If you’re looking into accounting careers, you have a lot to consider. After all, an accounting career can be rewarding if you’re up for the challenge. On the other hand, if you work in an accounting specialization that doesn’t your fit personality, you could find it difficult.
But first, before you start down the accountant career path, you should understand some basic accounting career terms. Take the distinctions between public and private accounting positions, for example. Or the nuances between accounting positions and where they can take your career. So in this article, I’ll cover different paths for your career in accounting. Near the conclusion, I’ll also list the top 5 pros and cons of becoming an accountant.
Careers in Accounting
Accounting is essentially the act of recording, analyzing, and verifying financial transactions and business activities. And now is a good time to join the profession. After all, the field is expected to grow about 4% in the next ten years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, the field has diverse positions that fit almost every personality type. And even better, salaries are strong and the demand for qualified accountants is high.
Although the myth of accountants being number nerds who love math isn’t really accurate, most accountants do have some common skillsets. For example, you’ll need to be:
- Analytical and someone who likes to solve problems
- Comfortable with numbers
- Able to interpret financial data
- Good at communicating information, whether verbally or via financial reports
In addition, most accountants pursue a bachelor’s degree, although it can be in accounting or a related field like business or finance. What’s more, most public accountants go for their CPA (Certified Public Accountant) credential that requires 150 credit hours of higher education or a master’s degree. And depending on your career path, you could also consider the CFA, CIA, CMA, or EA qualifications, too. They each have their own education and work experience requirements.
The Accounting Career Path: Public vs. Private
Accountants can be employed in both public and private settings. Public accountants deal with public clients, while private accountants work for one specific business or organization. Let’s go over the differences.
Public accounting careers
In the most basic terms, public accountants prepare and review the accuracy of financial documents that their clients must file or disclose to the public. However, they do so from an outside perspective. That is, most public accountants are either self-employed or work for firms that are hired by a range of clients. For example, public accountants can work for businesses, non-profits, governments, and even individuals who hire their firms.
Public accounting includes audit, tax, and advisory services. What’s more, most public accountants work at CPA firms. Small or regional firms can provide opportunities for early-career leadership. But employment at large firms like the Big 4 of Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG, and PWC provide many diverse opportunities. Still, accountants who start in the public sector often transition to private after a few years to find new job prospects.
Private accounting careers
In contrast, private accountants only deal with the financial documents of the company they work for. Usually, they analyze financial data and prepare reports for internal managers. This info, in turn, helps managers make data-backed business decisions. Many accountants in these so-called private settings can work in financial reporting, forecasting, internal audits, and even corporate tax.
Both public and private accounting jobs are hectic. After all, public accountants work long hours during tax season, and private accountants can be busy at the end of fiscal quarters. However, private accountants usually have less travel, since they tend to go to the same office every day.
Accountant Career Paths
Of course, the accounting field has many niches to choose from. I’ve listed some of the more popular routes below, but other roles include accounting clerk, actuarial accountant, bookkeeper, cost accountant, payroll accountant, and even real estate appraiser and more. In addition, some accountants go into information technology and business valuation, too. So as you can see, accounting careers are quite varied.
Of course, all accounting positions require fundamental skills in accounting principles. But once you’ve mastered them, you can branch out to other types of professional employment. Therefore, no one will follow the same accounting career path.
Basically, public accountants provide various services to businesses, governments, non-profits, and even individuals. They can deliver accounting services, of course, but they can do auditing, tax, and consulting, too. However, the type of work a public accountant performs can actually be fairly diverse. For example, they could prepare and review a company’s financial statements one day. And the next day, they could move to analyzing budgets, preparing tax forms, or giving advice on multiple financial issues.
To reach your maximum potential as a public accountant, you should definitely pursue your CPA. With a Certified Public Accountant credential, you can achieve better positions and higher salaries that your uncredentialled peers won’t have access to. Also, if you do pursue the CPA Certification, we highly recommend utilizing one of our exclusive Becker CPA discounts on your study course.
Simply put, tax accountants help businesses, organizations, and individuals prepare tax returns. Of course, these forms must be filed at the federal, state, and local levels on a quarterly and annual basis. Therefore, tax accountants can stay busy all year long. However, they are the busiest right before a filing deadline.
Forensic accountants analyze financial documents and look for evidence of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and tax evasion. For example, they might provide an analysis for legal cases or serve as witnesses in courts of law.
Financial accountants usually work for a single business or organization and assess fiscal performance. Basically, financial accountants prepare reports like balance sheets, cash flow statements, and profit and loss statements. These documents are usually geared toward individuals external to the company, like creditors, stockholders, and taxing agencies.
Similar to financial accountants, managerial accountants also prepare reports that assess a company’s financial performance. They not only record financial transactions but also analyze and interpret financial information. However, unlike financial accountants, these documents are for internal use. That is, managerial accountants help companies budget, plan for the future, and improve their overall performance by making informed decisions about their finances.
Unlike other types of accountants who deal with businesses or organizations, financial planners solely work with individual clients and help them improve their finances through budgeting and investing.
Internal auditors work inside business entities to make sure that their financial resources are being used properly and effectively. For example, they review financial records to certify that a company is in compliance with state and federal regulations. Likewise, they ensure that funds are not misappropriated or mismanaged.
