Author: Dina Barabash, Content Development & Web Specialist
Posted: March 28, 2023

Not everyone knows how fulfilling it is to be a CPA these days and the joy that comes from such a dynamic profession. We wanted to change that narrative by sharing insight from some of NASBA’s resident CPAs. Previously, we featured NASBA’s Jeremy Davenport and Michael Bryant here. Now, we would like to introduce you to NASBA’s Julie James, CPA, CISA, Associate Director of Risk and Compliance and Sandra Davidson, CPA, NASBA Manager of Compliance and Supporting Services Accounting and the Center of the Public Trust Chief Financial Officer.

How long have you been a CPA? 

J: Eight years.

S: Since 1992. When I sat for the exam in Tennessee 30 years ago it was a paper and pencil process. A candidate was required to sit for all parts of the CPA Exam. No credit was given for passing a section until at least two sections were passed during the same testing period. For instance, the first time I took the Exam, I passed one section but didn’t get credit for it. 

The Exam was offered only twice each year, in May and November. It was tough but in 1991, I sat for the Exam in November and received the incredible news several months later that I passed all sections and became eligible for licensure. That was a hallelujah day!

What do you enjoy most about the profession? 

J: I enjoy the personal and professional development. Whenever I speak to students about the profession, I tell them I doubt I would be who I am today without it. This profession has exposed me to new places, foods, learning opportunities, organizations, and people that have all contributed to my personal and professional growth. Having this exposure also allows me to contribute to the growth and development of others.

S: Over my 30 years in the accounting profession, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different people and their businesses in many different settings. I’ve worked for or had clients such as large corporations, a small business that sold airplanes, small family-run construction companies, many types of non-profits including Pork Producers of America, a publishing company that I helped set up an office in Hong Kong, and many more. I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn so much and meet so many people.  

What is something that surprises you about being a CPA?

J: When I first got licensed, I noticed a change in how I was perceived by others. What people expected from and of me increased. There was an elevation in what people expected me to know, all because I had those three letters behind my name. It felt like it happened overnight. In my mind, I was still the person I was the day before. The complexity of my work assignments increased, I was asked to join boards, and my opinion on various matters seemed to carry more weight than before. There is a perceived level of expertise and distinction by the public connected to being a CPA. It still surprises me at times to this day.

S: It surprises me how often someone finds out I am a CPA and their first question is, can you help me with doing my taxes? Many people assume all CPAs do is tax work – NOT SO!

What is a piece of advice you have for candidates? 

J: Notify family and friends that you will start preparing for the CPA Exam. They will feel the impact of your preparation process in some way. I don’t think many people understand the time commitment connected to passing the Exam. When I really got serious about the Exam, I had to “turn off my life” and focus on passing. Outsiders thought it was extreme. Those who were already CPAs did not.

Even though family and friends are notified about the start of the process, I’d recommend keeping testing dates to yourself. I have experienced and witnessed the disappointment of failing a section and people asking how it went. They certainly meant well, but it can make you feel defeated to regurgitate you failed to five people. Being that family and friends care and witness the stress you are under, they can be tempted to say, “Maybe you should take a break,” or “The CPA just may not be for you right now.” If you feel it is for you, believe that and don’t give up. It is not intended to be easy.

S: Sitting for the Exam requires many sacrifices and a big commitment of time and energy. The investment is absolutely worth it! Having the CPA designation signifies that you have what it takes (self-discipline, determination, and smarts) to be successful in something this big. It opens many doors of opportunities and options.  

What is a challenge you must overcome often and how do you do it? 

J: A challenge I deal with is education about the profession. Many people outside of the accounting profession have CPAs pegged as being tax preparers and mathematicians. I also encounter many within the profession assuming all have done assurance work or desire to do it. Debunking such myths is the challenge most times. I overcome this mainly through honest communication. There are so many aspects to being a CPA that one should not try to paint us all with the same brush. Everyone has a unique background and path.

S: I had to think about this question. I think one challenge is taking for granted what I know how to do. I have training that can be helpful to others outside of NASBA’s Finance team. For instance, at church, I’ve helped single moms create a monthly budget to try to recover from a divorce. It was very rewarding to help others using a skill I use every day. The challenge is also remembering that I need to communicate with others in non-accounting terms.

Do you have a tip for someone studying for the Exam? 

J: If I can only provide one tip, it will be to have a (realistic) plan that is suitable for your situation and stick to it. Don’t haphazardly go into this process. The end of your 18-month window can be around the corner before you know it.

S: I utilized a study program (Becker) that helped me with focus, organization, and self-disciple to retain the information. Find what works for you and be 100% committed to it. You can enjoy time with friends, catch up on movies, etc., after you finish the Exam. It is worth the investment and the short time of sacrifice to gain something so valuable to your future.

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