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Almost everyone wants to make more money and why not? A bigger paycheck helps with a lot of things — paying off student loans, saving for a down payment on a major purchase, funding a new venture, travel. If you're a partner at a firm or a business owner, more money can also spell a promotion or expansion.
But money doesn't make itself and sometimes working for it isn't as simple or as timely as it could be. Whether you're fresh from your undergraduate studies or a veteran in the industry, there are key areas to focus on if increasing your take-home pay is a high priority: graduate education, certifications, and soft skills.
Snag an MBA
While earning an MBA or master's in accounting isn't mandatory in order to go into the industry, it may as well be given that licensure as a CPA license requires 150 semester hours of education. Still, even if public accounting isn't in your future, having a master's degree on your résumé frequently translates into more money and more professional opportunities.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the organization that administers the GMAT, the median starting salary for recent MBA graduates has steadily increased in recent years to about $100,000 annually. Furthermore, the GMAC found that business school graduates:
earn a median of $2.5 million in cumulative base salary over 20 years following graduation. This is a half-million dollars more in median cumulative base salary than they would earn if they did not go to business school and had consistently earned five percent annual salary increases, and a million dollars more than if they did not go to business school and had consistently earned 3 percent annual salary increases.
MBA graduates from a number of universities also report similarly strong salaries — a 2014 survey of online MBA graduates from Benedictine University showed that 87 percent were working full time and some 26.4 percent were making more than $100,000 annually.
Add some other designations to your résumé
While the CPA designation is perhaps the best known, there are more than three dozen different certifications that professionals in the accounting field can earn, depending on the roles they work in, the industries they serve and where they want to go professionally. Almost all of them can lead to a higher paycheck — according to human resource consulting firm Robert Half International, professionals with certifications often earn 5 to 15 percent more than the market average.
Furthermore, some employers will even cover the cost of obtaining a special certification because it's a value-add for them in terms of the services they can offer and the clientele they can serve.
Still, it's important to demonstrate that value to your employer — or your bottom line, if you're a business owner. Jason Deshayes, vice president and partner at Albuquerque CPA firm Butler and Company, says having certifications just to have them is “worthless.”
“I'm all for certifications, presuming you can tie a service to it. The chartered global management accountant [certification] shows me that you have a better understanding of the industry, so you can likely relate to and advise a client better than someone without the CGMA. The specialty service credentials like ABV, CFE, et cetera, are great for producing non-recurring work that is often higher fee,” he said. “But having credentials just to have them is worthless. I want to be able to put that certification to good use and be able to turn it into a service.”
Many certifications have both upfront and ongoing costs, require membership in certain professional organizations and more, so do your research before signing up for a course or exam.
Pick up a new skill — or turn your hobby into a professional asset
Boosting your salary is sometimes as straight-forward as casting a skill in a new light and emphasizing it on your résumé, in an interview or during your annual performance review. According to Deshayes, the ability to learn and adapt to new technologies, drum up new business or a roster of specialized/niche experience that “elevates the services we can provide as a firm” are all things that he frequently pays people more for.
Perhaps you like to stay up to date on the latest cybersecurity trends or you see an area of business involving mobile payment applications or your personal network includes some people whose businesses could be big clients — all of these can be beneficial to your paycheck, providing you explain their usefulness in what you bring to the job. Much like researching a firm's service areas when preparing for an interview, dive into service areas that interest you and/or are growing across the industry and apply what you learn to your job.
Know, too, soft skills are every bit as valuable as hard skills.
“I would pay more (in wages) for someone if they had the ability to collaborate with others … focus on providing high-end client service — to me this means you go out of your way to help someone and you make it a point to know them personally and professionally — a desire to improve and a self-awareness of what they need to work on.
“Years of experience doesn't equate to more money. I've seen some 20-plus year practitioners who I would not likely hire, let alone pay a premium for. I have an amazing team that is young in experience, but have all of these other valuable skills. I'd take them in a heartbeat and pay a premium to attract more people like that,” said Deshayes.
Take on a side gig
While working more isn't the same as getting paid more, freelancing can serve both the short-term goal of making more money and the long-term goal of getting paid more. One perk of freelancing is setting your own wages and while not everyone will pay what you're charging, many will. You can fire the bad clients, hang on to the good ones and control — to an extent — how much money the work you're doing brings in.
Furthermore, freelancing can sometimes become a full-time gig or it can be an add-value on your résumé if you find yourself working with a significant number of clients in a given industry or specialty.
A more direct route?
Just ask for it. Whether you're interviewing for a new job or meeting with the boss for your annual review, sometimes getting more money is as simple as asking for more money. While a graduate degree, certifications and other skills can justify higher wages, if you don't ask for more money you won't get it.
Ready to make more money? Earn an MBA from Benedictine University online in either finance or accounting to boost your earning power.