification for this move? Doesn't experience matter at all? Thanks, A

Answers

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

The current trend is that everyone needs post-nominals, no matter what they are for, what they mean or more importantly, what they can do for an employer.

Let's not get into the pro/con CPA debate again, but I'm at a loss why an employer (non-public accounting firm) would require an ACTIVE CPA vs an in-active CPA.

L. Keith Jordan
Title: Sole Proprietor
Company: L. Keith Jordan, CPA
LinkedIn Profile
(Sole Proprietor, L. Keith Jordan, CPA) |

When I went to college, the accounting career path was: a. CPA for a public practice career route; and b. an accounting degree, or perhaps the rather new (at the time) CMA credential, for everyone else.

Over time, the CPA credential has dominated the accounting industry, and members are classified as "in public practice" or "in business." As Wayne indicates, the trend is currently to have some postgraduate degree or credential -- and it doesn't matter how anyone personally feels about it. It is simply a fact.

Realistically, if (as you said) the reason you get turned down is because you don't have a CPA certification, you have two choices. Either get the CPA certification or change your approach to look for jobs in which accounting certification and experience are a plus but not a requirement.

Sue Ashe
Title: President and CEO MobileAccountantAZ
Company: MobileAccountantAZ
LinkedIn Profile
(President and CEO MobileAccountantAZ, MobileAccountantAZ) |

I never felt the need or desire to go that step - but then again I'm an old lady :) I worked most of my career in corporate positions as Staff Accountants with specialized duties - Intercompany / AR / AP - General Ledger. Since starting my own business and leaving corporate world I can see where it might be useful to be a one stop shop for accounting and taxes but too late, too lazy, not worth it - take your pick. For someone younger and having years ahead of them in the field then why not? If you have the time and funds to further your education then do so. I never really have had a problem finding employment until I started to get classified as an "older worker" which was the main reason I branched out on my own.

Allen Hobbs, CMA
Title: Principal & Consultant
Company: Canaan Consulting (dba)
(Principal & Consultant, Canaan Consulting (dba)) |

To begin with: A CPA is a state by state license, and is necessary for the 10% or so of accountants (still) in public accounting (assurance, tax, etc.) It has less applicability for the 90% of us in industry. As mentioned above, having some post-degree credential is increasingly recognized as a separator of those who "get by" and those interested in attaining and maintaining the most effective and current level of professional competence.

I might add that the CMA is increasingly recognized as an equal (or superior) credential for those of us in industry, due to the different focus.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Allen,

There is quite a bit a difference between maintaining/ attaining "current level of professional competence" and sitting for a test.

Taking courses in "basket weaving" while providing CPE credits doesn't necessarily provide that "level". Not all courses are equal and to borrow from Mr. Orwell, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Justin Coverick
Title: Controller
Company: Stokehouse Unlimited, LLC
(Controller, Stokehouse Unlimited, LLC) |

I believe employers really need to become educated as to the true need for the qualification. As an example, I obtained my MBA in Entrepreneurship along with my BA in Finance/Accounting and was still having issues landing a decent job in industry. No offence to those in public practice, but Public Accounting track was not for me. I simply obtained my CPA credential because of multiple rejections in my industry (Apparel) for not being a CPA, even though I have over 10+ years of relevant experience. The truth is i believe this type of requirement/request diminishes the CPA designation in a similar way a BA is now a prerequisite. The CPA exam did increase my understanding in a few areas relevant to my roles and aspiring roles, but does the CPA designation indicate that I am qualified to file all company taxes, perform flawless audit/assurance engagements, consult on complex authoritative FASB issues and strategically run every company's finance/accounting teams/initiatives? Absolutely not. I believe employers use the CPA designation as an assurance that a candidate at least knows enough to pass a few tests which enables employers to not due their due diligence on the candidates full experience and potential as well a diminishes/commoditizes the CPA designation.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Bravo! Well said sir!

Jeffery Steelman
Title: Engagement Director
Company: CLA CAST (formerly Monaghan Group)
(Engagement Director, CLA CAST (formerly Monaghan Group)) |

When I decided to major in Accounting many moons ago, my goal was to pursue the management accounting career path (Rounders as we were called by our professors.) I was successful in obtaining a position as a cost accountant upon graduation and moving up the financial ranks at a good clip. However. after ten years, and being a life long learner, I decided to investigate becoming a CPA. The private company I was working for had no CPAs on staff at the time, and supported my decision. I became a CPA, then a CMA, and then completed my MBA. Without a doubt, it has been my CPA that has opened doors. While I still consider myself to be a management accountant, my CPA designation has given credibility (rightly or wrongly is not the issue here) to my professional expertise. The truth is, when you look for a job, you will be competing with scores of other financial professionals with experience comparable to yours. The CPA can come down to the tie breaker.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Is it still being given weight by companies? Yes. Is it a requirement to do the job? Unless you are in public accounting/tax.....NO.

