Melanie Kidder, Partner, CFO, Controller
The reason that I chose this career, there was really two reasons. The first being that I really enjoyed math growing up and in school. The second reason, my background is just working in a small family business. My father owned an auto body repair shop since the time I was five I helped in that family business doing pretty much everything. But I did learn a lot about payroll and accounting and interfaced a lot with that business’ CPA. So that was really my first exposure to the profession. And then once I got into college I decided that I wanted to be an accounting major. Really it just clicked for me, both the business side as well as the more technical, analytical side of it.
You do need quite a few units in accounting courses and usually a career center at a university is a really good place to start to make sure that you have the classes that you need to ultimately get your accounting degree. And then once you do have that accounting degree, it’s changed a lot since I went through university, but now I believe you do need what equates to five years of schooling. For me it was only a four-year degree.
So what we’re seeing now with a lot of CPA candidates, they are coming through with masters degrees as well. So a masters in tax or a masters in accountancy to be sure that they have enough units to even sit for the exam.
Once you get your degree you go through the process of registering with the state board to sit for the exam. There are four parts to the CPA exam. You can take them all at once but most people don’t. Most people spread that out. And once you start passing parts you have what’s called conditional credit where you have a time limit to pass the remaining parts of the exam and get that done. And I believe that time limit is 18 months.
So once you start the process you really have to be dedicated to studying for the exams and getting through that in time. Because the worst thing that can happen to a CPA candidate taking the exam is to lose credit for an exam that they’ve already passed just because they didn’t pass the rest of the exam in time.
Once you do that there is an ethics exam and then there is an experience requirement. And the best way to get that is really working in a public accounting firm and performing audits. An audit is when you go into a company and you look at their process and procedures and do a lot of analytical testing of their financial statements and ultimately give an opinion on the company’s financial statements.
The steps that I took to become a partner within the firm – I mean certainly you need to prove yourself in a few different ways, both on the technical side, being able to apply the accounting guidance and being able to help your clients solve really technical problems. So you do have to demonstrate that you can grow the business and that you can bring in new business. And of course the way you do that is by serving your clients well and then they tell their friends and they refer you. So it really does come back to just providing excellent client service.
The best advice that I can give to somebody looking at this as a profession is take a couple of accounting classes and make sure that you understand it and it’s appealing to you. I think it is one of those things that some people really get from the beginning and some people just really struggle with it. It almost is like its own language. Studying is very critical, the grades very important. That’s going to help you get into really good firms and just start your career off on the right foot.