Henry Steele
Henry Steele
Managing Editor

The following article discusses the important aspects of a career in accounting. You will learn what accountants do, where they work, job duties, how to become one, popular career paths, and more.

What We Do

Accountants are responsible for the preparation and examination of a firm’s or individual’s financial records. They make certain that all financial and tax records are accurate, and that local, state and federal taxes are paid in full and on time. Accountants also are responsible for assessing an organization’s financial operations and ensure that the entity is run in an efficient manner from a financial perspective.

Additionally, accountants need to be able to clearly explain their tax and financial findings to other workers and supervisors. This usually will include the preparation of written reports and meeting in person with managers and clients.

Accountants also may perform audits, provide tax consulting for nonprofit organizations, governments and corporations. Internal accountants will create new processes to find and cut down on any financial waste and fraud. Management accountants handle the recording and analysis of financial data, and government accountants keep records of government agencies and may also audit private companies.

Job Duties

Accountants usually have most of the following duties:

  • Conduct regular examinations of financial statements and tax records to ensure their accuracy and to be in full compliance with all regulations and laws.
  • Calculate the amount of taxes that are owed, prepare income tax returns and ensure that all payments are made in a timely manner.
  • Conduct inspections of accounting books and records to ensure efficiency, and also use accepted accounting procedures.
  • Organize financial records and maintain them carefully in case of an audit.
  • Perform assessments of a firm’s financial operations, and make recommendations to executives and management.
  • Suggest means by which the organization can reduce costs and enhance profits.

Some accountants specialize their careers in assurance services, which is the improvement of the quality of information that managers need to make decisions. Another common focus is risk management, which is to determine the likelihood of a mistake or error on financial documents. Or, you may choose to focus in a specific industry, such as manufacturing or healthcare.

Where We Work

As of 2014, accountants held more than 1.3 million jobs in the United States. Industries that employ the highest number of accountants are:

  • Tax preparation, accounting, and payroll services: 26%
  • Government – local, state and federal: 8%
  • Finance and insurance: 8%
  • Management of companies and private organizations: 7%
  • Manufacturing organizations: 6%

A small percentage of accountants are self-employed and serve as tax consultants for companies and individuals.

Monster.com reports that the following cities have the strongest demand for accountants:

  • Minneapolis MN
  • Seattle WA
  • Denver CO
  • Philadelphia PA
  • Phoenix AZ
  • Washington DC
  • Chicago IL
  • Boston MA
  • Houston TX
  • New York City

How to Become

You will generally need to have at least your bachelor’s degree in accounting to work as a full fledged accountant in a company or organization. You may be able to work as a junior accountant with only an associate’s degree, and later become an accountant after you have earned your bachelor’s.

To enjoy the maximum number of career opportunities, you may choose later on to earn your MBA or master’s in accounting so that you can sit for your CPA exam.

Another option, if you want to become a CPA, is to obtain a five year, combined  bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting. This will allow you to meet the hour requirements to sit for the CPA examination.

Employment/Salaries

The median salary for accountants in 2015 was $67,190, and the top 10% earned almost $119,000 per year. These workers generally hold a master’s degree and are CPAs.

Accountants with the best salaries tend to work in securities, brokers, commodity contracts intermediation, and for the federal executive branch. Accountants with the highest salaries work in San Jose, CA, and New York City.

Employment for accountants is on the rise in the US, with job demand expected to increase by a healthy 11% by 2024. This rate of growth is faster than average when compared to other positions.

The economy is generally growing faster, and increasing globalization and more complex regulatory structures and laws will create more need for skilled accountants.

Usually, accountant job growth is tied to the strength of the economy. As the economy sees better growth, we can expect there will be more need for financial and tax experts to both prepare and examine companies’ financial records.

Accountants who have earned their CPA designation will have the best employment prospects.

Career Paths

While many professionals who earn their degree in accounting will become accountants, there are other related positions that you may choose. These can include:

  • Budget analyst: These tax professionals assist public and private organizations to properly organize their finances. They may work with many types of organizations – governments, businesses and universities among them – on the best ways to organize their finances. They are in charge of preparing annual reports and budget proposals so that executives and potential investors can gauge the success and profits of the entity.
  • Financial analyst: Provide business and financial guidance to companies that are making decisions on investments. They must assess the performance of stocks, bonds and many other investments. You can work as either a buy side or sell side analyst. The former develops investment strategies for firms that have money to invest. Sell side analysts advise financial sales personnel who market stocks, bonds and other types of investments.
  • Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agent: Connect sellers and buyers in the financial markets. They market securities to individual investors, provide advice to companies looking for investors, and also conduct stock trades. These workers can include brokers, investment bankers, investment banking sales agents, financial services agents and floor brokers.

Education Requirements

Most accountants earn their bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. By getting certified in certain areas of accounting, you can improve your jobs prospects substantially.

Some employers will prefer that you have your master’s degree in accounting or business administration. Some universities offer specialized accounting degrees, such as a bachelor’s in internal auditing.

You also may be able to get a job as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk with an associate’s degree. Once you have served as a junior accountant, you may be able to become a full accountant after you have earned at least your bachelor’s degree.

Specializations

There are many types of accountant that you can become, depending upon your training and interests. The most common are the following;

  • Public accountant: Perform many types of accounting, tax and consulting work. Your clients can include individuals, companies and governments. You will work regularly with financial documents that your clients must disclose by law. These will include government tax forms, balance sheet statements and similar documents. As a public accountant, you could focus on tax issues and advise your clients about tax advantages to certain strategic business decisions. Some public accountants focus on forensic accounting, with investigates financial crimes.
  • Management accountant: This type of accountant may also be called a cost, managerial, industrial or corporate accountant. You are responsible for recording and analyzing financial data for the company that you work for. The information that you prepare as a managerial accountant is prepared for business managers to use and is not for consumption by the public. Many of these accountants will work on budgeting and evaluation of performance. Others might work with financial managers to decide on appropriate asset management.
  • Government accountant: Examines and maintains the records of various government agencies, and may also perform private business audits, as well as audits of individual tax accounts. Accountants who work for local, state and federal governments must ensure that revenues are spent according to current laws and regulations.
  • Internal auditor: Ensure that an organization’s funds are not mismanaged. They determine ways to improve financial processes and reducing fraud, waste and abuse.
  • External auditor: Does the same work as an internal auditor, but works with an outside entity, instead of the one they are auditing.

Training and Certifications

There are some accountant positions available for those with associate’s degrees, but at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting is preferred for many openings. Some employers will expect you to have your master’s degree in accounting or business administration.

If you are going to spend your career in accounting, you may want to earn your master’s degree so that you can qualify to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination. To sit for the exam, you will need to have 150 hours of classes, or five years of school.

After you have passed the CPA exam, you will be eligible to file reports to the SEC. This makes you very attractive to potential employers. Being a CPA is what can really make your career in accounting.

Additionally, accountants may wish to earn the Certified Management Accountant certification. This requires you to have a bachelor’s degree, work in management accounting for two years, and pass a certification exam. You also may choose later to earn other certifications, such as the Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Information Systems Auditor certifications.

If you have earned your CPA, you also be eligible to receive other credentials with more training:

  • Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV)
  • Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP)
  • Personal Financial Specialist (PFS)

References

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