I will say this..... Accounting and Finance information or knowledge has been DEMOCRATIZED and widely available from a wide variety of sources, (from FASB, AICPA sites, to forums like this). They are NO longer monopolized by "CPAs". Besides, your external CPAs (if you have one) are just a phone call away.

I do NOT think a designation (whatever it is) is the only measure a company can use to evaluate whatever they think the designation means in a candidate. It is ONE measure, but NOT THE ONLY indication/measure.

It is one thing to discuss these sort of things in a forum and another to put it in practice. For the SMB I serve, whenever I have a Controller vacancy, a CPA is a "NICE TO HAVE" but not a requirement. What matters to me is the personality (the candidate's cultural fit to the finance/accounting team and to the whole company) and resourcefulness of the candidate.

As a disclaimer, I WAS a CPA.

Arthur Yip
Title: Audit Supervisor
Company: On Assignment Inc
(Audit Supervisor, On Assignment Inc) |

To Anonymous: I was in your shoes once. I decided to get the CPA to further my career. Once I passed the CPA exam and got certified, I got more interviews, and better job offers. My former boss used to always say “perception is reality”. I agree experience counts a lot, and should be the primary basis for hiring. However, until the perception among Human Resources, or Senior Management changes, the CPA is what will open doors for you.

Chung Wong
Title: VP of Finance
Company: Infrastructure Networks
(VP of Finance, Infrastructure Networks) |

You have a long career ahead of you, so investing in yourself at this stage is necessary. As an accounting major, you can choose the various accounting/tax certifications like the CPA, or you can do an MBA now that you have a few years of experience, or do the CFA is you want to be a finance guy. Just to name a few typical paths.

All these make you better as a person and a professional. As for their career advancement values, ultimately, it is about opening up doors. If you are great in networking, you may not need any of it at all for career advancement. An MBA is a great place to network (its biggest value in my opinion), but I wouldn't do it full time unless you have got into at least a top regional program in the eye of the employers in the same region (e.g. Texas MBA for working in Texas). A smaller program is just not worth giving up your salary for. Online MBA programs naturally waters down the networking value, but there is nothing wrong if you are using it for professional development. BTW, when you are networking, don't just focus on your own profession.

If you are not great in networking or do not want to commit the time and effort to do that, you will be presenting yourself to hiring managers have no idea who you are and what you are capable of and typically get hundreds of resumes for a single job posting (not exaggerating from my personal experience when I hire, and you can see it on LinkedIn which tells you how many applicants there are for a given job posting). You will need to make yourself stand out because the hiring managers can only interview so many candidates (I rarely go more than half a dozen). It's human nature for the hiring manager to make his shortlist based on what school you went to, what company you have worked for, and what additional qualities that separate you from the herd. A certification can be one of the additional qualities.

To sum it up, you need to invest in yourself early on in your career. Anything is a good professional development move, but they don't all give you the same career advancement benefits. Ultimately, your personality and inner-self should dictate which route to take.

Hope this helps.

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

The simple answer is yes, you need a CPA or other professional designation to advance to any significant level.

A professional designation is the "certification" that you have mastered something.

Can you get hired without it? Yes,

Also remember, you resume is going to some HR clerk somewhere who has to find ways to eliminate resumes from the monsterous stack sitting in fronot of him/her. By requiring a CPA, they can immediately eliminate part of the stack of resumes.

In other words, HR departments don't look for ways to include you in the interview process, they look for ways to exclude you.

Anonymous
(Senior Accountant) |

Thank you everyone for your valuable advice. Much appreciated.

Jo Bonenfant
Title: N/A
Company: N/A
(N/A, N/A) |

It depends on who you ask. You will find that, if you have an active CPA license, there are hiring managers and recruiters who will tell you that they aren’t looking for a CPA. Conversely, if your CPA license is not active, then they will “license shame” you into believing that it’s “the” most important eligibility criteria. In today’s environment, the ability to be employed and earn an income can be based predominantly on who you know. So it is extremely important that you fully understand your employer’s (current or anticipated) culture, or, at a very minimum, the general culture within your industry group regarding accounting certifications. It might be that your industry group and/or employer places greater emphasis on what you do outside of work over the skill set, experience and knowledge base that you bring to the job. Many believe that accounting (GAAP and tax) can be taught “on-the-job”. So a cost-benefit analysis might be an important input to your decision-making process. However, you may find that, over the long term, external influences over which you have no control could entirely negate any benefit to be gained in the near term from passing the CPA exam, satisfying the work experience requirement, and obtaining your CPA license.

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