You passed the CMA Exam – what’s next?
Congratulations to everyone who passed the CMA Exam in the most recent exam window! This is a great accomplishment and one that you should celebrate.
A common question I get from recent CMAs is, “What certification should I pursue next?” While this is a question that depends largely on you and what you want to do with your career, there is one certification that I think goes very well with CMA and opens up some additional career opportunities.
The world’s leading certification for internal auditors
The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is the world’s leading certification for internal auditors working in all industries. One of the reasons that CIA pairs well with CMA is that accounting and finance professionals interact with the internal audit activity as it conducts its engagements. Because accounting and financial professionals provide essential work in the management of the company, the internal audit activity will be spending time providing assurance and consulting engagements in these areas. If you are a CMA and are able to demonstrate that you have the knowledge of an internal auditor, you will be in a better position to add value both as an accounting or finance professional and to the internal audit activity. Or, if you decide to look at a career in internal audit, the knowledge that you have as a CMA will provide you with significant benefits as an internal auditor.
What is covered in the CIA Exams?
In addition to the professional connection between CMA and CIA, CIA is an excellent second certification for CMAs because the CMA Exam covers some of the same topics as the CIA Exam. The CIA Exam is made up of three multiple-choice Exams. Part 1 covers the internal audit activity and its operations, and Part 2 covers the performance of an engagement. Part 3 covers some of the same topics that are on the CMA Exam: business operations, IT, managerial and financial accounting, and finance. If you are already a CMA and you decide to take the CIA Exams, I recommend that you start with Part 3 because you have already studied many of those topics.
How long does it take to prepare for the CIA Exams?
While the CIA Exams are not easy (the pass rate per exam is about the same as it is for CMA, roughly 45%), the preparation process is shorter. We recommend about 60 hours for Part 1, 80 hours for Part 2, and 120 hours for Part 3. So even though it is three exams, it won’t take much longer than preparing for the two CMA exams.
For all of these reasons, if you are a CMA looking for a second certification, I recommend you consider the CIA Exams. The best way to start is to download the CIA Exam Guide and sign up for the CIA Free Trial.
As always, if you have any questions, we will be happy to help.
CMA or CPA?
I have been asked this question a lot recently, and I would like to offer some thoughts about these two qualifications and provide some insight to think about when choosing between these two credentials.
First, both CMA and CPA are internationally recognized qualifications supported by international professional organizations. While CPA is still more recognized internationally than CMA, the gap between the two is rapidly closing within organizations that hire management accounting and finance professionals.
Your Career in the Future
Second, you need to match your certifications with what it is that you would like to do with your career in the future. If you would like to have a career as an external auditor or a tax professional, you should probably choose CPA because that is the more recognized qualification in those areas. On the other hand, if you want to work in the accounting or finance department of an organization, then CMA will give you much more practical and relevant knowledge. If you want to start your own business, you definitely should study CMA.
The Difficulty of the Exams
Finally, neither qualification is easy to pass, and you will have to work hard to earn either certification. I have recently spoken to a handful of individuals who have done both CMA and CPA and they all said that overall CMA was more difficult. While on the surface you may see this as a reason not to do CMA, the perceived difficulty of the exam is critical to the value that the certificate. If an exam is viewed as being too easy, then passing that exam does not demonstrate any special level of knowledge on your part. However, when an exam is perceived as difficult, then there is more benefit to you that comes from passing that exam.
Regardless of which certification you choose, make your decision looking at your future and which one will help you the most in your desired career.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
There are several well-known international certifications for accounting and finance professionals, including CMA, CPA, CIMA, ACCA, ACA, CIA, CFA, and others. The first step for you as a professional seeking a certification is determining which one will be the most beneficial. This requires looking not only at your current job, but also what you would like to do in the future. By looking ahead, you can be certain that you have the needed skills, experience, and certification(s) for your career.
