Even after years of steady growth, accounting remains one of the fastest growing industries in the American economy. From individuals who need help with their taxes to businesses that face complex financial regulations, accountants are in very high demand and have a wide range of career paths to choose from.
A bachelor’s degree can help you start a career in accounting, but what if you want to move a little further up the professional ladder? Some people might choose to go back to school to earn an MBA or MAcc, but others might choose to earn one of the many types of professional certifications available to accountants instead.
Earning a certification takes a lot of dedication and is a reflection of your accounting expertise. And by making the extra effort to earn one, you’ll be able to earn a higher salary and have more opportunities to advance in your career. But with so many different certifications to choose from, how do you know which ones are really worth earning? Here are five of the top accounting certifications employers are looking for.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
CPA is by far the most well-known accounting certification, and for good reason. If you want to work in public accounting, this is the certification to get. A lot of employers are doing anything they can to get CPAs on their team, whether it’s by actively recruiting licensed CPAs or by paying for existing accountants to prepare for and take the exam.
One of the reasons it’s such a desirable certification is because the exam covers a very wide range of topics. Even if you don’t want to work in public accounting, at least in the long term, a CPA certification is extremely versatile and many CPAs go on to specialize in other areas such as forensic accounting, compliance, and taxes. You’ll also be able to do things like write audit reports, give opinions on publicly-traded company financials, and represent clients in front of the IRS, which you can’t do with many other certifications.
Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
While the CPA exam covers many different topics, one area of accounting it doesn’t really cover is management accounting. But if you’re interested in pursuing a career in management accounting, becoming a CMA would be a better fit for you. A CMA certification demonstrates your skills in things like cost management, budgeting, financial analysis, and strategic planning.
Despite the fact that the CMA exam covers things the CPA exam doesn’t, there is some overlap between the two and many people choose to get both certifications.
Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
Interested in a career in auditing? Then a CIA certification is what you want. This is a globally-recognized certification that focuses on testing your skills in compliance, governance, risk management, and information technology. Since so many companies have strict government regulations to comply with, a CIA certification can help put you in high demand with employers.
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
The CFA certification is intended for those who want to work in banking, investing, or as a senior-level finance professional. If job titles such as asset manager, CFO, hedge fund manager, or security analyst appeal to you, then becoming a CFA may prove to be very worthwhile.
Like the CIA certification, a CFA certification is recognized worldwide. But like the CPA exam, passing the CFA exam can be very tough. Not only is it expensive, you need to have a bachelor’s degree and four years of relevant work experience before you can sit for the exam. Passing the CFA exam involves passing three different sections which must be completed in sequential order. And while most people are able to complete all four parts of the CPA exam within a year, it’s very common for CFA candidates to spend over two years earning their certification.
Enrolled Agent (EA)
You’ve probably heard the old adage that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. As long as businesses and individuals have to deal with taxes, there will be a demand for accounting professionals who can help them. If you want to focus on taxes in your career, then you might want to consider becoming an enrolled agent (EA).
The EA certification is issued by the IRS and focuses on testing your understanding of U.S. tax codes and your ability to apply that information while handling tax matters for both individuals and businesses. While other certification exams cover taxes in addition to other subjects, the EA exam is solely about taxes. If you want to work as a paid tax preparer or internally with a company handling their tax matters, becoming an EA can give you an edge in the workforce with fewer requirements to meet than becoming a CPA. You’ll also be able to do many things that CPAs are able to do, such as sign tax returns and represent clients before the IRS.