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 fit your personality, you could find it difficult.
But first, before starting 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 by 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 accurate, most accountants have some common skill sets. 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, which 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 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 the private sector 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 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, even real estate appraiser, and more. In addition, some accountants go into information technology and business valuation. 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. Of course, they can deliver accounting services, 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 analyze budgets, prepare tax forms, or advise 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. To become a CPA, you must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass the CPA Exam, which is notoriously tough. (Check out this article about CPA pass rates by school.) But if you study with one of the best CPA review courses, you’ll greatly increase your chances on the first try. Plus, you can save big with one of our CPA review discounts, including our exclusive Becker CPA discounts for some of the top CPA study materials available.
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.
Like financial accountants, managerial accountants also prepare reports assessing 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.
With the Certified Management Accountant certification, you can demonstrate your potential as a managerial accountant. In fact, it’s not as difficult to become a CMA as other accounting credentials like the CPA because the education and experience requirements are a little less demanding. If you think you might be interested in pursuing the CMA, check out our sister website to learn about the benefits and how to find the best CMA review course. You’ll find plenty of CMA review course discounts, too.
Financial Planner and Financial Advisor
Accountants with particular skills in planning can consider careers as financial advisors or financial planners. These professionals have similar goals but different job descriptions. To start, all financial planners are also financial advisors, but the reverse is not always true. Financial advisors are a broad group of people who helps others manage their money and make good financial decisions. But 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.
Varied professionals call themselves “financial advisors,” from stockbrokers to bankers and even insurance agents. Therefore, obtaining the Certified Financial Advisor credential can clearly define your skills and make you stand out from the crowd. Candidates only need a bachelor’s degree or work experience – not both – to pursue the CFA. However, they must also get through the marathon of the 3-part CFA exam. Using some of the best CFA study materials makes the journey a little easier. And since the CFA exam fees add up, you should definitely check out these CFA course discounts if you decide to become a CFA charter holder.
Some financial advisors also seek out more specialized certifications, too. For instance, where the CFA exam covers broad content, the specific finance exams from FINRA are targeted. Therefore, financial advisors often take the SIE (Securities Information Essentials) exam as well as the related Series 9/10 and Series 99 exams. However, be aware that the SIE exam dates and registration process is a little different from other certification exams, so that takes some pre-planning on your part.
Internal auditors work inside business entities to ensure that their financial resources are 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.
Many auditors find that the Certified Internal Auditor certification can lead to better career opportunities. To become a CIA, you must first meet some basic work experience and education benchmarks. Candidates must also pass the 3-part CIA exam, which has a fairly low pass rate. Still, candidates who study with one of the best CIA review courses score much higher. And if the CIA is right for you, save money with these CIA review course discounts.
Accountants are needed at all levels of government. Therefore, government accountants have several roles. First, they help offices manage their funds and record their spending. Second, they also guarantee that funds are collected and spent according to current financial regulations.
Along the same line, if you’re interested in governmental financial regulations, you should check out a career as an Enrolled Agent. Simply put, EAs are tax preparers with specialized expertise in taxation. If you become an EA, you’re also among the shortlist of professionals who can represent taxpayers before the IRS. And because taxes become more and more complicated, you’ll enjoy good job security as an EA.
But unlike the CIA, CMA, or CPA paths, you don’t need any specific academic degree or work experience. Instead, you must prove your deep tax knowledge to the IRS by passing the EA exam. And the EA exam pass rates are higher than other credential exams, too. To get started, just take a look at the Enrolled Agent exam syllabus.
And since tax regulations can change from year to year, you should definitely study with an Enrolled Agent course. Gleim EA is a popular choice, and our sister site has a Gleim EA discount as well as several other Enrolled Agent course discounts. The Fast Forward Academy is known for its large test bank of questions and an online support community. Another popular choice is TaxMama, which is really designed to teach you the EA content from the ground up if you don’t have any previous tax experience.
Certified Information Systems Auditor
And finally, a related but different professional path to consider is that of a Certified Information Systems Auditor. CISA holders help businesses and organizations manage the security of their IT systems. A range of professionals pursues the CISA because it increases their skills in risk management. For instance, IT security officers, chief information officers, and even internal auditors can benefit from being CISA certified.
The CISA exam might be a little different from other tests you’ve taken because it really strives to assess your actual skills. Therefore, CISA review courses are designed to help you master the kind of questions on the exam. So, on our sister site, you’ll find CISA discounts plus information on CISA exam scoring results and how to reschedule the CISA exam.
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 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 and using data 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 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 move up in rank fairly quickly if you network, pursue the right accounting credentials, and take your current position seriously.
5. Accountants have high earning potential
The accounting profession usually has strong salaries, even for entry-level positions. Plus, if you choose to get your CPA, it’s not unusual to see your salary 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 lifelong 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 lifelong 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 think strongly 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 a 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:
- Average accounting salary in the US
- 5 best jobs for former accountants (includes some good general career advice)
- Best CPA review courses
- What is a Gleim CPA study unit?