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Obtaining your CPA designation is a major step in the right direction of furthering your career. But your career isn’t completed when those three letters get added next to your name. You still have a lot of work you can do.

How to Get More Out of Your CPA Designation

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Accountants choose to pursue their CPA designation for any number of reasons, including such prime benefits as:

Industry respect. Few professional designations in the world carry the weight and prestige of being a CPA. It’s an instant credibility booster. You might call it the “black belt” of accounting. When you apply for a job, seek a promotion, or pitch your services to a prospective client, your CPA designation gives you massive clout.

More opportunities. CPAs are in high demand – and that’s a trend that will increase substantially in the next couple of decades. Research suggests that 75 percent of all current CPAs will retire within the next 15 years. Thus, it might be argued that new CPAs will enjoy more opportunities than ever.

Higher pay. Depending on factors such as location, industry, and experience, CPAs typically earn at least 10 percent more than non-CPA accountants. With several years of experience under your belt, it’s possible that you could earn as much as 20 to 25 percent more.

But simply obtaining your CPA charter designation isn’t enough to advance your career to the next level. It depends quite a bit on what you do with those three letters.

Here are some useful tips for making the most out of everything you’ve worked for.

Take the CPA Exam Study Process Seriously

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This first suggestion is aimed at anyone who has not yet taken the CPA exam or may currently be in the process of studying for it. More than anything, it’s a word of caution. If you want to prepare yourself to become the best CPA you can be – someone who will be in demand for high-paying jobs – you have to take the exam study process very seriously.

According to EfficientLearning.com, studying for the CPA exam is not about cramming a bunch of information between your lobes and hoping you can remember it long enough to pass the exam. Instead, the study process should ideally compel and encourage you to grasp vital concepts that should prove to be highly valuable over the course of your subsequent career.

To treat the CPA exam merely as a hurdle standing in the way between where you currently are in your career and where you want to be is to do yourself a major disservice. Take the exam seriously and you’ll open the next chapter of your career with a solid foundation that can be leveraged for significant growth.

Stack the Right Skills

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To be honest, this industry hasn’t done such a good job of preparing accountants for long-term success in a dynamic global marketplace and competitive business world. For the most part, today’s professionals have been brought up in a world of hyperfocus and granular skill specialization.

Traditionally, we’ve been led to believe that the key to success is to put your head down and learn how to become the best accountant/CPA you can possibly be. But this notion of singular skill development is rather antiquated. You might even call it impractical.

At the risk of sounding like a pessimist, it’s imperative that you come to terms with the fact that you probably won’t become the best in the industry at any particular skill. In fact, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find yourself among the top one to three percent.

Doing so would (by definition) make you the exception. So why is it we’re taught to focus on perfecting individual skills as if that’s the be-all and end-all? The better approach is to focus on cultivating broad skillsets through a concept known as skill stacking.

“The idea is that instead of focusing your efforts on becoming singularly great at one specific skill or task, you should strive to get proficient at a few related skills that can be woven together into a wider skill set that does make you singularly good at your profession or some general life ability,” Tim Herrera writes for The New York Times.

As a CPA, you can improve your chances of being successful by stacking multiple related skills atop one another. By becoming better-than-average at a variety of activities such as copywriting, public speaking, persuasion, as well as accounting, you will become a more powerful force than someone who is just a skilled accountant.

Network Like You Mean It

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It doesn’t matter if you’re currently looking for a job or you’ve just landed a dream position with your ideal company, you should always be actively networking. In fact, the best CPAs have at least 200 breakfast or lunch meetings with clients, prospects, and/or referral partners every single year. (That’s roughly one per business day!)

Networking doesn’t have to be some awkward or forced interaction in which you attend a conference and share your elevator pitch with dozens of strangers over wine and cheese. In fact, that’s usually the least effective form of networking.

You’re much better off putting yourself in situations where it happens naturally. Networking can happen anywhere. This includes dinner parties with friends; watching your child’s little league baseball game from the bleachers; running errands on the weekend; or browsing your LinkedIn feed.

You don’t want to be an unapologetic self-promoter, but you should be comfortable talking about what you do. (You never know when an offhand comment could lead to a new opportunity.)

Adding it All Up

As you advance in your career, you’ll find you may rise to the top naturally. Only a percentage of accountants pursue a CPA designation. An even smaller percentage will actually pass the exam and become licensed.

A very tiny fraction of those individuals will continue to push for growth and development. If you turn out to be one of them, you will set yourself apart from 99 percent of your peers. Though it takes time for the “cream” to rise to the top, hard work and discipline will eventually enable you to seize some powerful opportunities.

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