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Keeping the Sword Sharp

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keeping the sword sharp cpe

By: Bill Wednieski


How many recruiters do you know that keep an active CPA license? I continue to maintain my license for several reasons. First, deep gratitude for the profession and designation since I earned it more than 20 years ago. Second, the annual required education keeps my sword sharp with continuous professional education or CPE. Third, there is a nerdy part of me that just likes learning new stuff. Lastly, I personally like paying the absolute bare minimum in taxes and planning for eventual retirement.


The history


Back in my day the “uniform” CPA exam was given twice annually – the first Wednesday and Thursday in May and November. The test was done in person with paper and pencil not at a testing center, and all four parts were taken in four consecutive sessions over two days. I took the exam at the Michigan State Fairgrounds at 8 Mile and Woodward with hundreds of other candidates in an old barn-like building. We could debate whether it is easier today but that is irrelevant. Becoming a CPA is worth it. God only knows how much my career earnings trajectory went up after I earned the designation.


Advice from a mentor


Following college, I was just a young guy having a good time, and earning my steady bi-weekly paychecks. Who would want to study for a difficult exam right away after wrapping up their bachelor’s degree? Plus, I was working and it was tax season.

A partner in the firm I worked for, that I greatly respected pulled me aside, and said to me, “Bill, this is a CPA firm. If you want to succeed, show us you are serious about your career and pass that dang exam.” That advice honestly set a fire in me, and I dedicated 6-8 hours each weekend leading up to the exam studying and taking practice tests. I eventually passed with some very comfortable margins, including scores of 87 and 85 on two sections. Twenty-two years later, I still deliver this same advice to any candidate I speak to in public accounting that is not yet a licensed CPA.


CPAs have an edge


If you don’t believe me just peruse the job descriptions on job boards for controllers, accounting managers, and CFOs. Many employers require a CPA designation for these accounting and finance positions. US GAAP evolves and tax laws frequently do too. A recent example is Covid-19 bringing dramatic changes nearly overnight in taxation, and with PPP loans with the potential for forgiveness. This was complicated stuff and continuing education and seminars ensued to quickly disseminate new tax law.


Do you believe leaders are readers?


Harry Truman had a famous quote: “Not all readers, but all leaders are readers.” Countless executives I have met with over my career have had a bookcase filled with business books. Continuing education forces that reading and learning, and in the case of a licensed CPA, at least 40 hours annually.


Advantage to The Headhunters


When I am talking with business owners and top-level finance executives I am confident that we have an advantage understanding the challenges in the accounting roles our clients are trying to fill. We also have an advantage with candidates. First, we speak your language. Second, we screen out unqualified candidates that don’t hit the mark saving our clients time.


In closing


None of us ever have to be just one thing or hold one career forever. Such is the case for me, as I’ve shifted into recruiting after getting my start as an accountant, CPA, Tax Director, and CFO, among other roles. Keep your eye on the long game and consider which certifications can help you throughout your career, and then go for those. Let your curiosity lead you, think strategically, and remember that continued learning, whether toward a CPA license or something else, can only help to keep your sword sharp.