Getting any accounting certification takes time – it requires patience, dedication and countless study hours. But as the accounting industry continues to change, and becomes more and more technological, accounting firms are looking for something to differentiate their candidates. Earning an accounting credential can do just that – and there are many to choose from; Certified Management Accountants (CMA) to Certified Fraud Examiners (CFE) and Certified Public Accountants (CPA).

And with the prediction that accounting is likely to become heavily automated in the near future, these certifications are becoming increasingly crucial to stand out from the crowd as a critical thinker who can provide valuable insights to your organization.

This blog will focus on five of the most common credentials in the accounting and finance space, and here you’ll find:

What are the best accounting certifications?

Well, that really depends on who you’re asking, and what their career goals are. There are many varieties, and depending on whether you’re working in broader financial services, fraud prevention or maybe portfolio management, the best one for you will differ. Some of the most common are:

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Perhaps the most commonly known one, the CPA is run by The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and is administered at Prometric. A CPA is a trusted financial advisor who helps individuals, businesses, and other organizations plan and reach their financial goals.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Run by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), The CMA is a certification in financial accounting and strategic management. CMAs often work in management accounting, or in cost accounting.

Enrolled Agent (EA)

The Special Enrollment Examination (SEE), is a three-part exam administered by Prometric on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service. The Enrolled agent is a tax advisor who is a federally authorized tax practitioner empowered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

Run by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the CIA is the only globally recognized internal auditing certification. CIAs are certified to work as internal auditors.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

Run by ISACA, the CISA is the standard of achievement for those who audit and assess an organization’s information technology. CISAs often work in IT auditing.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Run by the CFA Institute, the Chartered Financial Analyst is a globally-recognized professional designation that measures and certifies the competence and integrity of financial analysts. CFAs often work in portfolio management, and financial management.

What soft skills preparing for an accounting certification can teach you

As more of the role requires client-facing tasks, and less sitting alone crunching numbers and filing reports, soft skills – the client experience is ultimately key. In fact, more than three-quarters of (76%) of accountancy jobs advertised today in the United States and beyond demand candidates who can demonstrate strong soft skills alongside – and sometimes over – the experience requirements for the job.
Thankfully, while certifications act as proof of your expertise in your area of accounting – preparing for them also teaches irreplaceable soft skills. Here’s a handy guide on what soft skills you might be gaining from your certification study, whether you’re studying towards becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Enrolled Agent (EA), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

Problem solving skills

Client businesses are full of problems that need solving, and so accounting firms are always looking for problem solvers – It’s critical for accountants to correctly identify, analyze and solve problems quickly and efficiently. Exam Review courses help to teach this skill intrinsically as you work your way through the study material and difficult questions – Surgent Exam Review courses even more so, as our adaptive technology homes in on what you don’t know and encourages you to problem solve in your weakest areas.

Good communication skills

Hey, the customer is always right–except when they…aren’t. But even still, the client experience is king nowadays, and the importance of it is becoming even more prominent with the rise of AI, allowing for a lot of the standard time-consuming tasks to be automated – and giving the accountant more free time for face time with the client. At the end of it all, to be successful in accountancy, you must be able to communicate with the client and help them understand their financial situation. Often one of the biggest hurdles in preparing to take the credentialing exam can be communication-based too – that’s because communicating your study schedule with those you care about is key to succeeding. Really, you need to be as specific as possible and let them know the specific hours you’re going to be busy during the day and which days you work during the week, to set initial expectations and help family and friends understand when you can’t make social gatherings or are often later than normal coming home.

Time management skills

Being able to manage your time is key in any career – but in the world of accountancy, busy season exists, and that goes for those with a CPA license as well as tax preparers. During busy season, tax preparation professionals and accountants must be able to manage their time efficiently in order to tend to all of their duties. Getting your hands on an accounting certification takes time, and accounting firms know it. With many candidates studying during school or alongside full time work, holding a certification is a clear example of time management skills.


It’s no secret that adaptable employees are a huge score for employers – it means that whatever the world, the market or the client throws at them, their employees can handle it. But it’s also a skill that getting an accounting certification can teach – not only are you adapting your schedule to take on another heavy workload by studying for a certification, but exam content is also constantly changing. Being able to learn new legislation and procedures as they happen is a great example of adaptability.

What an accounting certification on your resume can prove

That You’re Dedicated to Your Career

Accounting designations require accounting professionals to set their career path and career goals and push forward, and as they’re a time heavy investment into your future – employers know that you’re in it for the long run. They’re an extra step past your bachelor’s degree, and often even past your master’s degree that showcases your dedication.

That You’re an Expert in Your Industry

Whether we’re talking about financial planning, risk management or public accounting, it doesn’t matter – having a certification in your industry niche is a huge selling point because it highlights your knowledge and proves your expertise. Certification exams are hard, and they often require accounting professionals to not only have the work experience but also the knowledge and ability to learn. (But don’t worry – adaptive exam review courses like Surgent help you to learn with personalized study plans, so you’ll always feel in control).

Curious about what each credentials test?

CPA – The Uniform Certified Public Accountant Exam is designed to assess the knowledge and skills entry-level CPAs need to practice public accountancy, and consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG).

