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An accounting career offers almost limitless potential and opportunity.
The main goal of an accountant’s work consists of tracking the business’s—or individual’s—finances to ensure continual profitability.
An accounting career is mainly a numbers game, consisting of analysis of financial information to determine or maintain a record of assets, liabilities, profit and loss, tax liability, or other financial activities within an organization.
These financial statements are often necessary for businesses, individuals and sometimes investors to decide and keep a pulse on the financial health of business or person.
Why is Accounting a Great Career?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 10 percent over the coming decade, which is faster than the average for all occupations combined. They cite globalization, a growing overall economy and an increasingly complex tax and regulatory environment are the main factors that are expected to lead to strong demand for accountants and auditors.
As long as people are concerned with making money, the need for a competent accountant will be prevalent. An accounting career provides a great deal of benefits, including the following:
- Job security
- A respectable salary
- Vast industry options
- Global job locations
- Unlimited growth opportunities
Another benefit to an accounting career is the magnitude of industries and locations seeking qualified accountants. The BLS says the interconnection of the world through technology and globalization of business may lead to increased demand for accounting expertise and services related to international trade and international mergers and acquisitions.
Who Should Pursue an Accounting Career?
As an accountant or auditor, you’re entrusted with sensitive personal and financial data and your ethics must be of the highest standard. No matter if your client if an individual or a corporation, a large part of your job is earning—and keeping—the trust. But what other skills and traits make the best accountants?
Organization skills: You’ll be crunching and compiling data, dealing with minutiae and analyzing numbers and results. Being organized is a key factor to success and presenting your findings to people who may not have the same ability to comprehend dense data as you do.
Time Management: The ability to stay calm and think through an issue generally results in the best time managers. You’ll need to juggle a lot of moving parts so being organized and time management go together.
Problem solving skills: You won’t just be adding columns of numbers, you’ll be solving puzzles at times, and making critical decisions that can influence the financial security of a client or employer. You’ll not only be an accountant but an investigative detective and reporter with your findings.
Strong Ethics: Loyalty to client and company are essential to the best accountants and you’ll conduct yourself as a professional in your dealings with both, and in your work.
Communication skills: Can you stand in front of a room full of executives and explain compliance reporting to them in detail? The ability to speak clearly and effectively is a gift, and making laymen understand the intricate processes of your research and recommendations for the business is a skill that will help you go far.
Detail-oriented: You’ll need to keep detailed records and notes as you deal with people and issues, so attention to detail is mandatory for a successful accountant. You’ll also need to translate your notes into action items, so they’ll need to be comprehensive and complete.
Good Listener: People will be coming to you with plans for their financial future, or for the fiscal health of their company, so you’ll need to hear exactly what they’re saying. There’s little room for assumption in your role as an accountant.
Innovation: Much of what you’ll do on a day to day basis is repetitive, but there will be opportunities to suggest ways to improve systems and enact new efficiencies. Having the ability to come up with new processes is a highly valuable skill.
Technical skills: Face it—pivot tables, spreadsheets and accounting software will be your new best friends. Becoming proficient in all the new—and established—tools of the trade will benefit you prior to going into your first job.
Levels of Accountants
An efficient and competent accountant will provide company’s financial information in a way that everyone can understand. Many high-level executives do not comprehend the financial side of the business and rely a great deal on the communication skills of their accountants. Accountants are educated, licensed, analytical and good with numbers. Accountants will work 40-45 hours a week at a computer, and mostly autonomously.
There are varying levels of accountants and the qualification for certifications are different:
- A public accountant is the most common type of accountant and different from a certified public accountant (CPA). A public accountant can be anyone who works in the accounting department. They must be 18 years of age to prepare tax forms, and pass a test to receive a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA). CPAs have completed an extensive amount of post-secondary school, typically 150 semester hours, have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting and two years of work experience. Once the education and work experience requirements are met, accountants can begin taking the certification exams. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has developed four exams necessary to earn the CPA designation. After successful completion of the first exam, candidates must complete the remaining three within 18 months. Those who pass all exams within the allotted time will become CPAs. Last but not least CPAs must remain current with laws and practices through continued education. Find CPA requirements by state.