I have been involved in professional certifications in accounting and finance since 1998 and through all of these years, the certification that is generally the most valuable is the CMA. Of course, if you want to be an internal auditor, you become a CIA and if you want to be an investment banker, you should become a CFA. However, if you are looking for a career in accounting or finance, are looking to start or operate a small or medium-sized business, or want to have a certification that will provide the most flexibility and most options for you in your career, the CMA is the best certification for you.
There are five main reasons that the CMA is the overall best accounting and finance credential:
1. The CMA Syllabus is practical and relevant to your job.
Everything in the CMA syllabus is something that a business does or should do. Such a practical syllabus provides a lot of benefits to you:
- It makes studying easier. It is a lot easier to study and learn something when its relevance to a business is easy to understand. Also, by being practical, there is a greater chance that you will have some experience or exposure to the concepts before you start studying.
- The content you learn is useful for your current and future jobs. Ideally, studying for your certification will help you perform your job better. Whether you are in accounting, finance, budgeting, management, or operations, what is covered on the CMA Exam is what a company does or should be doing.
- The knowledge does not limit you to a specific department or career path. With topics ranging from financial accounting to management accounting, to planning and budgeting, to internal controls, to ethics and decision making, CMA prepares you for any job that is connected to management of a small or medium-sized business, or the accounting and finance functions in any size company.
2. You only need a Bachelor’s degree and two years of relevant work experience.
While some accountants have advanced degrees, there are many accountants who started in a different career and may not have a business degree or number of hours of accounting courses. For the CMA exam, as long as you have a 3 or 4 year Bachelor’s degree in any subject, you meet the education requirement.
Furthermore, as long as you have two years of relevant work experience, you will meet the experience requirement. Your experience does not need to be with any specific position nor does your supervisor need to be a CMA.
3. You only need to pass two exams to become a CMA.
While it may seem at first that only two exams are not enough for a professional certification, the two CMA exams cover a wide range of topics that are all tested in depth. This means that you get a rigorous exam that covers everything it needs to cover, but without a multi-year time commitment. With only two exams, you will be able to earn your CMA in around a year (average), and you will actually have a certification. While there are certifications with many more exams, if you don’t complete them all there is no benefit to you.
4. Your CMA certification is internationally recognized.
In all likelihood, you will have a number of different jobs during your career, which may include working for a multinational corporation, or in another country. Because the CMA certification is internationally recognized, it will help you get a job anywhere in the world. Having a CMA will also show to others in your organization that you are committed to your profession, which will help with promotions.
5. The CMA Syllabus is practical and relevant to your job.
Yes, this was also #1, but it is so important that it needs to be listed twice. An international syllabus (without country-specific details such as US Tax law) allows you to learn what is needed in today’s international accounting and finance marketplace.
For all of these reasons, I strongly recommend CMA as the best international certificate in accounting and finance. Of course, when you have a particular career goal, or your company requires a specific certification, then you need to pursue that required certification. If, however, you are looking to develop and expand your career prospects and possibilities within accounting and finance, then I strongly recommend the CMA Certification.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
What is my first step to becoming a CMA?
A wooden bat
The last year that I played Little League Baseball as a child, probably about 15 years old, I had a favorite bat. This bat was a wooden bat, and it made me unusual because most of my teammates used an aluminum bat. As I remember it, I played well that season, but not as well as I had hoped or expected to. Then, in the last game of the season, my wooden bat broke, and I had to use an aluminum bat for the first time. In that last game, I hit the ball harder than I had all season. I hit the ball harder because I was using a better bat – the aluminum bat. It turns out that all of the other kids were right – an aluminum bat was better than a wooden bat. It turns out that my performance falling short of my expectations was because I was not using the best tool for the job.
Having the right tool
This is not my only example of the fact that having the right tool for the job makes the work easier, but also leads to a better result. Using the right type of saw or drill makes the sawing or drilling process easier. Using an electric screwdriver is faster than a hand-powered screwdriver. The right tools make gardening easier. The list goes on…
The best professional certification
The list also includes your professional certification. When you choose your professional certification, you need to choose the right one for the job. And in this case, “the job” is your career. You need to choose the professional certification that will serve you the best in your career. It is important to keep in mind that the best certification for your friends and colleagues may not be the best certification for you.
How do you determine the best certification for you? There are a few questions you should answer to determine the best certification for you.
- What do you want to be doing in 5 years or 10 years? You need to look into your future to determine what will be best for you. You should not choose your professional certification based on what you are doing now (you already have that job), but rather on what you want to do in the future. What certification will give you the skills and knowledge that you will need to perform that job you want in the future?
- What certifications do people who have the job you want have? Look online at people who currently have the job that you want, and see what certifications they have. If they all have a certain certification, then chances are good that you will be expected to have that same certification in that job.
- Are you able to gain that certification? Some professional certifications have strict eligibility requirements regarding education and/or experience. You need to be certain that you meet those requirements. If a certification requires an education that you do not have, then you should not spend time trying to pursue it. For example, becoming a CPA has very specific education requirements and if you have already graduated and are not close to meeting those requirements, then CPA is not a certification that you should plan to pursue.
Related to this point, you also need to ask how realistic it will be for you to complete the certification? Some programs have 12 or more exams that take as many as four years to complete. Do you have the time, and the financial resources, to be able to make that investment?
- Are you going to be able to do the required studying? You also need to be certain that you are going to be able to put in the time that is required to study what is covered in your exams. If too much of the syllabus is new to you, or in topics that you do not like, it will be very difficult to put in the time needed to prepare properly for the exam. On every exam, there will be some topics that you do not like, but they should not be a majority of the topics on the exam.
Jump-start your career
If you choose the correct certification, it will provide great benefit to you throughout your career. You will start to see those benefits as soon as you start studying because your skills and knowledge will improve. You will see the benefits of your certification as you get promoted, find a new job in a new company, and move into the job that you saw when you chose your certification. The benefits will continue to come to you as you become more involved and active in the professional organization and the networking opportunities it provides. The right certification will jump-start your career and help you reach your professional goals.
So, before you start studying, spend some time thinking about the questions above to make certain that you start pursuing the best certification for YOU. Your certification is a tool that you will have available throughout your career, so make certain that it is the best tool for what you want to do in your career.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
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Approach Your Exams Like a Buffalo
The Rocky Mountains go through the state of Colorado and big mountain storms come down from the mountains and head east into the Great Plains of the United States. While many animals live in the Great Plains, it is the cows and the buffalo that we are interested in.
As a storm arrives, the cows walk with the storm trying to stay ahead of it. Of course, the storm moves faster than the cows so the storm overtakes the cows. And because the cows are moving in the same direction as the storm, the cows spend even more time in the storm than if they had just stood still and let the storm pass over them.
The buffalo, on the other hand, take a different approach. As the storm approaches, they walk into the storm. While this is a strong and cold headwind, because the buffalo are walking against the direction the storm is moving, the amount of time that they spend in the storm is greatly reduced. The buffalo spend significantly less time in the storm than the cows because the buffalo know (somehow) that heading into the storm with determination is the fastest way to get out of the storm.
Your Exam Is the Storm
If you have not figured it out yet, in this analogy the amount of time that you need to prepare for your exam is the storm. And you have the choice to be either a cow or a buffalo. If you take the cows’ approach and do not make a dedicated effort to do your studying, the time that it will take you to get through your preparation will be a lot longer. It may seem for a while that you have been able to stay ahead of the storm, but eventually you will realize that even if you delay, the storm is still coming and you will need to pass through it. All you have done is extended the amount of time that you have had to live with your preparations.
You could instead choose to be the buffalo. When you do this, you make a plan, make a schedule, and start your studies from the beginning with the intent of sticking to your plan even when it is difficult and you are tired. But, by doing this, you will reduce the number of weeks that you spend studying and you will get to the other side of the storm much faster.
