The Right Certification for Your Future

Baseball bat, glove, and ball

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

Approach Your Exams Like a Buffalo

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.

Cows’ Approach

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.

Buffalos’ Approach

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

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Blog: Losing Weight and the Health of a Business

Losing Weight and the Health of a Business

Losing Weight

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
HOCK international

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Blog: A Person’s Name

A Person’s Name

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

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From Brian’s Desk: Is a Personal Counselor or Mentor necessary to pass the exam?

Is a Personal Counselor or Mentor necessary to pass the exam?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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Blog: Certification Value Part 3 – Individuals

Certification Value - Part 3. Individuals.

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

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Blog: Certification Value Part 2 – The Organization

Certification Value - Part 2. The Organization.

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

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Blog: Certification Value

Certification Value

Professional Certification – Requirement or Preference?

A professional certification gets value from one of two sources: either it is required by law or regulation, or the business community prefers its employees have the certification, even if it is not required by law. An example of the first type is the CPA certification in the United States, which is required by law in order for an individual to sign an audit report or prepare income taxes for another party. An example of the second type is the CPA certification in countries outside the United States. In other countries, a CPA license is not required by law for any specific activity, but the business community values it, and therefore being a CPA is valuable.

Most international certifications fall into the second category. One of the reasons for this is that most internationally recognized exams are in English and therefore they can be required by law only in countries that speak English. In non-English-speaking countries, the exam gets value because it is desired by the businesses there.

While it may not seem obvious, there are a number of groups that contribute to the value that a certification has in markets where the certification is not required by law. In this blog, I will write about one of them, and I will write about others in the future.

Review Course Providers

The group that I want to write about now is what I will call Review Course Providers (RCPs). They may be called different names in different countries, but these are the companies that deliver live-taught courses for candidates to prepare to pass the exam. RCPs are different than Material Providers (MPs), who only provide materials for self-study. For example, HOCK international is an MP, whereas HOCK UAE is an RCP, where live courses are offered.

RCPs play a critical role in the development of value for a professional certification in a few different ways:

  1. When there is an RCP for a certification, it shows to prospective candidates that the certification has value. If there is no value to the certification, there would not be a company providing training locally.
  2. RCPs play an important role in marketing the certification because they are marketing the certification as well as their own courses. For the organizations that offer certifications, RCPs are a critical element of the expansion of the certification to new areas.
  3. RCPs help keep pass rates higher. If the pass rate for a certification becomes too low, fewer people will attempt it because there is not a high enough chance to get a return on their investment. Or, if the pass rate is too high, there is also a decrease in candidates because both individuals and businesses perceive that it is too easy and does not have any value.
  4. RCPs also give credibility to the certification by demonstrating that the exam is independent. When the organization that gives the exam also provides training material, there is a perception that the exam is not serious or rigorous because the same organization is in charge of all of the steps of the process. It is a bit like the segregation of duties – ideally, one organization creates the exam and grades it, and other organizations provide the training. When the examiner is also a training provider there is a conflict of interest that decreases the value of the certification.

Live Classes

Whether or not you are using or used an RCP in your preparations for the exam, you should say a word of “Thanks” to the RCPs in your area; they have helped create and sustain the value of the certificate that you have earned or are in the process of earning. If you don’t know if there are any in your area, we have a list of RCPs using HOCK materials on our website

You can send a short “Thanks” to your RCP as a comment below – let them know that they are appreciated!

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

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CMA Exam – Second Attempt Materials

CMA Exam Second Attempt Materials
The CMA Exam results came out last week and while there were many candidates who were successful, there were also some candidates who did not pass their exams. If you are one of these candidates, I encourage you to continue your studies and  take a realistic look at how much you think you need to study to pass the next time you take the exam. Based on this assessment, you can determine when you should plan on re-taking the exam. As a general guideline, if you scored 320 or above, you are close to being ready to pass, and should probably plan to take the exam as soon as you are able to. If you scored less than 320, then you may want to plan a few more months of studying before you take the exam again. 

Do you need a second Test Bank?

After results come out, we get requests from candidates who are looking to purchase a second Test Bank to study from. It is my experience that a second Test Bank does not add a lot of value to your preparations. All of the main providers use released CMA Exam questions as the foundation of their Test Banks. We all add some of our own questions to the Test Bank as well, but the majority of questions between providers will be the same. Therefore, even if you purchase a second Test Bank, you will not be getting a second set of questions to prepare with.

