Should you attempt the CMA exams before having any work experience? Or should you wait until you have at least 5 years of experience on your resume? What is the optimal stage of your life (or career) to become a Certified Management Accountant? In this article, we will examine the possibilities and the pros and cons of each one. Let’s set some boundaries to simplify the decision making process. Let’s select four points that are critical in a person’s career, and see which of these is the best for attempting the CMA exams.
- Before graduation.
- Right after graduation.
- After 2 or 3 years of experience.
- After 5 or more years of experience.
Let’s now examine the pros and cons of each point.
Pass the exams before you graduate
You can apply and sit for the CMA exams before you graduate, but you will not get certified until you: 1- have graduated, 2- have a minimum of 2 years of continuous accounting related experience. Although you will not get certified right away, but you will be able to state on your resume that you have passed the CMA exams, which is the most important element of becoming a CMA from an employer’s perspective.
- You have plenty of time now in comparison to how much time you will have once you start working full time after graduation.
- You have a lot of “empty storage” in your memory unlike people in their 40s who seem to lose some of their ability to retain information.
- Learning is still an everyday activity; you are not as ‘rusty’ as those in their 30s or 40s who have almost forgot how to study for an exam.
- You still remember a lot of the information you are learning in university.
- You will not reap the benefit right away. The direct benefit you will get is that it will be easier for you to land a good job, but you may still get a salary that is similar to your non-CMA peers. Your employer will recognize the effort you have put into passing the exams but will not pay you the salary of a CMA, and will not hire you in a management position. You still need to cut your teeth in junior positions.
- You will not be able to use the title “CMA” until you have graduated and worked for at least 2 years. But, as mentioned earlier, you can state on your resume that you have passed the CMA exams.
- You will have a lot of studying since you need to prepare for the CMA exams while also preparing for your finals. That might be a lot of stress.
- You might change your career path after a couple of years of experience. This does not mean that the CMA would be a total waste of money and effort, because the CMA will prepare you for other management positions, not just accounting. It will also prepare you to run your own business if you decide on that.
Pass the exam as soon as you graduate
The pros and cons are almost identical to those of passing the exams before graduation. The major difference is that you will first get done with graduation, and then prepare for and pass the CMA exams. If you have to work straight away after graduation you might realize that you actually had more time when you were still a university student. If you can handle both together, it might be a better idea.
After 3 years of experience
- You have a better idea about what “work” really is. Your decision to pursue a career in accounting is based on actual first-hand experience. It is unlikely for you to change your career path, at least for 10 or 15 years.
- On-the-job experience will help you pass the exam; the experience will familiarize you with a lot of work scenarios that are potential exam questions.
- You will become certified right away since you have already met all the requirements.
- You are still young; you are most probably not married yet. In comparison to attempting the exam when you have a family, it’s much easier to do it now.
- Your job is very demanding. It might prove very difficult for you to set time for studying.
After 5 or more years of experience
- Your decision to become a CMA is based on more knowledge and research. You know the potential of the certificate and you are definite of the benefits you will get.
- You are more confident in your abilities than ever.
- You are at your prime. This is the best time in your life. Your income is also high enough to cover the examination expenses plus any exam preparation expenses.
- Your study skills might be a bit rusty, and you might need to brush up on your accounting and management knowledge.
- It might take you a longer period of time to finish the exam because you don’t have the time to study, and you need to put more hours than your younger peers.
Am I too old for the CMA?
A final category would be those who are in the later years of their career. Is there a time when you will be too old to attempt the CMA exams?
The answer is very subjective. What would be considered as “too old” for one person might not be that old for another. The one generalization we can make is that year after year, people are working more years in their life span. 50 years ago people retired in their late 50s or early 60s, while today many people work until their late 70s. If you decide to become certified in your late 50s or early 60s you still probably have at least 10 years to reap the benefits of the effort and resources you have invested in the CMA program.
In conclusion, there is no “best” age or stage in your career for pursuing the CMA designation. Becoming a Certified Management Accountant early in your career has its benefits, so does becoming certified when you have some, or a lot, of experience behind you. Each one of us has their unique background and experience. You are the best person to take the decision on when to take the CMA exams.