Chances are good that you’ve heard the old saying “opportunity is where luck meets preparation.” The saying always made sense to me, but it never rang truer than in Summer 2009. I had three quarters left in business school and was starting to get the itch…the itch to do something BIG.
*This post was originally published for LessAccounting.com on September 10, 2012
|You should always maintain your CPA license|
If you’ve been around accountants long enough, you know that there are some people out there who take the CPA exam and leave it at that. This relegates you to “inactive”, which allows you to use the designation after your name so long as it is adjacent to the word “inactive.” It basically says you used to be a CPA but now…not so much. So why is this so terrible?
1. Proper representation: If you use the “CPA, inactive” language on business cards or a website that is being used to attract clients, what are they supposed to make of your skillset? Why would you have put that on your contact info if it wasn’t relevant? CPAs should be answering questions not creating more of them. You might ask “what if I’ve been a licensed CPA for 20 years, and now I just help my family and friends with their accounting. Should I still be licensed?”
Think about it this way: if you’re providing help to your family and friends with outdated/incorrect information, you may be doing them a disservice by providing incorrect advice and exposing them to unnecessary financial and/or legal risk. Depending on the complexity of what you’re doing, this risk may be low, but this risk is not something that should be ignored by you or anyone that you advise as an inactive CPA. I can envision how going to inactive status may make sense if you have no intention of providing any sort of accounting services, but marketing yourself as an inactive CPA is outside of my comfort level.
2. The network: Next, there is the network that goes along with being a CPA. From the AICPA to state CPA societies to Twitter, I’ve connected with many CPAs purely based on the fact that we are CPAs. This may be my own selection bias, but I’ve yet to see inactive CPAs networking with each other. It’s just not quite the same.
3. Self preservation and self promotion: The most important reason all CPAs should be licensed is a combination of self-preservation and self-promotion. Maintaining your CPA license places tangible accountability on you to maintain your Continuing Professional Education (CPE) so that your professional skills are always relevant to the current market. Of course this will cover some accounting refreshes, but the CPE requirement can give you the excuse or push you need to start branching out into other financial areas, picking up expertise that will 1) make you a better business partner to your customers and 2) help to dispel the myth that CPAs are nothing more than business historians.
What being licensed means
Now that I’ve made my case for being licensed, let me briefly give you some general details on what that entails. The specifics will vary from state to state but generally speaking, getting/renewing your license requires the following:
- 120 CPE hours every three years (80 hours maximum to be completed via self-study or book authorship) – some states require minimums for each year within the three-year reporting period and others look only at the three years in aggregate. Refer to your state board of accountancy for the specific on you state’s CPE requirements
- 4 hours minimum of ethics every three years – again some states may require ethics each year and I’ve seen states with as many as eight hours of ethics required every year. Your state board of accountancy can provide you with the ethics requirements for your state’s CPAs
To be fair, the cost of CPE courses can add up quickly, but with a little research you’ll find you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on each course as people often assume. There are many CPE providers offering great value for their courses, and I can honestly say that maintaining my CPA license is one investment that I don’t second guess.
|Great resource to boost you chances at b-school admission|
There’s a new B-school admission resource that I’m sure many readers of this blog will find useful. It’s a website called Diversity MBA Prep and is focused on increasing the number women and minorities admitted to business school. I know the founder of this site and she definitely knows her stuff. Please give it a look and share with anyone you think could benefit from this type of resource. There should be no shortage of people signing up!
“www.DiversityMBAPrep.com [is]the only online community that brings together women and minorities interested in pursuing their MBA degrees. Our mission is to significantly increase the number of women and minorities that are admitted to MBA programs by providing honest, pointed insight and direction on the MBA application process.
|Business school dilemma: cost vs. earning potential|
Business Week ran a recent story on business schools suffering a decline in applications.
“In the last few weeks, a handful of top business schools have reported single-digit, and in some cases double-digit, declines in applications for their full-time MBA classes, including most recently Columbia Business School and New York University’s Stern School of Business. It turns out they’re not alone. Full-time MBA applications have sunk at at least a dozen of the top 30 B-schools, according to class profile data of 17 business schools obtained this week by Bloomberg Businessweek.
According, to Business Week’s survey, the impact of the b-school application decline was felt disproportionately and groups that are traditionally underrepresented. “This year, competition was especially stiff for women, underrepresented minorities, and students from nontraditional work background.” What’s interesting about the article is that when discussing the drought in applications and the resulting drop in selectivity of top business schools, the author fails to explore a couple of key points that you should consider before you pencil yourself in as Booth’s valedictorian for 2015.