Whether you have not yet started studying, are partway through your studies, or are almost done, you can decide how you will go through the remainder of your studies – like a cow and drag it out for longer, or like a buffalo and attack the storm head on so that you can get through it as quickly as possible.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
If you have ever tried to lose weight, or know someone who has, you are probably aware that there are a lot of different diets and weight loss programs that a person can choose, and that advice from friends can add even more “options” for trying to lose weight. There are diets that do not allow fat, and some that do allow fat. There are some that exclude carbohydrates, and there are some that allow them. Some people say that you should not eat after 6:00 p.m, or maybe 9:00 p.m. Other people say that certain foods should not be combined in the same meal and yet others say that specific foods should be combined. Some diets and advice are even contradictory. How is a person supposed to lose weight?
Cash as Calories
For companies, especially small companies, cash is the critical measure, just as calories are for a person trying to lose weight (except that a business wants to have more cash in than out). There are a lot of ways that a business can be measured or evaluated – numerous ratios, formulas, and key performance indicators that can be calculated for a small business. But, for the health of a small business, the best thing to look at is how much cash comes in and how much cash goes out. Maybe the company has great ratios, high ROI, and other metrics that show the company is doing well, but if more cash is going out than coming in, then the company has a problem. When small companies lose sight of cash flows and start to focus on other things, the company is at risk of going bankrupt even if “things look good” when looking at other measures.
Burn more calories than you eat
While some of the diets we read about may have some health benefits that are not weight-related, the most straightforward diet that most people can use to lose weight is simply to burn more calories than you eat. This means that you can start losing weight by eating less, exercising more, or a combination of both.
I do not want to imply that the diets that have books written about them, are featured in magazines, or are on TV do not have some truth to them. It may be better for your body if you limit your fat or carbohydrate intake. It may be better if you do not eat before bed. It may be better if some foods are consumed separately, or together. But, for me, the bottom line to losing weight is how many calories you burn and how many you consume.
I am certain that for serious athletes and those who are trying to fine-tune their body to be in the best shape possible, some of these more specific and complex dietary rules may be necessary. However, those people are beyond counting calories – they are trying to balance the different nutrients that are used and different types of energy for different exercises and they are trying to do things that 95% of the people who want to lose weight do not care about. (After people lose weight, their next step may be to fine-tune their body, but losing weight is the critical first step.) For the vast majority of people who are trying to lose weight, the best place to start is eating fewer calories and burning more. In the case of losing weight, keeping it simple may be the best advice for many of us.
If more cash is going out than coming in, then the company has a problem
For a company (and in particular a small company), cash is the same thing as calories are for a person trying to lose weight. There are a lot of ways that a business can be measured or evaluated – numerous ratios, formulas, and key performance indicators that can be calculated for a small business. But, for the health of a small business, the best thing to look at is how much cash comes in and how much cash goes out. Maybe the company has great ratios, high ROI, and other metrics that show the company is doing well, but if more cash is going out than coming in, then the company has a problem. When small companies lose sight of cash flows and start to focus on other things, the company is at risk of going bankrupt perhaps even if “things are good.”
Yes, there are many more advanced metrics than cash flow to measure business performance. For established and mature businesses, maybe those metrics are important to fine-tune their performance and to try to get the most out of the assets invested. But, just like a person and their weight, the best way for a company to improve its health in the short term is to increase cash inflows and decrease cash outflows. After the company has a positive cash flow, then it can turn its attention to more of the specific and detailed measures of a business, just like a person can fine-tune their diet once they have started the process of losing weight by burning more calories than they consume.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
A number of years ago at my sons’ Taekwondo class I watched two exchanges that I still remember that remind me about how important a person’s name is.
