From first steps to membership: no one says it's going to be easy, but Camilla Berens finds out that a few good decisions early on can reduce the CIMA mountain to manageable proportions.

Author:Berens, Camilla

The first steps towards becoming a CIMA member can be daunting. But the mountain will seem less steep if you use the help and advice available to find the best path. And, once you start, the rewards can come quickly. According to Hays' Guide to Salaries in Accountancy and Finance, passing the CIMA certificate in business accounting can increase your earning power by 2,500 [pounds sterling].

A place on a CIMA-certified graduate training scheme will make life easier, since these employers provide structured support and study timetables. But, if you study independently, it is crucial that you choose the right training provider and delivery option for you.

Distance learning courses are flexible and allow you to fit your studies around work, family and other commitments. Some distance learning courses also enable you to choose between a paper-based version or an online format. When selecting a course, make sure that you ask the following key questions:

* Will tutors answer queries by phone or e-mail and, if so, how long will it take to get a response?

* Does it provide e-mail updates and exam deadline information?

* Can you access online resources, such as exam tips and study forums?

* Are course exams provided and, if so, how long does it take to mark them?

* Will it provide suggested solutions with the marked course papers?

* Will it provide revision courses and, if so, are any of these at the weekend?

If you struggle to motivate yourself at home, you might prefer to go back to the classroom. The same questions apply as to distance learning courses, but you should check the following as well:

* Are the course exams in the same format as the real exams?

* Will you get tutors who can give you individual help and study guidance?

CIMA membership

Once you have passed your exams you become a passed finalist. CIMA then asks you to record your work experience in a career profile. This includes an assessment of practical experience/ membership application form signed by a proposer and seconder, an employment summary, a record of your experience in the form of an extended CV and a record of your skills development. You should begin your career profile as soon as you start your relevant experience and must update it regularly.

Career profiles can be submitted for assessment as soon as you pass the managerial level exams and have a minimum of three years' relevant practical experience. You must apply for membership within five years of completing the...

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