insight magazine

How to Beat the Competition

The hiring market is clamoring for more CPAs. Are you ready to give it what it wants? By Sheryl Nance-Nash | Fall 2016


You know the saying, “Get it while the getting’s good”? Well the getting is really good—for CPAs anyway.

2016’s tight labor market has pushed unemployment rates for accounting and finance pros below the overall national rate of 5 percent, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to project about 11-percent employment growth through 2020. Audit and tax pros are in high demand, as is expertise in risk, compliance, and mergers and acquisitions. In other words, there’s never been a better time to be a CPA.

During the recession employers became extremely specific about the qualifications they wanted to see in their potential new recruits. Post-recession, they haven’t let up on those specifics. “As a result, the demand for CPA candidates continues to increase, while the availability/supply does not,” says Ann Guerra, division director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting in Northbrook, Ill. She points out that the additional credit hours now required to sit for the CPA exam is further pressuring candidate supply.

It’s no surprise, then, that finding and retaining talent ranks as a top concern for today’s CPA firms, and in many cases, private companies are fighting for that same talent.
Simply put, firms and companies need financial expertise to help guide smart business strategies. “There’s a growing visibility of the value a CPA can bring to this environment. CPAs are becoming increasingly specialized, focusing on areas like big data analysis and technology and information systems, personal financial planning, forensic accounting, management accounting or business valuation,” says Rebecca Blough, senior manager of college and university initiatives at the AICPA in North Carolina.

“SEC reporting specialists, for example, are in high demand because there were more IPOs in 2014 than in any year since the dot-com boom in 2000. Although the IPO market has softened since, companies that went public in 2014 have seen greater needs for accounting and finance personnel to help with specialized tasks, including preparing SEC filings and SOX compliance,” says Christopher Kearney, managing partner, central region, for Tatum, a Randstad company.

The next wave of demand came by virtue of global M&A activity, which reached an all-time high last year. “Effectively integrating acquired companies is oftentimes consuming and intense. Post-acquisition integration specialists, many of whom are CPAs, play a key role in generating the intended strategic, financial and operational benefits from acquisitions. Given the recent record-setting M&A volume, there has been rising demand for experts in accelerating the successful integration of acquired companies,” Kearney explains.

Without a doubt, CPAs are doing so much more these days. From equity analysis to leading corporate finance departments, more companies are looking to the license for not only the work it represents, but also the meaning behind it.

“Having a CPA nowadays is no longer a career limited to auditing, financial reporting, or routine business functions,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. “Increasingly, CPAs are being tapped for leadership roles.”

And while professional knowledge remains fundamental to the CPA’s function within the world of business and finance, those who hire CPAs are putting greater emphasis on essential critical thinking, professional skepticism, problem-solving and analytical skills. “In fact, there will be changes to the CPA exam starting in 2017 that address the evolving skill sets required for newly minted CPAs,” Blough explains. “Entry-level CPAs, too, are being asked to do more complicated tasks in the business world, and contribute to increasingly complex projects earlier in their accounting careers.”

“Business owners and management teams want accounting professionals to be more strategic than ever, and are seeking candidates that can help the business continuously improve,” says Jerry Murphy, CPA, CMA, CGMA, partner at Sikich, LLP.

Simply, says Blough, “There is a certain level of confidence that having a CPA doing a job provides.”  

When it comes to the question, should I get my CPA now or should I get it later, the answer is definitely NOW!

Why? Because, essentially, the CPA credential is your golden ticket. It speaks volumes about your commitment and dedication, the skills you possess and the contribution you can make to an organization. The earlier you have the CPA credential, the quicker you can differentiate yourself from all those candidates clamoring for the most select and lucrative positions.

“It immediately differentiates candidates from their peer group. Employers will see you as someone who not only has the discipline and work ethic to study for and pass the exam, but who is serious about their accounting career and committed to investing time to develop themselves professionally,” says Guerra.

Not only that, but CPAs are required to complete continuous professional education, which guarantees a high level of expertise and relevance within the profession. As Christian Novissimo, managing partner, accounting and finance with New York recruiting firm Lucas Group, puts it, “Companies feel they have an added layer of assurance that they’re hiring the best talent.”

In other words, having the CPA credential opens doors. “In both public accounting and industry, not earning a CPA can put a ceiling on professional growth. It can be difficult to rise to the highest levels of an organization without it. Many firms won’t even consider prospective employees for certain positions if they don’t have a CPA,” Murphy explains.

What’s more, a CPA license can lead to a significant salary. “Becker CPA Review recently conducted a survey that stated, ‘over the course of a 40-year career, a CPA can earn as much as $1M more than a non-certified accountant’,” says Blough.

How’s that for a golden ticket? 

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