How to Survive the CFE: Three Aspiring CPA Siblings Take on the Profession
The three Hedjazi siblings all have one common goal: to become CPAs. Meet Sammer, Sarah and Summer. Sammer started the family profession in his first year of university, inspired by an influential speaker and his father’s dream of becoming a Chartered Accountant. His two younger sisters soon followed.
All siblings came through the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business with degrees in Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting. While Sammer completed CPA PEP part-time while working after his degree, Sarah and Summer went on to complete their MBA, Accounting at Odette.
Sammer is now a Deputy Comptroller at the Department of National Defence, Military Police Headquarters. Sarah and Summer took jobs at the Big Four: Sarah is a Senior Associate in Core Assurance at PwC Canada and Summer is a Senior Accountant working in the Audit and Small Business divisions at KPMG. They all reside in Windsor.
They’ve now made it past the most significant milestone: passing the Common Final Examination (CFE). Sarah passed in September 2020, Summer in September 2021 and Sammer in May 2022. As they complete their practical experience and wait on admission to the profession, we asked the siblings for their advice for future CPA students and CFE writers.
Why did you decide to become a CPA?
Sammer: I decided to become a CPA during a CPA speaker night in my first year of university. The speaker said CPAs are like Swiss army knives, they are not purely number crunchers. When I looked into it, I liked the lifestyle and flexibility and never looked back. My father was very influential, as he wanted to become a Chartered Accountant, but never pursued it.
Sarah: I decided to become a CPA during my first year of university as I was not enjoying the program I was registered in, and it did not have many job opportunities. Sammer was in accounting, and I decided to try it out. When I took my first accounting class, the professor went over the different opportunities he was able to have as a result of being a CPA, and that’s what appealed to me most.
Summer: When deciding what to study in university, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that had a lot of opportunity. Having siblings who started pursuing the CPA designation really opened my eyes as to how much is out there for CPAs.
What do you think is the most important skill for emerging CPAs?
Sammer: Interpersonal skills are extremely important. The increase in remote work for all organizations has increased and being able to have good communication skills is important to building relationships, getting work completed in a team setting virtually and progressing within an organization.
Sarah: I think soft skills are the most important skills to master. If I need to pin down one skill, it’s communication. Working in audit, CPAs need to communicate their results to their teams and management of the company being audited.
Summer: I also think interpersonal skills are critical when it comes to succeeding as a CPA. Our careers involve working in teams and developing relationships with our clients and coworkers. Being able to develop and maintain those relationships is significant when it comes to building trust and being successful.
What is the most challenging part of becoming a CPA?
Sammer: I struggled to complete the CFE, mainly because I was not studying properly. Once I shifted my attention to subjects that were more commonly tested, I succeeded. Another challenging aspect is ensuring you are staying on top of your mental and physical health. Take time to rest, eat healthy food and get exercise.
Sarah: The most challenging part is figuring out study techniques that work best for you in order to be successful on the CFE. Some things work for others while other things don’t.
Summer: In my opinion, the most challenging part is balancing school, work and personal life. Preparing for and passing the CFE is a very challenging time for all future CPAs. I found it difficult to focus on myself, as I was focused on learning, which resulted in burn out.
How did you prep for the CFE?
Sammer: I was fortunate that my work gave me three full weeks off. During this time, I completed prior exams, and most importantly, I DEBRIEFED! Debriefing your practice exams is extremely important and key to passing.
Sarah: I was in an Accredited Program where we were given the Densmore tools, and the firm I work for provided resources from the Professional Accounting Supplementary School (PASS) program. These provided studying materials (textbooks, flashcards), as well as classroom sessions. My program also had courses to help our case writing techniques.
Summer: I was in the same Accredited Program and also had access to the Densmore tools. To get myself ready, I worked closely with my mentors and peers in the program and continuously sought guidance and feedback from them in my study period.
What advice can you share with future CPA students and CFE writers?
Sammer: Focus hard during the time you have to study. Put your phone and distractions away. Time passes quickly, and before you know it you are a few days from the exam.
Sarah: Stay persistent. It will take a few years to become a CPA and you may be faced with adversity at times. You need to remember why you are doing what you are doing to be able to achieve your goals.
Summer: Ask questions whenever you can, this is how you will learn and grow. Your classmates, coworkers, bosses and clients are all a part of your journey as a CPA, so building a relationship can help build that trust and improve your experiences and success.
How did you support each other through the program? How did it feel to pass the CFE?
Sammer: Although I was in the program first taking CPA PEP, my sisters were completing their Accredited Programs at the same time I was taking my exams. Group calls were common to study, solve problems and give each other confidence. I was the third in the family to pass the CFE. My sisters beat me to it, so by the time I passed my parents expected it.
Sarah: Passing the CFE was one of the best days of my life. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
Summer: Going through the process with my siblings was such a blessing. They were able to guide me in my studying and career decisions. Additionally, we were able to share and reflect on each other’s experiences. When I found out I passed the exam, my initial reaction was to give my parents a huge hug, as I owe all my success to them!
What do you hope to accomplish in the future as a CPA?
Sammer: My short-term plan is to continue growing within my role in the government. However, I do have a long-term plan of becoming more of an entrepreneurial CPA and perhaps working with my sisters if they are open to the idea!
Sarah: As I get closer to getting my designation, more opportunities open up. For now, I love being an auditor and can see myself staying in this field for a while. In the future, I hope I can become an instructor so I can help other students on their CPA journey.
Summer: I want to use my skills to make a positive impact on my community here in Windsor. I’d also love to influence more women to pursue careers as a CPA.
Rapid fire questions
- Tea or coffee? TEA
- Favourite book? Holes by Louis Sachar
- Favourite song to study to? Tom Petty Mix
- Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Time in your youth is precious, use these precious moments.
- Tea or coffee? Iced Coffee
- Favourite book? The Help by Kathryn Stockett
- Favourite song to study to? Anything Taylor Swift
- Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? When the going gets tough, put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Don’t give up.
- Tea or coffee? Coffee, always coffee
- Favourite book? Harry Potter (all of them)
- Favourite song to study to? Anything Lana Del Rey
- Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Be kind to yourself.