Posted by Mary Karlton on Thursday, December 10, 2015 - 09:00
Congratulations! You’ve graduated — or you’re about to — with your four-year accounting degree, and Robert Half's Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance assures you recent graduates are needed in the talent pipeline.
At the bachelor’s degree level, graduates may work as entry-level associates at accounting firms or with individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups on financial planning, payroll, taxes and auditing.
Keep on studying, graduates
But moving up the ranks may be limited without specialized certifications or a graduate degree. The same goes for how much money you’ll make. In-demand credentials can add up to 15 percent to the overall pay for finance and accounting professionals.
For most of the 10 hot positions singled out by the Salary Guide — accounting manager, business analyst, business systems analyst, compliance officer, financial analyst, information technology auditor, internal auditor, payroll professional, senior accountant and staff accountant — your career path will require a certification or two.
Four certifications to consider
So consider these certifications that can demonstrate your professional commitment and expertise — and enhance your income and future accounting and finance career:
1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This is by far the most valued license in accounting. If you did well in your undergraduate accounting courses and aspire to a career in corporate-level accounting, financial reporting, auditing, financial planning and taxation, then the CPA certification is for you. To become a CPA, you need to pass a national exam, and, in most states, you’ll need to complete 150 semester hours of college course work. One way to fulfill the credit-hour requirement is to earn a master’s degree, which typically only takes a year if pursued full-time.
Want to learn everything you need to know about the CPA — and then some?
2. Certified Management Accountant (CMA): CMA certifications are regulated and administered by the ICMA (Institute of Certified Management Accountants), an affiliate of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). According to the ICMA, CMA certification “demonstrates your professional expertise in financial planning, analysis, control, decision support and professional ethics.” To complete certification, you need to register for the program and pass a two-part exam. You must complete the first part of the exam within the first year, and the second part within three years of registration. Much of the material covered by the exam reflects your course work, so if you register soon after earning your accounting degree, the knowledge you gained will be fresh in your mind. There is a wide array of self-study courses available to help you prepare.
3. Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): This certification establishes your aptitude and knowledge about internal audit, risk and control. If you want to launch your career in these areas, you can quickly earn the Internal Audit Practitioner designation if you pass part one of CIA exam and submit an application. From there, you can continue on your path to full CIA certification.
4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): If you’re interested in a career in finance and see yourself in the role of a portfolio manager, research analyst or corporate risk manager, the CFA certification will be a helpful complement to your accounting degree. The CFA program consists of a course of study that spans a wide variety of topics — from ethics and economics to corporate finance and portfolio management. To qualify, you need a four-year degree, you must join the CFA, and you need to pass the three levels of the exam.
Many more specialized certifications
As you zero in on your specialty, there several other specialized certifications you may consider as well. The Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), for example, is for CPAs working in business and government. The Certified Healthcare Financial Professional (CHFP) is for the finance professionals in the healthcare sector.
With your accounting degree in hand, you can start now to take control of your future and set your sights on a fulfilling and lucrative career in finance. Start by identifying your desired career path, research salary ranges and find out more about the requirements for the certifications that will help you meet your goals.
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