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Welcome to the cancel-your-holiday-in-Libya edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, another Fall 2011 Big 4 associate would like to nail down a certification in addition to the CPA before starting work. Can I keep my head from exploding long enough to formulate a coherent response?
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Back to our overachiever du jour:
I am about to pass the CPA exam and have 8 months until I begin at one of the “Big Four” firms in Florida. I am excited to start at the firm as it was my first choice however, I am not certain I will be in public accounting for the long run (like most people). My question is, being uncertain about my career path, what other certification should I obtain before I start in 8 months?
I have considered the CISA, CFE, CMA, CFA, Six Sigma but, I am not sure as I am not certain of my long term path. I want something that will give me an edge if I leave the firm and/or switch careers.
What certification would you recommend?
Any suggestions are helpful.
Dear Overachiever Du Jour,
After murdering the remainder of Stranahan’s in the house, I’m better prepared to answer your query.
I appreciate your ambition and we definitely think that obtaining additional certifications is a good idea for those that move on from public accounting but I fail to see how this benefits you now before you have an inkling of what kind of career you want. HOWEVER, I’m here to help sort you out as best I can, so I’ve put aside my judgments for two.
Based on your “considerations” listed, you seem to have a case of accounting certification ADHD which is fine but there’s no clear pattern as to what your interests are. I’m not going to recommend you do something just because it may be a hot area (forensics) or in-demand (information systems) but I am going to recommend you rank these certifications based on your level interest. Want to eventually be a CFO? Then go for the CMA. Want to pile up the financial reporting bodies? Get the CFE. You get the point. The important thing is to pursue a certification you find interesting rather than one that will just puts a few letters behind your name that may (but probably not) impress someone.
But really, do you want to spend the summer prior to starting work studying for a test? Get the band back together, take a trip, something.
Welcome to the squelch-the-tryptophan-withdrawals-with-cyber-Monday edition of Accounting Career Conundrums. In today’s edition, a Big 4 manager is pret-tay sure he is underpaid. How can he broach the subject with a partner without causing major blowback?
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Back to our short-changed manager:
I was wondering if you could provide advice in how to determine if I am being underpaid and if I am how to go about asking for an increase? I am a 1st year Manager for a Big 4 firm in Kansas City. I have been with the same firm/office my entire career sans a 2 year secondment I completed in Dublin just in August. In addition, to having my CPA license I also hold the CFE certification and the CFA charter.
My feelings for asking for a raise are based on the additional certifications and knowing that my salary as a 1st year Manager is less than what 3rd year Sr. Associates were making in my office 2 plus years ago. I know the economy has changed during the subsequent 2 years but still feel like I am not fairly compensated. What advice do you propose? I am nervous about sharing my thoughts with my Partner as I am afraid of a potential backlash. Thanks in advance.
Dear Alphabet Soup,
Think you’re underpaid, huh? Seems to be theme around here. However, your situation is more unique than most so we’ll make a run at this.
First thing we noticed about your situation is that you’re a M1 which means you were recently promoted, which also mean you should have just received a better-than average raise. And we’re more than a little skeptical about your assertion that a SA3 is making more than you. That would have to mean that SAs are getting insanely good raises while you – the newly promoted manager – got an abysmal one; it seems unlikely. If this in fact the case, then you’ve had a serious string of bad luck.
As for determining whether or not you are underpaid, we suggest you speak to a professional recruiter in KC to find out whether or not your credentials and international experience or currently undervalued. If the recruiter takes a look at your résumé and starts drooling, you’ll know that he/she can earn a fat commission placing you somewhere else. If they shrug and say, “Look friend, you’re doing pretty well. But let me tell you about this great opportunity…” then your salary is probably fair.
When it comes to talking to a partner about this, be sure you’re speaking to someone you trust and just be honest. Make your case with facts. Don’t go speculating about what a SA3 is making because that turns the conversation to something that is out of your control. Highlight your credentials, international experience and why they bring value to the firm and your partner.
They’ve heard the “I’m underpaid” sob story a million times. You’ve got to prove to them that your case is an exception to the run-of-the-mill bellyaching.
Back with another edition of “I need advice from a bunch of strange accountants,” a soon-to-be MSA grad is concerned about their low undergrad GPA. Will the Big 4 crush him out like a stale Parliament?
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Meanwhile, Back on c I graduated from college with a BA in business and have a 3.1 undergrad gpa. After working in a supply chain department for three years I left a low-level management position for a one year full-time MSA program. I will graduate next summer and I currently have a 3.9 gpa. Also, I recently passed the CFE exam, I will be CPA eligible in December, and I’m hoping to join BAP.
What advice can you give me for when talking to recruiters or attending job fairs this fall? Will firms look past my unimpressive undergrad gpa if I keep my grad gpa high? How do recruiters typically view candidates that are a few years out of undergrad and have little accounting work experience? Is there anything I can do to positively differentiate myself from students who are following the traditional 5-year accounting path? Will I have a shot with the Big 4? I really want to work in public accounting, but if I don’t get competitive offers from large firms I may stay in school and pursue an MBA.
