Accounting majors have an array of careers available to them, and specializing by getting an accounting certification opens even more doors. But the big question is: which accounting certification should you go for? Below, we’ll go over the five common accounting certifications to help you decide which one you should choose for your career.
1. CPA – Certified Public Accountant
What they do: The CPA credential is a catch-all credential; those who have it can work just about anywhere in accounting. Many CPAs start out specializing in tax or audit in public accounting. Later career choices include climbing the public accounting ladder, moving into industry or starting a firm.
How to become one: The CPA exam is grueling: it’s a four-part exam consisting of Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), Regulation (REG), Auditing and Attestation (AUD), and Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) that must be passed within an 18-month window. CPA candidates must also complete a state-prescribed working hours requirement, as well as the necessary education to become certified.
Top qualities: Those wishing to become CPAs know the value of the certification. It’s versatile and will stand out on any accounting resume. But with its tendency toward public accounting, CPA candidates need to have an affinity for variety, as working with different companies is normal in public accounting. Candidates also need to be very self-motivated and dedicated to becoming a CPA since the road isn’t easy.
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2. EA – Enrolled Agent
What they do: If there’s one word that describes what EA’s do, it’s taxes. EAs are federally authorized tax practitioners who act as tax advisors to clients. They can help clients with tax issues ranging from giving advice, to preparing tax returns for a variety of entities, to representing taxpayers before the IRS.
How to become one: You must pass a three-part exam administered by the IRS before applying for licensure. Alternatively, you can become licensed after working in an IRS qualified position for five years.
Top qualities: An interest in taxes is helpful to becoming an EA, since the majority of your work revolves around taxes. A love for learning and researching is a plus since tax laws are ever-evolving. You’ll also want to have a desire to help people as you’ll be representing clients.
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3. CMA – Certified Management Accountant
What they do: Certified Management Accountants perform similar duties to CPAs, but their focus is more on cost accounting, financial planning, management issues and making strategic decisions. A CMA might have duties such as budgeting, handling taxes, managing assets, and preparing and analyzing financial reports. Like CPAs, CMAs are primed to become C-suite executives in an organization.
How to become one: To become a CMA, candidates must pass a two-part exam within a three-year window. CMAs must also have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or have a professional accounting certification. They must also have two years of work experience.
Top qualities: Having an analytical mind is essential to be a management accountant. You have to be able to think big picture while also understanding financial detail in order to make strategic decisions. Working well with others is also a key ingredient for CMAs as they’re likely to manage people and report to investors as they move up the career ladder.
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4. CIA – Certified Internal Auditor
What they do: CIAs perform internal audits of an organization by testing internal controls and reviewing financial records. Through these audits, internal auditors identify deficiencies and suggest changes within the organization. CIAs have a range of career options, from working as executives to working in compliance or information technology.
How to become one: The CIA exam is a three-part exam. CIA candidates must meet one of three different requirements to fulfill the experience portion.
Top qualities: CIAs enjoy working and digging in to one single organization. They have an analytical mind and like researching and looking through information to identify discrepancies and mistakes. CIAs are also good at presenting information and suggesting changes. Candidates looking to become CIAs should note the certification is globally recognized; if you’re looking to work around the world, the CIA certification might be a great choice to launch your career.
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5. CISA – Certified Information Systems Auditor
What they do: CISAs are similar to CIAs, except they conduct audits on the information systems of organizations. They assess system vulnerabilities, report on compliance and institute internal controls in relation to information systems. CISAs can become information security managers, information risk managers, head of information security or CIOs.
How to become one: The CISA exam is a four-hour exam with 150 multiple choice questions. Candidates are required to have at least five years of professional experience in order to become certified.
Top qualities: If you enjoy working in IT but think like a detective, the CISA certification would be a great fit. It’s a great career for someone who enjoys managing risk and working within information systems. Like CIAs, CISAs need to be able to present information and suggest changes in an understandable way. CISA candidates should note the certification is also globally recognized.
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To decide which accounting certification is the best fit for you, think about your personality traits, what you enjoy doing and what you’re good at. Then compare these ideas with the career descriptions and top qualities above to see which accounting certification would be the best match.