First, there is no real mention of the root cause that applications are down: cost. The article cites a financial aid officer from the University of Indiana with the following explanation for the shift top schools are seeing:
“The decline in applications to increased competition from rival business schools and a plethora of available choices, including part-time and online programs. Second-tier schools are working more aggressively to recruit top MBA candidates and entice them with hefty financial aid packages.
This may be true but the elephant in the room is the rising cost of education. People simply are not seeing a rise in earnings potential that can come anywhere near the pace that education costs are increasing. When I started at Kellogg in 2007, I was told that to expect an average tuition increase of 7% each year. Salaries for graduates have been relatively flat at best, so declining return on investment (ROI) leading to reduced demand shouldn’t come as unexpected.
Second, the notion that “getting an offer to a top business school has become slightly easier” all but implies that the standard for students being admitted has been lowered. While getting into a top school may be mathematically “easier,” this statement is a bit misleading. What’s really happening is that if the school has to randomly decide between equally qualified candidates, your name now will be put into a pool of six for a random draw instead of seven. A more accurate statement to make would be “all else equal, getting an offer to a top business school has become slightly easier.” You’re still going to have to work just as hard during the application process as students have in the past, and expectations of candidates from top business schools are as high as they’ve eveer been.
Do you think there are other factors business school applications are down? Let me know in the comments.
|It’s almost that time again!|
The Journal of Accountancy and The Tax Adviser just released the results of their annual tax survey.
“In this year’s survey by the JofA and The Tax Adviser, more than 6,000 CPAs assessed the software they used to prepare 2011 tax returns, revealing what they liked and disliked about their software. Overall, respondents were pleased with their software: On average, the products rated 4.3 out of 5. Ease of use, comprehensiveness, and accuracy were the most-liked features.
I’ve always used TaxAct preparing returns for others and many years ago b.c. (before CPA) I used Turbo Tax for my personal return. I’ve been very happy with how easy TaxAct is to use, but I’m the type of person that is a huge proponent of striving for perfection – tinkering with every little thing reading every piece of information you can find on current trends and possible “next big things” and applying what’s relevant for your unique situation. I guess that makes somewhat of a spokesperson for “continuous process improvement.” It may come off as OCD or worse, some whimsical concept someone made up to sell books, but as market conditions change, so must the way people operate their businesses. There is no room to be complacent (I can hear one of my old managers saying this in my head as I write this).
So take a look at this survey and see what else the world of tax software has to offer you. I’m not saying you have to change, but there is no harm done by seeing what’s available.
|Must’ve been one of the chapters I “skimmed”|
Business schools are the reason we had the financial downturn! At least that is what this blog post* assigning culpability for our country’s financial meltdown would have you believe. Presumably this is written by a reasonable person (Joel Podolny), considering that he is a former business school dean at Yale and a former business school professor at Harvard and Standford. To be clear, he is not alone in this view but given his background, this is the article that caught my attention. You can read the article in its entirety for yourself and draw your own conclusions, but there are some outrageous claims cloaked as opinions that should not have even made it onto HBR’s website that I’ll address in the following paragraphs.
First, Podolny argues that because leadership is not taught in a quantitative fashion and is discussed at such a high level that “students are convinced that nitty-gritty work can be done without consciously considering factors such as values and ethics.” While I can only speak to Kellogg’s curriculum and value system, I find it hard to believe that this is remotely true of business schools in general. In fact, not only did Kellogg have an ethics requirement to graduate but many of the courses on management and leadership revolved around the LOYALTY and INTEGRITY of people. What I didn’t come across during my time at Kellog was any course, professor, classmate, or alumni that would even consider thinking that ANYTHING worth while could be done without values AND hard work.
Podolny’s next point asserts that potential students considering earning potential as part of the business school decision are somehow using unsound logic. He believes there exists this perception that “the MBA is, primarily, a ticket to big bucks, and doesn’t foster the fact that it is a professional degree that imposes responsibility and accountability on its holders.” The key word in that statement is professional. People obtain professional degrees to enhance their skills to enable them to excel at at their professions. I know it sounds novel but these are the facts. Professional degrees are an investment in one’s self, and I’m willing to bet that Mr Podolny does his due diligence to understand his return on investment (ROI) before buying stocks or making an offer on a home. What makes this investment any different?
