Benefits of Certification

There are many good reasons to earn a certification in various financial careers. The benefits you receive from having a professional certification can be far-reaching and long lasting. They will help your career in many ways. Here are just a few examples.

  • Improves your knowledge base: No matter which certifications you choose to obtain, you will most likely need to take additional coursework or gain years of experience in the field. This means you’re broadening your base of knowledge, which can help you perform your job more efficiently. You’ll also be required to take a specific number of continuing education classes. This means you’ll always be current on the latest changes in the industry, including new techniques, methods, technologies, and innovations.
  • Improves your chances of employment: While certifications are usually not a requirement to obtain a financial industry job, chances are good that having certification will give you a competitive edge over other candidates. Because most certifications require you to take coursework, have experience, and take and pass an exam, earning one shows employers that you have the knowledge and skills required for the job.
  • Improves your chances of getting clients: Today’s financial services clients are becoming more educated about the financial services industry. They want to know that the professional they choose will not lose all of their hard-earned money. While there are no guarantees, financial planners with certifications are considered more knowledgeable and also more trustworthy because they must also adhere to ethical and professional standards. The educated client is more likely to place their trust in you if you’re certified.
  • Improves your ability to network: When you are certified, you must take continuing education classes, which means you’ll be joining many other financial professionals. This will give you the opportunity to hear what other professionals are doing to market themselves and solve common problems. They may also be able to refer you to clients they are unable to work with themselves for various reasons, such as they specialize in a certain type of client or financial service like estate planning.
  • Improves your earnings capability: Having certification can bring you more income in a variety of ways. As a certified professional, you may be able to ask for and receive a higher salary than other candidates. If you’re a financial planner, having your certification can mean more clients, which in turn can mean more income. You can also increase your income through the contacts you make with other certified professionals.

Prepare for Certification Tests

Once you’ve decided to become certified in one of many possible financial careers, the next step is to begin preparing to take the certification test or exam. All certifications will require you to take an exam. You can increase your chances of passing the test and gaining certification if you are fully prepared.

Requirements

The first step is to find out what the requirements are to gain that certification. Some financial certifications require you to work in a specific field for three years before you can become certified. If you haven’t had that much experience, you’ll need to wait before taking the exam. There may be additional requirements, such as certain coursework you’ll need to take. Before you can register for the exam, you’ll need to provide proof that you meet these requirements. You can usually find out what each certification requires online.

Registration

Once you know you fulfill all of the certification requirements, it’s time to register for the exam. Make sure you know the deadline for registration for the session you’re interested in. Some allow you to register shortly before the day of the exam, while others require that you register weeks in advance. You don’t want to miss the exam because you didn’t register in time. It’s also a good idea to register as early as possible in case you need to gather extra information or paperwork. For example, you may not have proof of all of your continuing education classes, or the testing administrator may require that you provide transcripts of all courses you’ve taken. This can take time. Make sure you start the registration process early.

Study

Despite the fact that you’re a professional with a degree and years of experience, don’t overestimate your abilities. Take the time to study for the exam. Some exams cover material, knowledge, or situations that you don’t run into on the job, so it’s good to spend as much time studying as possible before the day of the exam.

One of the best ways to study and prepare for an exam is to use a study guide. Some certification agencies provide practice questions and study guides that you can use. Or, you can purchase study guides from bookstores or online. Study guides and practice exams are excellent ways to increase your chances of passing a certification exam. As you go through them, make note of what areas you need to improve and take extra time to study them. When the day of the exam comes, you’ll be confident and prepared.

Registration for the Certification Exam

An important step in becoming certified is registration. You might think registering for a certification exam is simple, but it can be a bit more complicated and time-consuming than you think. This is because, in most cases, you must meet all of the requirements for certification before you can take the exam, and this means providing paperwork and documentation proving that the requirements have been met. Here are some tips for ensuring that, when you’re ready to take your certification exam, the process goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Know the deadline for registration:The deadline for registration is different for each certification exam. With some exams, you’ll have more time to register than others. But, knowing the deadline for the session you’re interested in is the first piece of information you’ll need to know.
  • Register early:Once you know the deadline for registering, try to begin the registration process as early as possible. There may be several pieces of documentation you’ll need to gather that can take time to do. For example, the Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) exam requires that candidates have their bachelor’s degrees, an additional 150 hours of coursework, and a specific number of hours of classes in accounting. You will need to provide transcripts to prove that you have met these requirements, and ordering and receiving the transcripts can take a week or two, depending on the college. If you wait until the last minute to register, you could find yourself paying extra fees to expedite the process.
  • Follow up:Once the certification agency has all of the documentation needed (and you’ve paid your fee), to complete the registration process, you should receive confirmation that you are authorized to take the exam. If you don’t receive confirmation in a reasonable length of time, don’t assume that you are still scheduled for the exam. You need to follow up. Sometimes, a transcript is sent to the wrong address or hasn’t made it to the examination authority. Following up is important to make sure you can take the exam.
  • Pay the exam fee on time or early:This may sound like a no-brainer, but in our hectic lives, we can forget to make the payment or delay paying it until the last minute. If the payment doesn’t get credited to the exam authority on time, you will not be able to take the test. Don’t take that chance. When you begin the registration process, pay the fee.

