Monday, December 01, 2008

Disappointment, Depression, Recession and a Plan

If you've read my Twitter feed from earlier today, you know the gist of my news. There is, of course, more to be said. The Twitter version goes like this:
  • I didn't get the job. Looking into internal auditing certification vs. CPA review courses - costs, timing and employment prospects.
  • Being nearly four years out from last formal accounting class, I'm rusty on academic side of accounting, albeit a whiz at Excel & such.
  • Local job market is all medical billing (they want experience in medical field), CPAs and internal auditors. Latter make >2x my recent wage.
  • Auditing was fascinating to me in school, although some aspects are a little opaque to me without further study. That's where I'm leaning.
  • Getting $240 a week unemployment, debts are rising, already $20K in the hole on student loans, no Xmas money; yeah, let's invest in a class!
  • One thing I can't claim is that I'm no time to study! End of rant. Thanks for reading.
  • Going to curl up with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell until sleep seems possible. Haven't slept much the last few days.
Here's what happened. Over the weekend I got a form letter from the HR department of the organization (being deliberately vague here) to which I had applied. Uh-oh. I don't know about your experience, but here at Casa Blocher, job news by snail mail is seldom positive. The letter said that my resume would be kept on file for six months, and they'd contact me if HR decided an interview was warranted. Double uh-oh. I'd already interviewed with the accounting department. Maybe it was just boilerplate text, but it certainly didn't look promising.

So I called my recruiter this morning, right after the Obama press conference in which my wonderful governor was named the next Secretary of Homeland Security, leaving Arizona even more firmly in the hands of Republicans. Okay, slight digression there, but the point is that after being up from 12:45 am on, I waited past 9 AM for the opportunity to find out what was going on. I asked for A. and was promptly put through to K. instead. K. had not known about the letter I got, and did not know yet of a determination on whether I had the job. But he told there were interdepartmental and regulatory issues snagging things up, with legal department vetting of who could be hired by what means and when. K. and I discussed all that, and we were on the verge of hanging up when A. told K. that as of Friday, I wasn't getting the job. Way to let me know, folks. Gloom, despair and agony on me.

K. and I talked about the lack of other openings in my field in the Tucson job market right now, something I already know all too well. We agreed that most of what is turning up pertains to medical billing, for which the hospitals and medical consortia all want people with experience in, wait for it, medical billing.

From there we got involved in a discussion of jobs I'm not qualified for now, but could be. K. mentioned in passing that someone was looking for a supervising internal auditor, but I have neither the training nor the direct experience for that. Even my "book larnin'" in the accounting field itself is a mite rusty, since my last class at the University of Arizona (which wasn't an accounting course anyway) started four years ago this month. But I could still go after my CPA ("they're gearing up to hire lots of CPAs soon", K. said, or certification as an auditor. "If you were an internal auditor I could place you tomorrow," K. said. "They're in short supply, and they're making $80,000 now."

So how did I get here, an accountant without letters after my name, highly employable in good times but not employable enough in a recession? Back when I graduated in April 2005 (after a delay due to the limited number of graduation ceremonies a year), I was only a month out from getting a good accounting job at First Magnus, after which I had never the drive nor, it seemed then, the incentive to pursue CPA certification. Conventional wisdom was that very few people pass the CPA exam on the first try without first spending thousands of dollars on an exam prep review course. Being already employed on the basis of my very expensive, shiny new accounting degree, I passed. Now, after four years of making journal entries and calculating depreciation and preparing reports, I'm experienced in lots of stuff an accountant is needed to do, but weak in the numerous fiddly bits of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Most of that stuff just doesn't come up when you're working on payroll and fixed assets month after month, or applying arbitrary costing formulae to motor homes and travel trailers. So here I am, almost 52 years old, without the edge I could get by spending still more money we don't have for the opportunity to study the fine points of GAAP and auditing, which in theory would double my best income to date. Maybe.