In this day and age, the Big 4 is being more choosey with their entry-level hires. They simply aren’t pulling hobos off the street, asking them to pick up a calculator and start solving client’s financial reporting and tax issues. That said, your low undergrad will likely put you at a disadvantage versus your fellow recruits, especially in the eyes of set-in-their-ways partners who look at grades as a measure of potential success within their firm (which only takes the best and brightest!).
Is it bullshit? In the opinion of the editor – yes. But that’s the dealio, so let’s move on.
Judging by your pending CFE credential, it sounds as though you could possibly be interested in forensics. If that is the case, this interest and your CFE – that your tradish 5-year grad won’t have – differentiates you from the pack. You know exactly what you want to do and you have tangible proof. USE THAT to stand out from the crowd. There may be a 23 year-old 4.0 wunderkind that has the firms drooling but they have not one iota about that person’s ambitions. You know exactly what you want. Make them understand why that will be an asset to them.
And what about your previous work experience combined with your graduate GPA? DWB says that can help you too:
Sounds like you had a successful stint in the corporate world once you graduated. One could also assume you found your legs; you have a good head on your shoulders moving up to a management role. Your recent work history and grades during the MSA program are more indicative of your abilities than what you did when you were 20.
The odds are still against you but you’ve got a shot. And if you really want to work in public accounting, don’t forget that the Big 4 is not the end all to be all. Grant Thornton just picked up Huron Consulting’s investigations practice which could be a good fit for you. Many of the other top ten firms (choose your list: Vault or IPA) out there will have forensics shops, so your public accounting aspirations can easily be realized. Get out there and make it happen.
After Caleb forced me to write a few posts on Credentials for Accountants meant specifically for those of you who still do not know what you want to be when you grow up, I managed to bumble one so badly I was contacted by Scott Grossfeld, CFE CPA and C ttp://www.acfe.com/”>Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. See, it appears I made a typical media mistake in using fraud and forensics as interchangeable fields within the industry and Scott felt compelled to speak up.
This wasn’t exactly wrong (I was being lazy actually) but as CEO of the ACFE, he’s got a responsibility to make sure the media represent the field of fraud examination correctly, especially when it comes to giving forensic accountants credit for what he and his fellow CFEs do out there. Thankfully, we had a nice little chat and cleared up that little point.
Additionally, Scott promised us access to recent salary survey information available shortly that will give us a better idea of what CFEs make. For now, he told us that the data confirms a 22% pay premium for individuals with the CFE compared to individuals in the same position without the CFE. We liked this approach and wish more organizations would take an active role in monitoring and engaging in the conversation, as Scott was obviously doing by reading our series on credentials.
Along the way, however, I discovered that the ACFE is also on top of things by promoting the credential, interacting with their audience and reaching potential new members through new avenues like blogging and social media. The ACFE is excited to be launching a new social media campaign shortly that we can only hope rivals that of the AICPA’s total social media genius (except for that whole Feed the Pig thing, which still creeps us out but is brilliant and weird enough to get a pass).
The strategy of having a CFE on staff is akin to carrying insurance on your home or car, and diversifying a company’s staff can mean the difference between a lawsuit and a slap on the wrist thanks to our favorite unnecessary accounting legislation of all time, Sarbanes-Oxley. “If you look at the CFE, originally the idea behind it was that we had accountants who really didn’t know how to investigate and investigators who don’t know accounting so we were able to bring those two together,” he said. “If you look now, Enron was the big thing that really changed perspective… here’s a big financial risk but you could lose your company if you’re not careful (with SOX) and I think that really raised awareness. Before that fraud work was sort of like insurance, you knew you needed it but you couldn’t always justify it.”
But CFEs do justify their price from a prevention standpoint, assuming fraud to be a risk all companies are exposed to. “5 – 7% of the company’s revenue is lost to fraud, that’s where the fraud examiner pays for themselves,” he told us.
But how does the ACFE promote the usefulness of a 20 year old credential like the CFE? By getting to the kids when they’re still undecided, of course.
“It used to be that the CFE was a secondary credential. [Promoting the credential is the goal of] the higher education partnership we provide to educators. We have 300 colleges and universities in that program. Now it’s part of the discussion; risk is on the radar in terms of what companies are looking for. What we typically see is fraud being an elective type class though there are a few schools that specialize in fraud and or forensics.”
The ACFE also promotes its mission by encouraging those interested in pursuing a career in fraud-fighting to join the organization as a student member for something like $20 a year. Student Associate membership is open to undergraduate students enrolled in 9 semester hours (or equivalent), or graduate students enrolled in 6 semester hours (or equivalent) in an accredited college or university. We agree with this approach, as surrounding yourself with like-minded folks gives you a chance to expose yourself to those already on your desired path. There’s plenty of opportunity for mentorship, commiserating and gaining insight into what the credential actually means for your career.
All in all we approve of what the ACFE is doing and look forward to seeing whatever else they have up their sleeve unfold in the months and years ahead. Let’s face it, they’re pretty much guaranteed a job forever. We like.