CMA – The Certified Management Accounting certification is the global benchmark for management accountants and financial professionals. The exam focuses on knowledge in the areas of financial planning, analysis, control, decision support, and professional ethics.

EA – The EA Exam consists of three parts: Individuals, Businesses, and Representation, Practice and Procedures. The EA Exam is designed to demonstrate technical competence in tax matters for purposes of representing taxpayers before the IRS.

CISA – The CISA certification is a globally recognized standard, and the exam focuses on an IT auditor’s knowledge, expertise and skill in assessing vulnerabilities and instituting IT controls in an enterprise environment.

CIA – As the only globally recognized internal audit certification, the CIA exam is the optimum way to communicate knowledge, skills, and competencies to effectively carry out professional responsibilities for any internal audit, anywhere in the world. This exam tests the theory, practice and business knowledge surrounding internal auditing.

What accounting certifications can offer in terms of Salary and Career Progression:

It’s no secret that getting a certification can boost your salary and open doors for you — and with the effort put in, you deserve it. Not only that, but often they can increase flexibility – offering more job opportunities in contract roles and more.
Here’s a short summary of what each accounting credential can do for your income.

CPA – An employee getting their CPA license is a huge perk for employers, and some will even offer a pretty hefty bonus upon completion. Alongside that though, the salary increase can be substantial too with many earning approximately 30% higher than the average industry income.

CMA – According to the IMA’s 2020 Global Salary Survey, CMAs can earn up to 60% more than non-CMAs, and having both a CMA and a CPA can boost your income by 55% higher than the average salary.

CISA – The CISA certification is in high demand as companies look to bridge the cybersecurity skills gap, and that is reflected by the salary boost CISA candidates could see. In fact, on job seeking sites, CISA salary is higher than the average salary by 49%.

EA – For tax accountants, earning their EA could increase their salary by several thousand dollars while also allowing them to take the next step in their career, with increased rights and abilities.

CIA – Not only could the credential increase your salary right off the bat, but CIA salaries are also anticipated to increase by 10 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wanna take a look at some in depth salary guides? We have them for CIA, CISA and CPA, and a breakdown of CMAs job roles.

Taking Your First Steps Towards Getting an Accounting Certification:

So, you’re ready to take the first step towards getting your accounting designation? Great! It can be daunting to know what to do first, regardless of whether you’ve decided to sit for the CPA exam, or the CMA exam! That’s why we’ve gathered our foolproof checklist for getting started.

1. Do your research. Choosing the best accounting certification for you requires taking a step back, looking at your career goals and making an informed decision about the right choice for you. What’s right for a tax preparation professional may not be right for finance professionals – not sure of which could work best for you? No problem, you can take out quiz to find out here.

2. Check the requirements. All accounting certifications have specific requirements – the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), for example, requires a Bachelor’s degree or a professional accounting certification as well as two years of work experience, and an active membership in the Institute of Management Accountants. You can see the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (AICPA) requirements here, CIA Exam requirements here, EA Exam Requirements here and CISA Exam Requirements here.

3. Find the right review course for you. It’s crucial to find a course that works for your personal learning style, and can support you during your studies, and so we recommend you dig into as many free trials as possible and really look at the features you get. You can also look at ready-made course comparisons, like these: CIA, CMA, EA, CPA.

When digging in, you should be on the lookout for certain elements and evaluating how they fit with your personal learning style – those include:

  • Instructor support

    Some concepts are harder than others and need a little more explanation, and this should be reflected in your prep course. In fact, your course should not only be created and taught by expert instructors, but it should also have support in the style of additional resources for those tough topics, should you need it.

  • Quality of learning material

    Everybody has their own learning style, so you’ll want to make sure you get a course that’s conducive to that style; whether that’s physical textbooks, self-study, an audio course, or interactive materials. You should also look to see if the Exam Review Course offers unlimited practice exams – we always recommend our students familiarize themselves with the format of the exams so they’re comfortable come Exam day.

  • How Easy it is to Use

    Nobody wants to use an Exam Prep Course that’s confusing and badly designed. Ultimately, even with an adaptive course, you’ll be spending a fair bit of time on this software, and feeling overwhelmed with just trying to get through the navigation is no good. This is one of the prime reasons it’s so key to test out as many free trials as possible, and really get to grips with the design and capabilities of each course. For example, if you need a course you can use on mobile, test it out during your free trial period!

  • Access Length

    We all know that life can just… happen. And it doesn’t always make room for that thing you planned – and that can go for studying too! That’s why you should always check the length you have access to the course for. Some courses are with you ‘till you pass, while others give you a year – either can work for you, but be sure you know the details before you commit!

Pricing and Payment

We all want to make sure we’re getting the best value for the money, especially since obtaining an accounting credential can be pretty expensive. That’s why we implore you all to read reviews about courses and check pass rates to make sure the value is there. Also, many courses offer payment plans, allowing you to pay over time as opposed to making one large payment upfront.

4. Figure out what time of year makes sense with your work schedule.

If you’re in financial reporting, then the end of the year might not make sense for you – just the same, if you’re in tax preparation or at all handle tax returns then January through April 15th might be a definite no. Once you know when makes sense – well…All you need to do is start.