The last objection that Podolny raises about business schools is their lack of contrition. The statement starts out promising:
“Look at the website of any leading business school–and you will find it basking in the achievements of its graduates. By the same logic, business schools must also accept responsibility for the harm their graduates do; express disapproval
While I don’t expect business schools to advertise the failures and missteps of its alumni, it’s not unreasonable for one to draw this conclusion. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for what immediately follows when he implies that changes in business school curriculum can “reduce the likelihood that future graduates repeat those behaviors” exhibited by the individuals mostly closely tied to the financial crisis. I must have missed the “Taking Extreme Risks With Insufficient Reserves for Dummies” course.
So not only is Podolny’s solution to absolve students of the responsibility for their moral character, but there is not a single mention of the cultures created by the companies employing these graduates. There isn’t a single mention of compensation being tied to short-sighted corporate targets and unrealistic market expectations of infinite growth. And there is not a single mention about tightening codes of conduct for the finance professionals who haven’t suffered so much as a wrist slap after playing a key role in one of the biggest economic meltdowns in U.S. history.
Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
*This article and many like it were written in 2009 while I was in business school, but I didn’t see this until a couple of weeks ago when it showed up in “related posts” on another article I was reading. It’s always interesting to see the conclusions people can make with limited information when there is a point they are determined to prove.
|Looks like a real app doesn’t it|
U.S. Airways doesn’t currently offer an official app for mobile devices, and as far as I know there are no plans to introduce one in the future. Have no fear, though, there is a workaround.
At the very least it will save you a few key strokes when you’re trying to quickly check price or departure/arrival info on a U.S. Airways flight. As you can see in the picture to the right, the result looks a lot like an app, which is half the battle, because you wouldn’t want an eye-soar sitting on the desktop of your phone amongst all the other beautifully designed apps. Right? Right.
|The only app we’re getting from U.S. Airways|
|Makes being in the right place at the right time much easier|
Here’s another app that I was surprised some of my colleagues weren’t using. It’s called TripTracker and displays all of your travel information for the foreseeable future. The reason I like this app better than TripIt, which I know many people use, is that you don’t have to do ANYTHING (once you’ve linked your accounts).
The app pulls information from all of your reward program accounts (flights, hotels, and rental car) and shows you exactly where you are supposed to be on a given date. This is great because when you travel every week to different places, it can be a challenge to keep up with which hotel you’re supposed to stay at, assuming you even remembered to book it. I haven’t forgotten to book a hotel just yet but I’ve gotten my flight times wrong on more than one occasion.
The downside to this app having all of your info, as someone pointed out to me, is that if you have credit card information stored in your hotel or airline account, providing your user name and password for these accounts may put you at risk of some sort of fraudulent activity. Personally, I didn’t even hesitate and I’ve had no issues with it so far.
TripTracker gives you another handy little tool in addition to making sure you where you need to be at the right time – it provides a list showing your status – point totals and status levels – for each of your accounts. And if you’ll recall my post about consulting fundamentals, it’s crucial for us consultants to be able to quickly flaunt how much time we’ve spent on the road in a given year.
So, if getting organized won’t get you to use TripTracker, maybe being able to show-off more efficiently will!
The job market isn’t what it used to be for MBA students; the days of going back to school with a virtual guarantee of a six-figure job are no more. If we’re being completely honest , there’s no guarantee of any job after going back to school full-time for your MBA.
When I was in business school part-time, things got so bad that Kellogg had to relax its requirement that part-time students maintain full-time employment. That says a lot about the state of the job market. While there are still jobs to be had, many current openings require a specific technical skill set such as statistics or tax, and this shift in the marketplace should inform how you choose your curriculum. Taking classes similar to the ones below (links to course description included in case titles are different) will shift the odds in your favor.
|Photo courtesy of twitter user @clairedemy|
Accounting is a core class but I want to emphasize the importance of not blowing this off as just a requirement to get to the degree. It’s funny to me how many people “hate it” before they’ve even taken an accounting course. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s a reason accounting is referred to as the language of business. You’re doing yourself a disservice as a business person if you don’t understand the fundamentals of accounting. No, I’m not just saying that because I’m a CPA, but the business foundation being a CPA provides is a big part of why I wanted to become one.
Entrepreneurial Finance teaches you how to assess cash flows generated by a business opportunity. While introductory finance also teaches this, entrepreneurial finance eliminates some of the “fluff” associated with textbook answers and limits scope to only the most practical finance techniques and information.
International Finance is a topic that has gone from a “nice to know” to a “must know” due to the fact that the global marketplace is shrinking and thriving in a global economy and requires looking at how markets interact in a completely different way. Dealing with transactions in highly volatile currencies can be an overwhelming task. I saw this recently at a client worked with who refused all intercompany invoices that weren’t in Japanese Yen. He knew this was outside of policy but he had not yet learned the skills to protect himself from foreign currency risk. International finance helps to ensure that you don’t find yourself in this situation.
Empirical Methods is stats on steroids. This course is all about how to handle massive quantities of data. Google “big data” and see what you find. Here is an article from the New York Times discussing the surge in “big data” that is available for consumption and the demand for people who can performance advanced statistical analysis on this data to come up with meaningful, actionable insights. This need is going to continue growing with no end in sight.
Strategy & Organization is one of those “soft” courses that I normally wouldn’t consider a critical course in the business world, but understanding the topics in this type of course sets you up to manage the performance of a business of any size. By taking this type of course, you gain an understanding of how to ensure that incentives are aligned with desired behaviors. Understanding this concept gives you the ability to align and move many people toward a common goal with limited day-to-day management. And who wouldn’t want an army at his/her disposal?
Would you swap out any courses on this list or add to the list? For what it’s worth, a friend of mine said his two most valuable MBA courses were real estate investment analysis and strategy,which I’d argue fits the same overarching theme of the courses above: building strong technical skills of some sort and trying to understand what drives people’s behavior.
|Who are you asking to write your b-school recommendations?|
Choosing writers of recommendations wasn’t originally planned as part of my “How to” posts on getting into business school; however, after several recent conversations I see it’s a topic that cannot be ignored. Asking people to write your recommendations can be tricky because on one hand you want someone with the most influence to help you reach your goal to vouch for you, but on the other hand, you want to make sure the person writing your recommendation can truly speak to why you deserve this highly coveted spot if there are any follow-up questions.
One can navigate this dilemma by following a few best practices for selecting recommendation writers.
Choose People That Know You Well
Business schools aren’t necessarily looking to have every candidate – they are looking for people with leadership potential and a character that is going to help build upon that particular institution’s culture and core values. For example, when I applied to Kellogg, I had asked three people to write recommendations for me: supervisor (required), former supervisor, and a teammate that I helped to train when she joined the firm. A big part of Kellogg’s culture is being collaborative, and I knew these particular individuals could genuinely speak to what I’d bring to the table in this area better than anyone else. Yes, I could have asked my boss’ boss’ boss to write one of my recommendations, and I’m sure he would’ve written a strong recommendation, but I didn’t want to risk it coming across as generic.
One way to prevent this generic recommendation problem is for you to draft the content for the writer, or at least a set of bullet points you’d like them to cover in their letter. The problem with this approach is that some people might view this as pushy and/or arrogant. So, if you don’t know the person you’re asking that well you can ask if they are comfortable with you preparing the messaging you’d like to see, but this adds another unnecessary layer of complexity, and potentially awkward conversation, to the process. I’m not suggesting that you should be afraid to have tough conversations when necessary; I’m just saying I wouldn’t go creating them for fun.
Get Recommendations From a Variety of Sources
Having recommendations from a variety of people/organizations gives you more credibility than if you just have your friends from your current job pleading your case for b-school admission. This is how you can show a track record of building long-lasting relationships and the fact that the people you in. Think about how many people leave positions on less than stellar terms
The earlier you ask for recommendations, the more likely it is people will agree to do it for you and the more time they have to craft a detailed, well thought-out message of why you’re going to be the next big thing. If you wait too long to ask for recommendations there are several ways for your business school hopes to end badly:
1. Person says no because you didn’t give enough notice
2. Person says yes but writes you a mediocre recommendation due to time pressure because you didn’t give enough notice
3. Person says yes but actually doesn’t have the time and misses the deadline because you didn’t give enough notice
Get the idea?
Show Your Appreciation
There are few things worse in this world than someone you to go out of your way to help them and then acting like he or she was entitled to your time. If you make this a habit, your circle of people that will go to bat for you undoubtedly being to disappear. Luckily, we human beings are a simple bunch and this probably is easily avoided. You can handwrite a thank you note, stop by individually to thank each of your writers, or give a small giftcard to their favorite local coffee shop or lunch spot. It doesn’t have to be anything over the top but shows that you valued their time. Make this a habit and the likelihood of these people supporting you again in the future is much improved.