By Jessica L. Levin
The CPA Exam. What used to be a fundamental part of working in an accounting firm is now considered a polite suggestion by many new graduates. For those individuals who have a few years of experience under their belt, sitting down and studying can be even more of a challenge. Heavy workloads and family responsibilities often get in the way of pursuing the credential. Yes, I know you walked barefoot, uphill, in the snow to take your Exam. But times have changed, and firms need to adapt to recruit, retain and advance CPAs.
The good news, there are ways that firms can help their staff earn those coveted three letters and be the hero of their dreams.
Here are some practical ways to support CPA candidates throughout the process:
1. Review courses get results. Taking a review course is proven to increase the chances that a candidate will pass the Exam, but it comes with a price tag. The average review course is $1,500, and shelling upwards of $3,000 for a high-end course can be a burden — especially for those already managing a mountain of student loan debt. Providing financial assistance demonstrates support and reduces one of the obstacles associated with becoming a CPA. Worried that they might leave once they pass? Create a written agreement that they are responsible for the course fees if they leave within a specific time frame.
2. Manufacture time. The billable hour is so ingrained in CPA firm culture that it can be hard to ignore. The mere thought of pulling a new hire off an engagement to study is enough to cause a cold sweat for some firm leaders. It’s hard enough to find employees, and now you want me to pay them to study? Yes, that’s precisely it. Law firms often bring on recruits and assign them one job — study for the bar exam. There is no reason why CPA firms cannot do the same. Especially in a competitive market, you can quickly become an employer of choice by taking the stress away from finding time to study. Get creative with this. The AICPA estimates that passing all four parts of the CPA Exam requires 300 to 400 hours of study, so firms should determine how much time they are willing to provide to staff members. Whether it’s one hour a day or one day a week, build a plan that can work for everyone. Make sure to create a code in your time and billing system so they can get credit for their time.
3. Encourage study groups. Beyond a review course, create opportunities for people to study together. Some firms even bring in a review course instructor if they have enough candidates. A nice added touch is to provide healthy study snacks and a quiet room where candidates can gather without interruption.
4. Be a tutor. One of the best ways to develop a rapport with new team members is to share knowledge. Have senior staff members and firm leadership take turns tutoring, going over practice questions or just sharing tips on how they passed the Exam. Keep it real, and don’t forget to include funny stories and anecdotes that remind them that it’s not easy for anyone.
5. Celebrate success. With four parts to the Exam and the actual licensure, there are at least five opportunities to recognize team members. Share the news internally and/or send them a congratulations card; acknowledgment goes a long way.
6. Communicate expectations. Being very clear about time frames, support and compensation during the recruiting process can go a long way. For current staffers who have yet to pass one or more parts of the Exam, take the time to explain how it can help or hurt their career. Explain the correlations between bonuses and salary increases and passing the Exam.
Firm leaders need to recognize that supporting staff during the CPA Exam process is an investment. Like any investment, there is a cost and a return. In this instance, you are attracting and keeping talent while potentially gaining another licensed professional.
Jessica L. Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE, DES, is president and chief connector of Seven Degrees, LLC, specializing in marketing, public relations, events and technology.
Reprinted with permission from the July/Aug 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine.