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Gearing to Move on up? You might need that CPA

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There was at a time when it was unthinkable to have a top�level executive in an organization without a Master of Business Administration degree. It did not have to be from an Ivy League university. The MBA was seen as a demonstration of competence and ability in running a modern enterprise. The knowledge requirement for executive jobs has since changed following the spectacular collapse of the financial services industry on the throes of the subprime debacle and the accounting and the reporting scandals around Enron and WorldCom. With the introduction of legislation such as Sarbanes Oxley, director jobs bear ultimate responsibility over the company's running and must attest to the accuracy of the financial reports of the organization. With this newfound direction and demand on management jobs, the role of the CPA credential is back in the spotlight.

Talking to any CEO, CFO or persons running with other similar executive jobs will reveal that having the CPA credential is playing an increasingly important factor in decisions regarding to the hiring of persons for key positions in the organization. Nowadays, more institutions have taken a non-negotiable stance when it comes to the possession of CPA for roles relating to internal audit, credit and financial control, risk management and other positions that favor persons with a deep understanding of financial figures and reporting requirements. Experience working in a Big Four environment is advantageous but not necessarily mandatory.

Executive search consultants have noted a shift towards CPA holders when it comes to key director jobs and not just in finance. There are job applicants that have lost out on lucrative senior management jobs due to the absence of the accounting credential. At some point in times past, institutions were inclined towards high-flying dealmakers. This now seems to be changing. Nevertheless, it is not all doom and gloom if you do not have a CPA after your name.

For starters, many other credible and internationally recognized accounting bodies provide training that is up there with the best. Secondly, it takes more than an accounting qualification to master the workings of accounting in the corporate world. Experience plays an important role and many executives today have learned accounting on the job thereby, acquiring expertise that is practical and consistent with the demands of the job market. Couple this with the fact that for example the director in charge of finance does not work alone but with a team of finance and accounting professionals. These support structure is good in ensuring that there is a healthy mix of management skills and technical number crunching ability within the organization. Many times, graduates in accounting courses are nowadays virtually guaranteed of employment offers from multiple suitors on completing their studies.

At some point in time, university students steered away from accounting to move towards investment banking and corporate finance careers. This was, for one, informed by the accounting scandals that rocked a number of firms. Matters whether not helped by the fact that the compensation for investment banking and corporate finance professionals shot through the roof and the potential for higher-end compensation along these career paths acted as a pull away from accounting. This trend is in the reverse now as discerning and market-savvy students identify with the increased demands for accounting knowledge even in traditional non-accounting functions.
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