Just Starting Out

Ask the Expert

Working at an organization similar to where you'd like to be employed can help you gain very relevant experience and give you valuable exposure to the type of work and issues you'd be facing in a similar position. Andi McNeal, CFE, CPA

Director of Research, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners




Austin, Texas, U.S.

Andi McNeal, CFE, is the Director of Research for the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), where she oversees the development and production of educational materials related to the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud. She is the author of numerous publications and articles on anti-fraud topics, and she is co-author of the ACFE’s biannual Report to the Nations.

Before joining the staff of the ACFE, McNeal worked as a Certified Public Accountant at a regional accounting firm in Jacksonville, Florida, where she performed audit, tax and consulting services for small business clients in a variety of industries. She is a recipient of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Excellence Award and is currently a member of the ACFE.

From Madeleine in Texas

My daughter, a junior in high school, is interested in becoming a forensic accountant. I've been googling the internet to find out if there is a bachelor's degree for that. I was told that a few universities offer this as a major, but couldn't find anything, and my friend didn't know which university offers that. If you could point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it. As far as I understand it, one has to get a CPA and then additional courses to sit for the CFE? Just wondering if a forensic accountant major is offered at any university.

Thank you for your question. Your daughter's path to forensic accounting might best begin with obtaining a degree in accounting or a related field and becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Forensic accountants usually have strong business acumen, as they must be able to look beyond the numbers and see the business reality of each situation. Their discipline combines strong accounting skills, audit skills, investigation skills and litigation support skills. If she is planning to advance her education beyond an undergraduate degree, a master's in business can't hurt.

I don't know of any accredited schools that offer a specialized degree in forensic accounting. Most schools offer a degree in accounting in order to cover the breadth of the accounting discipline, and ultimately prepare students for becoming a CPA. Her exposure to forensic accounting doesn't have to be limited to her degree plan. Once she enrolls full-time at the college level, she can join professional organizations like the ACFE or the AICPA as a Student Member. The membership costs for ACFE student members are minimal, and she will have the same access to professional development, online education, publications and other member benefits as our other members. With that said, working with other forensic accountants and gaining exposure to the complexity of each case is the only way one can learn all the skills necessary to become a forensic accountant.

From Katina in Michigan

I have been contemplating a career change the past couple years. I am very interested in becoming a certified fraud examiner. I currently work as a Med Tech in an assisted living center. I have worked in the medical field for 13 years and I am so ready for a change. I currently have a bachelor’s of science and business administration. What is the process of obtaining a CFE and getting the work experience I need?

The first step is becoming an associate member and gaining the advantage of the membership opportunities. This information will assist you in better understanding how your work experience translates into the required experience for the CFE designation. Our website has information on the certification requirements for obtaining your CFE. If for any reason, you still have questions about becoming certified, you may call us directly at (800) 245-3321 for more information.

Now, let's address your career change. Don't discount your current experience and the value that this adds when changing careers. An option for you is to incorporate your current experience into your field of interest. You have invested 13 years in the medical field and, quite frankly, there is experience there that will assist you in your goal of becoming a fraud examiner. You might consider joining your local ACFE chapter to network with other health care professionals. If this is not an option, you may want to seek out a mentor in the health care industry that will have some perspective on what avenues are available in your transition.

Research and understand the organizational structure within your current company, as well as that of other companies. This will assist you in understanding what positions make up the organizational structure and where a CFE might be valuable.

Making any transition is not without challenges. Set your objective, and then take a step each day toward reaching that goal. It is important that you move forward with the understanding that it is your responsibility to obtain the knowledge and experience needed for the transition. Ask questions, find a mentor, research, commit to the education and accept that there will be sacrifices along the way. The health care industry offers many pathways to becoming a CFE. Be sure to seek out the resources within your current industry to achieve your ultimate goal. 

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." − Lucius Annaeus Seneca

How do I get past the "Experience Required" that seems to be a prerequisite for every job?

There are a few ways to overcome the "experience required" prerequisite. First, building a professional network within your industry will increase your exposure to potential employers. Most job openings are not filled by posting the position on a large job board, but by industry and word-of-mouth referrals.

Your chances of "wowing" a prospective employer increase with a knockout cover letter and professional resume that highlight a strong work ethic and outline what your contribution will be to your prospective employer. Don't put together a resume and cover letter that talks about you and what you have done; rather, focus on what business results you have achieved for past employers, along with what you plan to do for your prospective employer.

And last, but certainly not least, be willing to take a lesser role within a good company. Having the opportunity to prove yourself inside a choice company can make all the difference in your career long-term.

Public, private or government employment: Which offers the best options for those just starting out?

All of the above are good options. There are opportunities within each sector depending on your career objectives. Understanding your own long-term professional goals will help you determine if one sector is better suited than another. The public/government entities are known to offer long-term stability, excellent retirement options and a plethora of advancement opportunities. That balance can also be found in a good private company with a strong retirement plan, however, the path for advancement is not always as clearly defined as it is in the public sector.

As a newcomer in the professional world and one with very little experience, what specific steps should I take to build and expand a network?

Join your local ACFE chapter and/or other industry-related organizations to become acquainted with other fraud professionals. This will offer you a better understanding of the many avenues within the profession. Join professional discussion forums, volunteer, run for office, sponsor an industry-related presentation or organize a community service project. Becoming active within the organization will help you meet other professionals and establish a work sample for network referrals.

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