Shade, a junior colleague sent me a WhatsApp voice note recently. She sounded distraught. She was a final year student of Accounting department and had been pressured to write ICAN. However, despite being a student of Management and Accounting, she wasn’t interested in accounting as she preferred the world of finance, core finance.
She had participated in CFA research challenge. Being part of the first-runner up and also part of the research team for CFA ethics challenge, her mind was focused on CFA and she had even started towards the exams. However, she is under pressure to write ICAN as that is the norm among students of Management and Accounting.
There are hundreds of Shades in Nigeria, writing different examinations either because they are been pressured to get with the trend or because they just feel like doing something that makes one appear to be making ‘progress.’ However except you have an array of stocks, shares or education trust funds, it is very important to do thorough research and analysis of the certifications you want to acquire and how they directly or indirectly impact your career trajectory.
Before you embark on writing any professional examinations, below are some questions you should attempt to answer.
- Do I need this exam in the short run? If you are a short-run planner like me, you probably want to ask yourself if you need the exams in a year, two years or three years’ time. There are times when writing an exam equips you with the exact set of skills you need for the immediate next level. A good example is the CIRB UK, written by undergraduate and recent graduates. Not only does the examination open them to the vast space of arbitration, but passing the examinations also enables them to be part of an international community of arbitrators while getting hands-on experience in the national and international clime of arbitration.
- Is there an opportunity window that aligns with your long term interest? Imagine that you are a final year student of Economics with an interest in finance ahead of audit or accounting. You are in your final year and you hear about the Access Bank scholarship for the CFA examinations and being the finalist of the CFA Research or Ethics challenge qualified you for another round of scholarship. You might consider writing the examinations as you might not be eligible for such scholarships again and CFA aligns with your interest in Finance.
- What is obtainable in your desired industry? A big part of career mapping is finding out what is obtainable in the industry you desire to venture into. For example, in the Project management space, PMP is always a benchmark, although some organisations also recognize CAPM. As far as Nigeria is concerned CIPM is the go-to professional exams while you could embark on either SHRM route or HRCI route if you want to work in a multinational or have international certification. An audit firm would pick someone with ICAN or ACCA over a CFA level one candidate while Private Equity or Venture capitalist would rank a CFA holder ahead of ICAN or ACCA. Thus, it is very important that you ensure whatever courses you are writing aligns with what is obtainable in your industry.
Some reasons you shouldn’t write professional exams
Because everyone is writing it: This should never be a reason to write a professional examination. Remember that our career paths are different and a lot of people have different milestones they intend to hit at every point in time.
Because it’s the in-thing: I remember as an undergraduate, it was almost the norm for everyone in Accounting or Economics to write CIM or CIS whether you had an idea of what stockbroking is or not. Do not be carried away by the FOMO (the fear missing out), a lot of people are moving in the wrong direction and you do not have to join the bandwagon because it is moving. If not, you would also follow the wrong direction to the wrong destination.
Because of sunk-cost fallacy: Sunk cost happens when you cannot let go of something because of how much you’ve invested in it. This is 2021 and this might sound brutal but you don’t have to complete an exam if it doesn’t align with your path anymore. This is not to encourage lukewarmness or laziness, but do not make it a mandatory goal to force yourself on a path you have departed from. For instance, I know a lot of people who studied a finance-related course in school, started ICAN but dropped it halfway to write CIPM or any of the HRCI certifications. Guess what? Today they are happy HR professionals. It’s good to explore a lot of certifications but it is wisdom to know when to take a bow.
Professional certifications are pivotal to career growth and development thus the type and the timing are factors we should get right.