Excel at the Job Mar 09 2010

Stacking Skills: Getting Finance Certifications

With the economy being as shaky as it is, it's the perfect time for financial professionals to get industry certifications, whether they are currently working or out of a job. Experts agree that going after certifications such as CFAs, CPAs, Series 6, 7, 63, 26, etc., show management that you're serious about your career and the success of the firm you work for. For finance professionals out of work, going for these certifications can help you stand out from the other job hunters you are competing with.

For finance professionals that are currently employed, you can determine which certifications to take by looking at the upper management in your firm, says Lynn Berger, a career coach based in New York City. If you plan on moving up within your firm and all the managers have a specific certification, you should also consider acquiring that certification. Aside from making you more valuable in your current position, should you become laid off, having certifications will make you more marketable.

The Certifications Edge
Don Wylie, managing partner of the accounting and finance division for recruiting firm Lucas Group's Dallas office, says job candidates with certifications or those in the process of receiving them have an edge over other job hunters. "It's well-respected across all lines, it shows an employer that you can dig out the details you need to be effective in any accounting job," he says.

"I can't tell you how many job orders have come into us where a certification is a requirement," says DeLynn Senna, executive director of North American permanent placement services for Robert Half International, an executive recruitment firm specializing in finance and accounting.

Similarly, going for certifications will help you answer a question that the hiring manager will inevitably ask you while on interviews: "How have you been spending your time since your layoff?" Having an answer that shows you've spent the time usefully by improving your skills and making yourself more valuable, will show recruiters and hiring managers that you're motivated.

For employees currently in their jobs, acquiring industry certifications sends the signal to management that you value your job and are looking to improve your skill set.

Over the course of the next year, Tim Zheng, a 24-year-old investor relations representative with a New York mutual fund company, plans on taking his Series 63, 26 and Certified Financial Analyst Charter. He already holds a Series 6. His firm is requiring that he take the 63, but the 26 and CFA are voluntary. Zheng says that the 26, a securities license that allows the holder to supervise sales activities, is required of those in management roles. By having that under his belt, he hopes it could expose him to more responsibility and one day set him up for a management position. Similarly, he hopes that passing the CFA will make him more flexible and broaden his skill set.

Prerequisites and Requirements
For people currently on the job market, it's a great time to throw themselves into the books and nail down any prerequisites they need before signing up for accreditation. For example, accountants need a set amount of accounting credit hours before taking the Certified Public Accounting test.

Learn the requirements for the state that you live in and work on completing the credits necessary to take the test in the newfound downtime you have.

Some tests also have requirements regarding your practical experience. Go to the Web site of the organization that administers the test and learn of these requirements as well, says Senna. If they don't list the requirements on the site, she suggests calling the organization directly.

Professional Help
If you have some time off, you should enroll in a preparatory class that would otherwise be difficult to juggle when you were working full-time. Some well-respected preparation courses are Kaplan, Gleim and Becker, says Senna. She suggests speaking to the sponsoring organization that provides the test and asking for recommendations based on the exam.

Keep in mind, each service has a different way of approaching the exam with differing prep times, course loads and costs. Research which program best suits your needs and study style.

Studying for a certification could also help laid off professionals with the psychological aspect of being out of work. Berger says studying for certifications gives laid off professionals a sense of purpose and routine which they often miss from not being in a work setting. "It's really important to take that idle time and put it toward something useful," she says. "It will help your resume but also make you feel like you're accomplishing something."

Certifications can give job candidates higher earning power. A study conducted by Robert Half International found that individuals who earn professional industry-recognized certifications are often paid 10% above the market rate than other individuals in the same position.

For employees who take the initiative to get certified, especially those that are client-facing, the efforts do not go unnoticed. "It's a favorable thing for employees to be proactive and hone their skills," says Deborah Campdera, national director of experienced recruiting with accounting firm Grant Thornton.

Also, being certified reflects well on your company. Senna says that having employees with certifications is a great recruiting tool because employers like to say how many people on their team are certified.


As with anything, good judgment is important. Joe Saluzzi, partner at Themis Trading, an institutional agency brokerage firm, based in Chatham N.J., says that having certifications pertinent to the industry you work in is key. There's no advantage to getting esoteric licenses that are not relatable to your job other than padding the resume, he says.

-- Dana Mattioli

Email Dana about this article here. Please make sure to include the title of the article in the email subject line.

Related Content:

-- How to Increase Your Value When You're Unemployed

-- How to Decide Whether to Go to Business School

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