During my last year of high school in Ukraine, my parents announced that we would be moving to the United States, and so we did on a beautiful sunny day on April 27, 1991. When the time came to apply to colleges, I told my parents that I wanted to major in psychology. My mother said, “Are you crazy? With your accent, you’ll never have any clients. Instead, you should consider accounting, and this way you’ll always have a job.” I did listen to my mother, and she was right about my accent; it’s still with me all these years later. That was how my accounting journey began, and what a great journey it’s been.


Working in Public Accounting and Audit


After graduating from Pace University’s Lubin School of Business with an MBA in public accounting and passing the CPA exam in my last semester of college, I received multiple job offers from the Big Six accounting firms (now known as the Big Four after a couple of mergers). I chose PwC, the firm that impressed me the most with how high-tech it was. We didn’t use much paper at all; everything we did was recorded in our internal database and replicated at the end of the day so managers could review our audit work online no matter where they were located. And that was more than 25 years ago.


Working in public accounting and external auditing was a great experience even though it tested the limits of my physical and mental strength. I often worked seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day, nine months out of the year. As a first-year audit assurance associate, my job was to audit assets. I thought, “How hard could this be?” But it was more difficult than I thought, especially learning how to ask questions and to keep asking them until I had all the information I needed.


Fortunately, it only took about two years in public accounting and audit to transform me from a shy accounting nerd into a confident professional. I wasn’t afraid to walk into a controller’s or CFO’s office, regardless of whether it was good or bad news that I had to deliver. Public accounting taught me auditing techniques, but even more importantly, it taught me the soft skills that I acquired through years of interactions with senior finance executives and PwC colleagues.


Working as an Internal Auditor


After two years in public accounting, I wanted to do something besides auditing. Ultimately, I decided to accept a job in internal audit at a multinational medical supplies manufacturing company with 25,000-plus employees worldwide.


What does it mean to be an accountant?

A – Accountable

C – Conscientious

C – Committed

O – Out-of-the-box thinker

U – Unwavering ethical professional

N – Not afraid to take charge

T – Technically strong

A – Action-oriented

N – Not afraid to take risks

T – Trusted advisor


I stayed in that role for three years, and I learned a lot about how to assess risk, how to develop and test internal controls, and how the business was run. It was very interesting work, despite the fact that internal auditors are disliked even more than external auditors. After a while, it hit me: To make my internal audit journey tolerable, I needed to deliver more than just the basic findings of the audit; I needed to deliver added value.


Because I conducted interviews with the company’s plant controllers and divisional CFOs, I started spending more time learning the business side of the organization. Equipped with this knowledge, I was able to deliver my audit findings and say, “Here are the risks I identified, and here are the simple controls that you can put in place to mitigate these risks and sleep better at night.” My new approach worked: When I went to audit the same division the following year, I felt that I received a much warmer welcome because I was no longer viewed as the finance cop but rather more of a business partner.


A New Stage of Life: Parenthood and Promotions


After getting married and starting a family, I asked to be transferred from internal audit to the North American financial service center. I was promoted to team leader and had eight senior accountants reporting to me. One key lesson I learned was to really take my time when interviewing people for an open position. Yes, technical skills are very important, but interpersonal skills are just as important—skills like being a team player, accountable, a go-getter, and a good fit for the team.


After three years in the financial service center, I was promoted to senior financial analyst. I provided financial results to the CFO for the quarterly analysts’ calls. I really enjoyed that job, which would now be called a data analytics/visualization job. I had to analyze data, summarize it, and present it in a series of graphs, charts, and diagrams. What helped me was my knowledge of internal controls. I set up formulas for various possible controls in Excel spreadsheets with checks and balances to make sure all the numbers were ticked and tied.


I spent a few years in this job and was doing well, but I started to get bored. I decided to volunteer to join the company’s leadership academy and got trained to teach a three-day seminar, “managing for performance excellence,” and then other continuing professional education courses, but I still felt that I wasn’t being challenged enough. So, I started looking for another job.


I found one as a director of financial reporting at a publicly traded retail company. I was thrilled to be doing much more than just financial reporting; I got to do month-end close, financial reporting, budgeting, and forecasting. That job was intense, and it required me to work a great deal of overtime, including late nights and weekends. After a few months, I started to feel like I was back in public accounting.


From the Private Sector to Academia and, Eventually, IMA


I started to feel like my work-life balance was off-kilter, so I had a decision to make: Do I stay in this job or find something else? Most accounting jobs came with a lot of overtime, and, back in those days, there was very little flexibility: no work-from-home options, no hybrid workplaces, and not much empathy for working mothers. I started to search on monster.com for part-time jobs and saw a listing for an adjunct professor at a local college teaching financial and managerial accounting. I applied for it and was hired.


I still remember my first day of class in a large auditorium with 40 or 50 students looking at me and how unnerving it was. It was different than teaching continuing education leadership courses, but my initial fear quickly disappeared and I realized how much I liked that job. My teaching philosophy was to make it as easy as possible for students to understand even the hardest concepts. I spent hours preparing each lecture, breaking down the material into lots of simple steps, and it paid off: I saw that students were able to follow my train of thought. I learned to design exams and grade them. I shared with students the lessons I learned from my work experiences in the private sector. I taught them accounting, but, even more importantly, I taught them to be tough and never give up, no matter how hard a class may seem to be.


When it came time to look for my next job, my search was very specific: The job had to be in my hometown so I could drive my kids to school and pick them up; it had to have an academic component, a field I had grown to love; and it had to be in accounting. And that’s how I found IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants).


I could literally see IMA’s parking lot from my townhouse window on top of the hill. And the job was perfect for me: exam development manager! It’s been 13 years, and I still love my job today as much as I loved it on the very first day. What I learned at this point in my career is that the best way to be great at what you do is to love what you do. I got several promotions over the years, and my current job title is vice president of certification.


I’m a continuous learner, and I’ve taken advantage of many opportunities to cultivate my professional curiosity while at IMA. In addition to earning both the CMA® (Certified Management Accountants) and CPA certifications, I earned the CAE (Certified Association Executive) certification and am currently working on the IMA Sustainability Business Practices Certificate™. I also learned a lot over the years about the testing industry, including the basics of psychometrics, and I serve on the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Advisory Group as a technical advisor to IMA-nominated members.


One of the things I enjoy most about my job is getting to work with CMA, CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis), and FMAA (Financial and Managerial Accounting Associate) candidates. When I interact with candidates who didn’t pass the exam, I wear a psychologist hat often. The CMA exam is rigorous; it takes long hours of preparation and perseverance, and it often takes multiple attempts to succeed in passing both parts of it. I’ve read that students who fail exams often undergo the five stages of grief and need a lot of moral support to stay strong and not give up.


My best career advice? Don’t be afraid to take risks, and don’t get stuck in any role where you aren’t learning and growing. Try to enjoy the journey, and don’t lose heart when challenges arise, keeping in mind that you can only take one step at a time, and each step is important. With perseverance and hard work, you’ll find the best fit for your skill set and career aspirations.

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