One of the main challenges young individuals face when entering the field of accounting is the decision of when to take the CPA Exam, and how to balance the demands of life in the real world.

Few exam candidates are likely to be successful without a strong personal and professional support system. My firm, Templeton & Co., a 40-person CPA firm based in South Florida, has several young associates taking the CPA Exam, and as a result, this year we created a CPA Challenge to engage all members of the firm to encourage the young associates as they take and complete each section.

At our firm, there are several young staff members concurrently studying for the CPA Exam. What started with occasional banter and friendly "smack-talk" at the beginning of the study process turned into an organized firm-wide CPA Challenge where the associates are challenged not just to complete and pass the exam sections, but to aim to win with the highest overall score.

The challenge, which started on July 1, 2009, and ends Jan. 31, 2010, is a way to encourage the young associates to log in their scores and not just pass the sections, but garner a score greater than their peers at the firm. After they complete each section, they indicate that score to the firm's office manager, who keeps a master score of all the participants. The associate with the highest passing score in each component of the exam will be awarded a trophy signifying their achievement that can be proudly displayed. Whoever passes all four parts with the highest average will win a dinner for two.

Every Monday morning, we have a firm-wide meeting where the offices meet live via video conference. At these meetings, any changes in the CPA Challenge leader board, which is where the scores are kept on the firm's intranet, are announced. Most of the associates studying for and taking the CPA Exam are based in the firm's West Palm Beach office. However, the members of the Fort Lauderdale office created signs reading "Team Marien" for their associate, Marien, who is participating in the challenge but works out of that location.

Despite the friendly rivalry, the associates have fostered a support group for one another by meeting outside of work to study for the exam, and have even shared study guides, "lessons learned" and other materials to help their co-workers.

WORK/LIFE BALANCE

As personal situations and needs change over the years, balancing life and work can become even more challenging. One associate and challenge participant has indicated that he has had to inform his family and friends of his desire to successfully complete each section of the CPA exam, and as a result, will be spending less time with them - for the time being.

The purpose of the competition is not only to challenge them to achieve high scores, but also aid in learning time management and effectively communicating with their supervisors. In addition to hosting the challenge, and to encourage our associates to start completing sections of the exam, Templeton offers reimbursement for both the CPA Exam costs and a review course. Partners at the firm have also helped with their staff's timeline and workload in order to help in working around the scheduling of different test sections.

We have found that making sure that these associates know that they have the support of the firm is the most important part of the whole process. It doesn't just help the firm, but it is also an essential step for them to take in their careers as accountants. As these associates grow and develop in their careers, they allow us to organically expand, which not only enhances our own culture, but also enriches the future of the firm.

Sarah Templeton is the marketing director at Templeton & Co. in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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