After the phone call I looked into the CPA review pricing and Internal Auditor certification. Ever since school ended I've been getting email about twice a month from CPAExcel, which sells a variety of CPA review courses, computer-based instruction and testing with and without video, books, or personal instruction. The subject line of my current email says, "84% Pass Rate and Best Offer of the Year!" Yes, if I order by December 16th, I could get all four parts of the Video Gold Medal Course for $1,690, all four parts of the regular Gold Medal Course for $1,195, all four parts of the Classic Self-Study Course for $930, or all four parts of the regular Self-Study Course for $795. For comparison: as of four years ago, the competing review course instructors at the University of Phoenix strongly recommended as essential to pass the four part CPA exam was running about $3,500. A further bit of comparison: my current income from unemployment is $240 a week, which basically covers groceries and gas with very little left over to pay toward my $300+ monthly student loan principal and interest. I'd probably have to run up a credit card (currently set aside for possible medical expenses) to pay for at least the $930 version of the CPA course, and preferably the $1,195 version.

The "CIA Learning System" course to prepare for the four-part Certified Internal Auditor exam is offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors, the professional organization for auditors. The optional in-person component is only offered in certain states, and AZ isn't one of them, but that's okay. The Self-Directed Training version is about the same price as the low-end CPA prep. Pros: if K. is right, internal auditors might be more in demand than CPAs, the pay is excellent, and aside from business law, auditing was the area of accounting that most interested me in school. Cons: it's a specialized field that requires three months of study for over 8 hours a week, preparation for it probably wouldn't help me much in the job market between now and March, and there's no guarantee that people looking to hire an internal auditor would want a 52-year-old non-CPA accountant with a CIA but no direct auditing experience.

I don't know what I'm going to do, but at this point I suspect I need to study for the CPA exam, the CIA exam or both, which means spending money we don't have. John is worried about the expense, but not dead set against it. It's remarkably like the McCain vs. Obama approach to the economy as a whole: do you tighten your belt and cut spending hoping that will be enough for the problem will magically fix itself, or go into further debt investing in a better future? Like the President Elect, I think I have to do the latter. I'm going to talk to at least one other recruiter, and maybe sound out a former instructor of mine, about how good the prospects are if I get certification, and whether a review course qualifies for a student loan (I suspect not). Right now I've got time to study, if I organize myself properly, and positive motion toward becoming a CPA or CIA will impress potential employers more than sitting around blogging in between trips to the dog park.

From Trouble Dogs

Just to make the day a little more miserable, Cayenne managed to get hold of another one of my vintage Wishnik trolls and tear the hair out of it. I thought I'd gotten them all safely out of reach, but she managed to grab it anyway. I'm just lucky she didn't find Twist 'N' Turn Barbie or Talking Stacy an equally tempting toy. I got John to donate one of "his" shelves on the vintage wall unit so that I could move the remaining trolls and Little Kiddles and Breyer horses onto a higher shelf, and I crowded the mod era Barbie and friends onto another higher shelf with their early 1960s counterparts. Darn dog! Between that minor annoyance and my more significant bad news, John is as bummed out as I am right now.

Pepper is in a state of alert readiness.

But on the good side, my delayed order from Amazon, A Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, was by the door as we left for the dog park this afternoon. I now have two thick books with which to distract myself in between job hunting, blogging, dog parking and sleeping. I've had two naps, and hope to get more sleep between now and noon. Sleeping at night! What a concept! And there's always work on the novels to be done. As a friend points out, I'll feel better about myself if I can reassert the discipline that helped me write 1,200 pages in about two years, back before I was sidetracked by returning to school for my accounting degree. There's no reason that during this down time I can't work on both the fiction writing and further accounting study.



Roger CPA Review Staff Writers said...

Of course we picked up this post because of the mention of CPA Review... but I really enjoyed reading this. I think you captured the conundrum perfectly - how exactly do you justify spending large amounts of money against the potential that those three letters will have on your life?

Hopefully those beautiful puppies of yours can help with your decisions.

Best of luck to you, and unsubscribe from those annoying emails - it's the only way to liberate your inbox!

The Cheshire Cat said...

You are obviously thinking seriously over an important decision. If the action you take is based on the best use of all the information you can obtain then whatever happens in the future it will never have been the wrong thing to do now.
Best wishes from across The Pond :)Liz