The first occurred when a boy about 5 years old came in. The teacher, a 7th-degree black belt, asked what his name was and he replied in a voice too quiet to be heard clearly. “Jonathon?” the teacher asked. Again, a quiet answer from the boy. “Jonavon?” asked the teacher. Then the boy’s mother answered for him, “Donovan.”
The teacher looked at Donovan and said, “Donovan, that is your name. When someone asks you your name, shout it out. DONOVAN!” And the little boy, with a smile, yelled, “DONOVAN!”
Our name is the first way that people identify us. I hope that all children learn to be proud of their name and who they are. We should say our name with pride when someone asks.
“It means that I care enough about you to learn your name”
Ten minutes later, the same teacher was beginning a class. Of the 10 students there, more than half were there for the first time. He told them that he had taught for many years and sometimes had trouble remembering names, so he asked what it meant if he asked someone what their name was. A small boy answered, “It means that you care enough to learn our name.” “Right!” the teacher replied, “If I call you by the wrong name, you need to tell me. If you don’t, I will call you the wrong name until you graduate from college. Let me know your name.”
That concept, “It means that I care enough about you to learn your name” is so important. How many people do you see every day, or maybe even work with, whose name you do not know? I challenge everyone to learn the name of one person this week. Taking it one more step, imagine how many more people we would all know if we learned someone’s name every day.
Let’s start right now. “Hello, my name is Brian, what is your name?”
Brian Hock, CMA
A Personal Counselor or Mentor is something that some exam prep providers include as a benefit of choosing their materials. While I agree that it is important that a review provider answer your questions as part of their support, there is no practical reason that you need to have a personal counselor as part of your exam preparation process.
Why do I say this? Because the exam that you take is not personal to you.
Everyone takes the same exam covering the same material tested at the same level of depth. The exam does not adapt its depth based on your background or experience. To say it one more time: EVERY candidate needs to know the SAME material at the SAME depth for the exam.
Because every candidate needs to know the same information, I am not sure what a personal counselor can do that you are not able to do for yourself. You can look at the results of your study sessions and determine how well you know a topic. In fact, you know more than anyone else can about how well you know a topic.
For example, let us say that there are 10 questions, and you know with certainty 6 of the 10 questions. That is 60% proficiency, but that is not enough and you need to study that topic more. Even though you do not know the other 4 questions, statistically you will get one of the four correct – giving you a 70% score. If you get lucky and guess two of those four correctly, you will score 80%, and someone else just looking at the percentage probably will say you are proficient and can move on to the next topic. But you know the truth, that you really are not 80% proficient on that topic.
In terms of guiding you through your studies, a personal counselor is not needed for this, either. Assuming that the study materials are set up properly with a good study plan, only you know best how much time you need to spend on each topic. When you are reading the book, watching videos, and/or doing practice questions, you know how well you know the topic and how much longer you need to spend to feel comfortable.
I believe that there are two essential support functions that actually add value to your studies:
- A detailed study plan that helps you go through the materials, points out the main topics and can be tailored to your pace of learning and time frame for study.
- Subject matter experts who can answer your questions about anything in the materials while you are studying. Whether it is a concept in the book or a question that you just can’t figure out, a knowledgeable person who is experienced in that exam should be available to answer your questions in a timely manner (one business day).
All of this to say, when you are making a decision about your study materials, be sure to look for things that actually add value to your studies, and not just what sounds good. At HOCK, we have continually refined our materials and processes since 2003 so that we can offer you the most comprehensive materials and support without any unneeded and potentially expensive extras.
HOCK Exam Prep with unlimited access and teacher support:
In my last two blogs, I have written about how review course providers and the certification-issuing organizations add value to their certifications. In this blog, I will look at what you should do in order to maximize the value that you get from having the certificate.
Conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times
Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times. As I wrote earlier, most certificates get their value simply because they are valued by the business community. Certificates have value because the people who hold the certificate create value for them. Every individual benefit from all of the others who hold the same certificate. In order to keep this value, each holder needs to act so that the business community as a whole will continue to value that certificate. For example, everyone who is a CIA is connected to everyone else who is a CIA. When a colleague finds out that you are CIA, their first impression of you will be based on what they think of the other CIAs that they know. If enough individuals behave poorly and unethically the “brand” that is CIA will lose value. So, if you want your certificate to retain or grow its value, you need to behave in a way that will bring value to that certificate and everyone else who holds it.
Have a responsibility
In addition to holding yourself to the highest standards of behavior, you also have a responsibility to hold fellow certificate holders to a similarly high standard of behavior. When others are acting in a way that does not bring value to the “brand,” you need to work with them to change their behavior. Even though any certificate can survive “a few bad apples” in the profession, everyone needs to work to make certain that there are as few as possible.
Market the certificate
In order to maximize the value of your investment (in both time and money), you also need to market the certificate, for example, help people know what the certificate is and what the requirements are to obtain it. If an HR person in your company is not familiar with the CMA, give them information about it. That information, coupled with your behavior, will help them understand the value of CMA. Also, use the letters of your designation on your business card, your CV, and anywhere your name is used.
Become active in a local Chapter
If you are able to, you should also become active in a local Chapter of your professional organization. Chapters help to grow the profession and are a way of letting the larger community know that the certification has value. While it may be difficult to see any specific, direct benefit from attending a Chapter event, you need to remember that you are part of a larger profession and that you will benefit indirectly from the success of the organization. Professionals before you built a brand that you are benefitting from, and you need to be certain that the professionals who come after you will be able to benefit from your professional organization in the same way you have.
I encourage you to be proactive in doing these things (and more) because your certificate will only have as much value as the effort that everyone puts into it.
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA
In my last blog, I wrote about the value that review course providers provide for a certification. In this blog, I will look at the value that is brought to a certification by the organization that administers the exam and awards the certification.
Obviously, the organization that offers the certification provides value to it. But, it is critical that the certification continues to hold its value and even increases in value. Remember that because most certifications gain their value only because the business community desires them, it is imperative that the organizations work to provide ongoing value. Aside from giving the certificate itself, some of the things that the organization must do are:
Keep the syllabus current
Every few years the organization should evaluate the content of their exams to make certain that it continues to be relevant.
Provide sufficient information about the content of the exam
The syllabus that they provide should be detailed enough to allow candidates (and material providers) to know what is on the exam without being so detailed that it is essentially a list of the questions. (I would add that the IMA does a spectacular job with the syllabus for the CMA Exams.)
Ensure that the exam is challenging
If the pass rate is too high, the certification loses value because it is assumed that anyone can pass. If the pass rate is too low, nobody attempts it because the return on investment is too low. For example, when the DipIFR (Russian) exam was first started, the pass rate was around 15% and the exam almost collapsed because of the low pass rate.
Maintain its own ethics surrounding the qualification
The exam creation and grading process must be above reproach. There should be controls and systems in place to ensure that if a person passes the exam that the world knows that this person actually passed the exam honestly and fairly.
Provide a fair and level field for all providers
When an examining body is involved in materials preparation and sells their own materials, this weakens the certificate because it draws into question the grading process. Even if there are controls in place and independence between the materials creation group, the exam creation group, and the grading process, there is still the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Require some form of Continuing Education
(It has different names in different organizations) So that their certificate holders maintain relevant knowledge.
Provide value to its members through things other than the certifications
Such as conferences, publications, webinars, networking opportunities to its members, or any number of other benefits that it can provide. If the only value that it provides is in the exam itself, the organization will have difficulty maintaining its membership and attracting new members.
While there are a lot of things that professional organizations need to do in order to maintain and build the value that their certificate has in the market, it is essential that they do these things because without the certification having value, fewer people will join the organization.
I am certain that this list is not complete. What are some of the other ways that your certifications (that you have or are in the process of earning) and their supporting organization could add even more value to your career?
Brian Hock, CMA, CIA