The sheer number of certifications available to accounting and finance professionals can be dizzying. After a while, it may seem like alphabet soup, just with too many c’s.

However, choosing the wrong path can have consequences. Obtaining each certification requires a massive investment of time and effort. Picking the wrong one won’t necessarily hurt you, but it represents a big waste of time.

There are some clear standouts in terms of career advancement, though, a hierarchy within the seeming chaos of professional certifications. Here are five of the most helpful certifications to have on your resume:

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

The CPA is by far the most common accounting certification, though fulfilling all the requirements (and studying for the test) can take a sizable investment of time and effort. Still, you’ll likely need it if you want to land higher-paying, higher-level accounting positions.

You can earn the certification, issued by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, by taking a four-part exam. Other requirements include certain education prerequisites and at least a year of professional accounting experience.

Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Many of the topics covered in the CPA exam are included in the CMA as well, but the CMA has more of a corporate focus. Getting the additional certification will help you build a career in business finance.

The CMA certification is issued by the Institute of Management Accountants. It requires a bachelor’s degree and some professional experience. There’s also an eight-hour exam.

Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

The CFA has become a highly regarded certification for the wealth management space. It’s required for many positions related to asset management and can open a lot of doors in the higher echelons of companies.

The certification process is rigorous, requiring at least an undergraduate degree, plus four years of professional experience. The three-stage exam takes a total of 18 hours. But don’t worry: you don’t take all three parts at once.

Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

This is another key certification for the wealth management sector. Like the CPA, it’s basically a must-have for its field, as it opens the door to positions in retail financial planning. The process prepares you for a career in retirement and investment planning, as well as covering topics like estates and taxes.

The CFP, issued by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., requires passing a six-hour test, broken into two sections.

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

This certification has a relatively narrow focus compared to some of the others on the list. But it’s highly regarded within the field, a key achievement for anyone looking to make a career as an internal auditor. It also looks good on a resume when applying for management positions.

There’s a three-part exam to receive a CIA, which is issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors. The test takes a total of 6.5 hours. The certification also requires an undergraduate degree and some on-the-job experience, though the amount of professional background required varies depending on the level of education you’ve obtained.

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