Studying Tips

As a practicing professional in one of many financial careers, you are already knowledgeable and skilled. However, that doesn’t mean you can take a financial certification exam and pass it without studying for it first. When you decide to pursue a certification, you need to set aside several hours to study. If you don’t have this time available, wait to take the exam until you do. When you are ready to take the test, there are several things you can do to make sure you’re making the most of your study time.

  • Allow plenty of time for studying and plenty of time for each study session. That means you’re not trying to squeeze in five minutes of studying here and fifteen minutes there. Dedicate a minimum of one hour per session, and schedule several sessions in the weeks leading up to the exam day.
  • Use study guides. Most certification authorities offer study guides for their exams. You can order them online through the certification agency, or some bookstores may have them as well. These study guides cover all of the information you’ll need to know and are much handier than combing through textbooks and other material.
  • Take practice tests. Again, most certification agencies provide practice tests or practice questions. These questions are usually actual questions from previous years’ exams. Not only will they help you study for the test, but they will give you a good feel for the format and type of questions the exam will cover. As you take the test, make note of any types of questions you’re consistently missing, and study those areas that you need to improve.
  • Try to study when you’re rested: As a busy, working professional, this may be a hard thing to do. You’re usually working all day and only have time to study in the evenings or weekends. But, if you study when you’re very tired, it will be much harder for you to absorb and remember the information.
  • Form a study group: If there are coworkers who are also preparing for the exam, it may be a good idea to form a study group. You can dedicate a few lunch hours a week to meeting, and sharing the study load helps keep you on track. Study groups can also hold you accountable for your part, preventing you from procrastinating.

Practice Tests

One of the cornerstones of studying for a certification exam is taking practice tests. Certification agencies usually offer online practice tests as well as published paper tests. There are several reasons why taking these tests is important. Here are a few of the benefits you’ll gain from taking practice tests:

  • A better understanding of the exam, how the questions are formatted, and what they cover. Because each test is based on previous years’ tests and usually contains actual questions, this is the best way to get an idea of what it’s like to take the exam.
  • A better understanding of what areas you need to improve and study. The results of practice tests may surprise you. You’re not always aware of a gap in knowledge, or the test may cover some information you didn’t realize it would.
  • Confidence that you are familiar with the exam and its format and you are prepared to take the exam. Walking in to take the exam without first having taken a practice test can add anxiety or at least make you feel unprepared, even if you studied.
  • Reduced stress. You will feel more confident and prepared.

Tips for Getting the Most From Practice Tests

Now that you understand why practice tests are important, here are a couple of tips for getting the most from taking them.

Take more than one practice test. This means you shouldn’t rely on just one practice test. It also means that you should take practice tests a few times throughout the study period. For example, taking a practice test before you begin to study is a great way to establish your baseline knowledge and get a good idea of what areas you need to focus on. Then, take it again about halfway through the study period to see if you’ve made improvements. Finally, take a practice exam near the end of the study period to see if there are still any problem areas you need to work on.

Take notes during the test. Each time you take a practice test, have a notepad and pen handy, and make notes about the areas or questions you’re struggling with. Don’t wait to look up the answers to the questions you missed. Take the time to find them as you take the test. That way, you’ll have a study sheet already prepared that focuses on the items you most need to cover.

Test Anxiety

Nothing is worse than that unprepared feeling before taking a test. Add to this the fact that financial careers certifications can provide many benefits to your career, and the stress can become overwhelming. Even if you’re a professional with many years of experience and a master’s degree (with many tests under your belt), you can still be subject to test anxiety. Here are some ways to overcome this anxiety.

  • Be prepared. It sounds simple enough, but as a busy, working professional, this can be easier said than done. If you find that you simply don’t have the time you thought you would to study for the certification exam, delay taking it. It’s better to wait and take the test when you’re prepared than to take it and not pass. Being as prepared as possible means you’ve spent ample time studying, you’ve used good study guides, and you’ve taken a few practice tests. The more prepared you are to take the exam, the less anxious you’ll be the day of the test.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before. As tempting as it might be, don’t cram or study the night before the exam. This can actually cause you more stress as you try to remember additional information. It can also cause you to forget information you already knew or be uncertain or doubtful of information you thought you knew. Instead of studying, spend the night before the test doing something relaxing, and then get a good night’s sleep. You’re more likely to do well on the test if you’re rested and refreshed.
  • Know what to take with you. Some tests that can last for several hours allow you to bring snacks, water, or other beverages to the test site. This may be a good idea, so check ahead of time to see how long the test will take and what items you’re allowed to bring. It’s also a good idea to take a sweater or sweatshirt in case the test facility is cold. Being hungry, thirsty, or cold can be distracting and lead to anxiety.
  • Know how to get to the test location and have all documents you need ready to take with you. It’s a good idea to travel to the exam location in advance so you know how to get there and exactly how much travel time to allow. If you can, go at the same time of day you’ll be traveling on the day of the exam so you’ll know what traffic is like during that time. If you’re expected to bring any specific documentation in addition to your ID, make sure you have it out and ready the night before. Rushing around trying to gather everything you need the day of the exam will add to your anxiety and stress.