The Value of Professional Credentials

I recently received some great news.  After several months of studying, four gruelling exam hours and six weeks of waiting…I learned that I passed Part I (of II) of the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Exam.

Since I was quite excited to hear this news earlier in the week, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the subject of professional credentials.

Why Earn Professional Credentials?

As a young professional just starting out in the working world, I quickly began to recognize that, even though I had just earned an undergraduate degree in Finance and Economics, there was still so much more for me to learn in order to be more successful and effective in my career.

Fortunately, I’ve had several great college professors and mentors who have stressed the importance of continuing professional education.  With that, as I began to identify gaps in my knowledge and professional experience (project management and management accounting), I knew right where to begin…earning professional credentials in these specific areas.  Since recognizing these gaps in my knowledge/experience, I’ve earned the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential from the Project Management Institute and have started studying for the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential from the Institute of Management Accountants

But this post isn’t about the CAPM or CMA, though I’ll review these in detail in upcoming posts, it’s about the value of professional credentials more broadly.

So, why earn a professional credential?

  • Learning – If you want to expand your knowledge in a particular area, preparing for a credentialing exam is a terrific place to start.  The exams are based on curriculums that are designed to test both your breadth and depth of knowledge, so you’ll come away with a strong understanding of the subject matter…both conceptually and tactically.  As you’re studying for the exam, especially if you’re currently working in the field, additional learning will come as you begin to see and apply what you’ve been reading about along the way.
  • Employment/Earnings – Oftentimes, professional credentials are either noted as strongly preferred or are mandatory prerequisites to certain job opportunities in Finance & Accounting (and many other fields as well).  As a result, gaining a professional credential can make you eligible for a number of new job prospects that may have otherwise been out of reach.  Having such qualifications is important in today’s dynamic and highly competitive job market.  In addition, since competition for credentialed resources is likely to be higher (lower supply), this drives higher potential earnings.  The Institute of Management Accountants suggests that certified management accounting/corporate financial management professionals can earn upwards of an additional $25K per year when compared to their non-certified peers.  While earning a professional credential is certainly an investment (e.g., time for studying, dues, exam fees, study materials, CPEs, etc.), in my opinion, it’s an investment that definitely pays off in the long-term.
  • Signalling – Having a professional credential on your resume sends a strong signal to your peers and to potential future employers, a signal that you’re dedicated to continuous professional development and that you’re able to set ambitious goals for yourself which you see through to their completion.

Book Smarts Aren’t Enough

While I’m definitely an advocate for earning professional credentials, it’s important to note that they aren’t a substitute for high-quality professional experience…learning by doing, for me, is still the most valuable. 

If I had attempted to study for the CAPM Exam without being in the daily project management grind of an ERP implementation, the subject matter wouldn’t have been as relevant to me and I likely wouldn’t have absorbed the material as well as I did.  The ability to see real-life examples play out in front of me, enabling me to apply the methodologies I was learning, was a significant contributor to my success on exam day.

While passing an exam provides the short-term satisfaction of a few new letters to put after your name and a nice certificate to frame on the wall, don’t forget that it’s the long haul of a career filled with daily experience and challenge that will best advance your professional development.

In upcoming posts, I’ll share details on both the CAPM and CMA credentials, outlining why I chose to pursue them, what material is covered on each exam and how/where you can learn more.

Have you had recent success in passing a credentialing exam? Have you seen real benefits as a result of preparing for/earning the credential? What advice would you give to others who may be considering a credential as a means of advancing their careers?

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I welcome and look forward to your comments!

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One Response to The Value of Professional Credentials

  1. Pingback: Standing Out by Showing Up | geoffreylennon

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