Types of Accountant Careers
Your career choices are wide as an accountant and will depend upon the area of finance or business you’d like to enter. Here are some of the most common types of accountants:
Forensic Accountant: A forensic accountant analyzes and interprets financial evidence in fraud and capital crime cases, and more often than not, you’ll appear in court to testify upon your findings and act as an expert witness.
Healthcare Accountant: This trending accounting career combines two fast-growing fields, healthcare and accounting, and offers a variety of duties and job titles for all levels of accountants, from entry- to-CPA.
Internal Auditor: You’ll work within a business or company to assess risk, and you’ll find ways to minimize waste and fraud and increase efficiency.
Public Accountant: You’ll provide a wide range of duties across the accounting spectrum for companies, government agencies and individual clients.
Management (or Cost) Accountant: You’ll analyze financial information of clients your company works for and provide it for internal use within your company. This data will not be public.
Government Accountant: You’ll work within government agencies and examine and audit businesses and individuals who are subject to government taxes and regulations.
Tax Accountant: You’ll report to taxation authorities at all levels of local and federal government and offer professional advice regarding the tax impact of strategies devised by corporations. You’ll need to stay abreast of ever-changing tax laws and ensure that your clients are aware of changes, from tax rates to timelines.
Financial Advisor: As an advisor to your clients, you’ll develop personalized investment plans to help them achieve their long-term financial goals.
Other Accounting Careers
Becoming a CFP: A Certified Financial Planner—or CFP—must pass an extensive exam schedule in areas that include financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning and retirement planning. These individuals must also complete continuing education units to keep their certified status, and must stay abreast of changes in a continually evolving and intensely scrutinized field.
Becoming a CFE: The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners says CFEs have “proven expertise in fraud prevention.” To become a Certified Fraud Examiner, you’ll need to pass a test on the field’s four major disciplines:
- Fraud prevention
- Fraud schemes and financial transactions
- Investigating fraud
- The laws surrounding fraud
You’ll also be required to take continuing education courses to stay on top of your game. These highly sought after examiners are unique in that they combine their knowledge of finances and financial transactions with how they relate to the law. CFEs also are experts in resolving alleged fraud cases.
Becoming an Enrolled Agent: An enrolled agent is basically a tax expert. But these are the only federally licensed tax professionals who can represent taxpayers at all administrative levels in front of the IRS. Enrolled agents must earn their license in one of two ways:
- Pass a rigorous exam that covers all aspects of America’s tax code
- Must have worked for the IRS for at least five years in a position which consistently applied and interpreted tax code and all the code’s regulations
Enrolled agents must also stay current on ever-changing tax codes and laws and must take continuing education units which they must report in three year intervals. Any person who decides to enter the field is also subjected to a thorough background check by the IRS. Enrolled Agents who are members of the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) are highly ethical, and are bound by a strict code of conduct.
Accounting Career Ladder
Example of an entry level position:
Junior Accountants might prepare journal entries, keep the balance sheet current and assist with monthly account closings. They are there to support the senior accountant in accomplishing some of the accounting department responsibilities.
Example of a Mid-Level position:
Senior Accountants provide financial information to management by researching and analyzing accounting data and preparing reports. Senior Accountants will ensure the integrity of accounting information by researching account issues for compliance and by establishing quality control over financial transactions and financial reporting.
Example of an expert level position:
Certified Public Accountants are licensed to provide accounting services to individuals and businesses. CPAs hold esteemed positions in business and accounting. By completing extra coursework and passing exams, these professionals learn how to evaluate and audit activities, prepare taxes, and prepare financial statements.
Salaries for Accounting Careers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for accountant and auditors is $68,150. This can vary by industry in which they work however. Here are median annual salaries in the top industries:
|Finance and insurance||$72,950|
|Management of companies and enterprises||$70,790|
|Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services||$68,130|
Employment growth for accountants is directly related to the strength of the U.S. economy. As the economy continues to grow, accountants will be needed to prepare and examine financial records. Also, as the health of the U.S. economy continues to improve more private companies will go public. This will create more of a need for public accountants to assist with the legal documentation required to the financial end of this type of transition and reporting.