Accountants are needed at all levels of government. Therefore, government accountants have several roles. First, they help offices manage their funds and record how they are being spent. Second, they also guarantee that funds are being collected and spent according to current financial regulations.
Is Accounting a Good Career?
Like every job, the role of an accountant has its ups and downs. Some people find the work challenging but rewarding. Other accountants, however, don’t like their work/life balance and think their daily activities can be mundane. So let’s take a look at some of the top pros and cons of accounting careers.
5 Pros of a Career in Accounting
1. The work can actually be exciting
If you read through reviews of accounting jobs on websites like Quora or Reddit, you’ll notice that accountants have varied opinions about the field. Some love it, but some absolutely hate it. Still, accounting work can be exciting, especially if you enjoy analyzing data and using it to help businesses grow.
2. Accountants are always needed and the job market is fairly strong
The business world will always need accountants. Why? Well, accountants basically track money as it flows through a business or organization. And although many professionals might understand business principles, if they don’t have special accounting knowledge, they won’t be able to perform the analysis skills of a qualified accountant. In the end, that will affect a business’s bottom line.
Plus, even though software has automated and simplified some areas of accounting (such as cost accounting), companies still want human accountants to double-check the numbers. Therefore, accounting tends to be a stable career.
3. Accounting has niches for every personality type
People with all sorts of personality types work as accountants. For example, do you like meeting people and communicating with clients? Then look into the CPA. Are you especially detail-oriented and enjoy double-checking information and tracking down errors? Then look into auditing positions or even a path as a forensic accountant. Or do you prefer to work one-on-one with individuals to help them build a stronger financial future? In that case, a career as a personal financial planner might be right for you. And although some accountants have a lot of face-to-face time with clients, others don’t. So if constant communication with clients isn’t for you, you might do well working in a back office in private accounting.
In fact, the modern accounting field is becoming more diverse than ever. Nowadays, you can even specialize in diverse niches like environmental accounting and information technology.
4. Your accounting skills could help you climb the career ladder
A career in accounting can open up job opportunities in related business environments like finance, taxation, and banking. Plus, you could find yourself moving up in rank fairly quickly, as long as you network, pursue the right accounting credentials, and take your current position seriously.
5. Accountants have high earning potentials
The accounting professional usually has strong salaries, even for entry-level positions. Plus, if you chose to get your CPA, it’s not unusual to see your salary greatly increase—and maybe even double—within several years. Although you’ll work long hours, you could also expect a healthy paycheck.
5 Cons of Accounting Careers
1. Can involve a lot of studying and life-long learning
Depending on which particular accounting niche you settle on, you could have to commit a considerable amount of time and effort to study. For example, most accounting positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Other positions expect candidates to have a master’s degree, however.
Plus, depending on your career path, you should strongly consider a certification like the CPA, CMA, CFA, CIA, or others like the Enrolled Agent credential. Of course, each of these qualifications is accompanied by an exam (or in some cases, a series of exams) that requires a fair amount of studying to pass.
2. Plan to become a life-long learner
What’s more, many accountants need to complete annual CPE (continuing professional education) to keep their credentials active. So even after you graduate from college, you should plan to become a life-long learner as an accountant.
3. Studying for a credential exam is tough but doable
Some public accountants might tell you that studying for the CPA Exam was harder than studying for their accounting classes in college. Likewise, the pass rates for other accounting credential exams like the CFA, CIA, CMA, and EA also suggest that candidates should devote a lot of study time before tackling their tests. For instance, the total CIA exam study time can vary between 30 to 95 hours. And studying for the CPA Exam can take even longer.
However, several companies have developed review courses that greatly increase the chance of passing your exams on the first try. In the long run, it might be worth it to invest in a course and go for an accounting credential that could boost your career.
Take the Enrolled Agent exam, for example. After all, the EA exam pass rates are higher than many other accounting credentials. And if you study with a review course like Gleim EA or Surgent EA, your chances of passing the EA exam on your first attempt go up even more.
4. Work/life balance can be difficult at times
Accountants can struggle to find a good work/life balance because of the demanding schedules and long hours, especially in public accounting. Therefore, this is something to strongly think about before choosing a career in accounting. However, many firms are working to improve their culture and help their employees achieve a more balanced lifestyle.
5. The deadlines are tight and frequent
When you’re an accountant, you’ll always be working to meet cyclical deadlines. For example, public accountants must work around the tax cycles. Along the same lines, accountants employed in private settings prepare financial reports according to monthly or quarterly schedules. The work quite literally never ends.
Typical Accountant Salaries
The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of average accountant salaries across the United States. According to their figures, accountants and auditors earn an average of $71,550 per year. Of course, salaries can ultimately vary by experience, education, and industry (such as public vs. private accounting). Plus, obtaining the CPA or other certifications can enhance your earning potential.
For example, here are the average salaries of some accounting-related professions in the US:
- Bookkeepers and accounting clerks: $41,230
- Cost estimators: $65,250
- Budget analysts: $76,540
- Financial analysts: $81,590
- Personal financial advisors: $87,850
- Financial managers: $129,890
Furthermore, accountants—especially those with credentials like a CPA—can move up to positions like corporate accountants, controllers, or CFO and expect even higher salaries.
Need More Accounting Careers Advice?
After reading this article, do you think a career in accounting could be in your future? Accounting has helped many professionals achieve their goals, and you could be next!
If you need some additional information, check out these articles: