Warning: This is going to be a long post. I will be releasing it in 4 parts. But I’ve split each part into further smaller subheading and sections so you can scroll down and only read whichever section interests you. If you want the whole scoop, you better read it all! 🙂
This post is requested by many of my followers on Instagram @theinspiredaccountant who are either thinking of / are pursuing the CPA designation. Which is a bit annoying because the whole point of my Instagram is to NOT think about accounting. But at the same time I think you know what? The more people I can SAVE from this profession, the better. I’m only kidding! 😀 I’m finally writing about my journey and hoping that somehow something I write can help someone somewhere. If you have specific question, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below, drop me a comment or a Direct Message on Instagram.
Overview of my CPA Journey
My time in the CPA profession is super short and quite straight forward, for the most part. But it definitely feels like it started ages ago! Here is a little timeline of this crazy journey so you have an idea of how lengthy it can be.
- 2007: Graduated high school and decided to go into Business instead of Sciences
- 2007: Started my BBA program at University
- 2009: Completed my first summer internship at a Big Four Accounting Firm
- 2010: Completed my second summer internship at the same Big Four Accounting Firm
- 2011: Completed my BBA and started working full time at the same Big Four firm
- 2013: Wrote and passed my first professional CPA exam & then took a year off for maternity leave
- 2014: Came back from maternity leave and wrote and passed my remaining two professional CPA Exams
- 2015: Completed my work experience requirements and qualified for my CPA (finally)
- 2015: Left Big 4 Firm and moved into industry
This timeline above spans a period of 8.5 years!
Science VS Business
It’s complicated. You see, I was very much a science student. In high school I was mainly studying Science courses and had just one Accounting course on the side to help “keep my options open.” I also had a real passion for courses like calculus and biology lol! I can’t even explain to you how satisfying I found calculus haha! *nerd alert*
I was very confused in my last year of high school about what I should go into. I had heard – from random and unreliable sources – that science is a difficult field to progress in. “People” at school would say that it was too hard to become a doctor or a pharmacist or a dentist or what have you. “People” said it would be really tough keeping up with readings, labs and tutorials for science courses and that many students end up changing programs or drop out after first year. I also heard that due to the tough competition and limited seats here in Canada, many people go and live in the Caribbean to pursue higher designations in the medical field. All of this seemed daunting at the time. Being a brown girl, I thought – okay, there’s no way my parents will ever let me go live somewhere in Jamaica all by myself for a few years. I really didn’t know anyone in my family / friend circle who was older than me or had gone to university before me. We were relatively new immigrants in Canada too. So basically I had no real guidance.
Even my high school guidance counselor wasn’t helpful. She would just tell me to go check out the campuses of the different universities I wanted to apply to, so I can get a feel for the place and see if I even wanted to be there for 4 years. Honestly, that was just the most useless advice ever. I did listen to her though, and one day a bunch of us friends went to UofT St George campus in Downtown. We went and sat in this first year biology lecture of what seemed like 1000+ students. That didn’t do anything except scare me even more!
I applied to 5 university programs, 4 of which were science programs and only one was business. I got accepted to all but decided to go into business instead. My parents and my teachers were surprised at my decision because they really thought I would go into science. After hearing all that I did, I just kind of got scared that I would get stuck taking science courses and doing lab tests and going to tutorials, and that it would all be for nothing in the end. I knew I wanted some sort of “designation” so I was thinking long-term, as opposed to just focusing on the next step with the attitude of “we’ll see” for the future.
Now looking back, I still can’t decide if it was a good or a bad decision. I think I totally could’ve done science as well and I would’ve been more passionate about that field for sure. Now I know that if I set my mind to do something, I can definitely achieve it. But at the same time, I know some really smart peers who did complete their Bachelor’s in Science but then went back to doing MBA or something unrelated to science to actually find a “job” in the end.
I know this is only one side of the science story as there’s people out there progressing and doing great things in the field of science every day. But anyway, at the time I did what I thought was best given the information that I had and chose business school. The rest is history.
Starting my BBA at University
I got into a good business program at university, but I had no idea what exactly I wanted to do. In the first year, we took just some really random and generic business “101” type courses. Nothing jumped out at me as being interesting or worth pursuing. But I knew that eventually we would take some better courses and explore areas like marketing, finance and management etc. So I thought – okay, I’ll know by the end of second year what I want to do.
Getting my internships
In my university, people were super keen about going to “career fairs.” I hadn’t really been doing much of that at all and thought I need to go check out these sessions that people keep going to. Then one day, at the beginning of my second year, I went to an info session being held by a Big 4 Accounting firm. I was so impressed by everything this firm had to offer to students like me as part of their summer internship program. Then there was a little networking session that happened right after the presentation. I remember looking around at all these people who seemed like they just knew what to say and how to network with the firm recruiters. I stood there wondering what on earth to talk to these people about?? It was all too intimidating and I just tried looking busy eating some dessert in a corner. I was convinced 100% that I could never get an internship there.
Then there was an opportunity to apply for the same internship with this firm through a third-party organization that was diversity-focused. I remember looking at the job posting that came through and thinking – okay… so many people are going to apply… what are the chances that I’m going to get an interview and then a job?! So I just let it go. Then I happened to be talking to a friend who wasn’t even remotely interested in Accounting but was applying for the job. That motivated me and I thought – what the heck, I better give it a try.
I got invited for an interview! Lesson learned – never doubt your ability and ALWAYS try! I was later told that 85 people applied, out of which 15 were selected for interviews, and all for one job posting. I remember my interview preparation process like it was yesterday. I was so scared to lose such a great opportunity but also very determined to make sure I don’t let it go! I did lots and lots of interview practice over Christmas holidays – with my mom, my sister, my brother lol. Everyone in my family would have to sit and listen to me answering potential interview questions. On the morning of my interview, I did not even feel a single butterfly in my stomach, or even a hint of nervousness. I was just so damn prepared!
The interview went really well and guess what? I got the job offer! I was one of the very few second year students who got this internship (as it was mainly for third year students). I could finally stop stressing about having to find jobs and what not and just focus on school. I went back to intern at the same firm for another summer, and in the end got a job offer to start full time with them after graduation. I was very lucky and super thankful!
Completing my BBA
After my first internship, I became pretty relaxed from a “career” perspective. In a way I feel like this internship stole my chance at trying out other areas of business. It had pretty much decided my field for me – it had to be Accounting & Assurance if I wanted to stay with this firm. Yes I could’ve changed it, but that would mean leaving the firm, searching for jobs again and losing the “stability” that I had found. Many students around me would be stressing out about not being able to find jobs. I had one lined up for me, so it was hard to switch out and just let it go…
For the remainder of my BBA, I focused on taking all the pre-requisite courses for a CPA designation. Not going to lie, these courses can be very dry and boring and take up a great chunk of your schedule. Management Accounting, Tax, Business Law and Consolidations were not exactly fun for me. But they were required and had to be taken. For the few empty spots that I did have open in my schedule for electives, I took courses like Islamic Philosophy, Voice & Speech, Political Science, Labour Economics and Rock & Pop. What a combination – but definitely one that defines my real interests too! 😀
I know a lot of people say that a BBA is not a degree worth getting. I think that can be very true IF you don’t have a specific field in mind that you’re going for. In the case of pursuing a CPA, CFA or any other kind of business designation, a BBA degree is a great way to get all your basic required courses covered.
Starting Full Time Work
I started full time work just as enthusiastically as anyone else. But things changed very quickly, and this is where my CPA journey became very rocky & unstable. There were a few times when I almost quit it all…
To be continued….