What additional materials should you consider?

If you are looking for additional study materials, I often recommend that you purchase Videos, especially if you do not have Videos already. While there are differences between the Textbooks of the main providers, a second Textbook is still a book that you read. Some candidates learn more effectively by listening or watching, so if you purchase Videos, you are getting a new way of learning the material, and a new perspective on that material.

Do you already have all of the materials from a provider?

If you already have a Textbook, Videos and a Test Bank and are still looking for additional materials, you should look to purchase the study tool that you think will be most beneficial to you. If you did not always understand the Textbook that you have read, another Textbook will bring value to you. If you did not like the Videos that you have, someone else’s Videos will provide greater value to you. If you have a Test Bank that does not have answer explanations to the incorrect answers, another Test Bank with incorrect answer explanations will be very helpful to you.

Use free samples before purchasing

Before you purchase a second of any study tools, make certain to use the free samples that all of the main providers offer so that you can see the Textbook, Videos and/or Test Bank you are looking to add.

Don’t give up!

While we would always prefer to pass an exam on our first attempt, the global pass rate for the CMA Exams is only about 50%. If you are in the position of having to take the exam again, I encourage you to keep striving for your goal of becoming a CMA. And while additional study tools may be helpful, make certain that you think carefully about what you already have and what would be helpful to you. This analysis will help you make good decisions about what additional investments you  need to make to pass the exam on your next attempt.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

CMA Exam Videos are on 40% sale right now. Check out the free samples here: CMA Exam Videos.

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Professional Ethics in our Personal Life: Conflicts of Interest

Code of Ethics

Code of ethics

Most companies and professional organizations have a Code of Ethics that employees and members must follow. It is important to remember that many of those ethical guidelines we have at work and in our professional lives are also important for us outside of work. When individuals act contrary to a Code of Ethics in their personal lives, people can also get hurt – just as in our professional lives.

Conflict of interests

Most Codes of Ethics require the disclosure of potential conflicts of interests, which arise when a person may be influenced in their decision as a result of an interest that they have that is in conflict with the decision that they need to make for their company. Conflicts of interest are not just at work; they are in our personal life, too, and can involve our friends, neighbors, relatives and people we have never met. Unfortunately, not everyone is motivated by a Code of Ethics in their personal life like they should be in their professional life.

For example, if someone asks me what company they should use to host their website, I have a potential conflict of interest because my brother owns a company that hosts websites. If I were to recommend my brother’s company, the question becomes whether I am recommending it because it a good web hosting company, or because it is my brother, or maybe even because I might receive a commission for every person that I refer.

Disclosure

It is not that conflicts of interest are automatically bad. However, an undisclosed conflict of interest is unethical, and potentially harmful. If I recommend my brother’s company and I do not tell the person that it is my brother’s company that I am recommending, I have potentially caused that person harm because I have not given them all of the information they need to make an informed decision. However, if I tell them that my brother owns the company, then I have not done anything to cause that person harm.

The disclosure of this conflict of interest may even be helpful to my brother. If I have acted and worked in a way that causes this person to respect me, the fact that it is my brother’s company may be the reason that the person chooses my brother’s company. By behaving ethically and professionally, my recommendation means more, and the fact that I am related to the owner of that company is a positive thing for the person who asked.

Ethics in our personal lives

In our personal lives it is also important to disclose conflicts of interest. I live in a state that recently deregulated its electricity market, which means that I am now able to choose which company I want to produce the electricity that I use. Needless to say, I was swamped with phone calls and mail from the different companies that wanted me to choose them. One evening I was talking to my neighbor and asked if he had chosen a company and how happy he was with his choice. He told me which company he had chosen and that he was happy.

Later, after I had made my selection, I found out that if I recommended others to select the company that I had chosen, they would pay me $50 for each person I recommended and signed up. When I read this, it made me wonder about my neighbor – did he make his recommendation because he was happy, or because he was going to get $50 if I selected the same company that he did?

So, when someone gives you a recommendation, (especially when it is a website giving you a recommendation), you should ask yourself if they have a conflict of interest that they are not telling you about. It might just change your mind about what decision you should make in a particular situation.

Brian Hock, CMA, CIA

 

Are you taking the CMA exam in May or June? Join the CMA Crash Course and MCQ Practice Sessions for only $108. 

Learn More: https://www.hockinternational.com/shop/cma-crash-course-and-mcq-practice/

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