Starting a career in accounting is a smart choice - with forecasts for significant growth in the industry, a high median salary, and a demand for qualified accounting professionals, the time has never been better to join the field. However, once you've decided that you're going to pursue an accounting career, you'll quickly find that the field is much larger and more diverse than you might have thought, with opportunities to apply your skills in a number of different areas.
If you're unsure of what you can do with a degree in accounting, read on to discover how to choose the perfect accounting career path for you.
Learning About the Various Career Fields in Accounting
While most people think about accounting as one homogenous industry, the reality is, there is no one set accounting career path. There are a number of different fields of accounting that you can pursue, each with its own area of focus and specialization. While almost all accounting careers will require a basis of fundamental technical accounting skills and capabilities, from there, you can go in any number of directions based on your interests. Here are just a few of the career fields in accounting that might be available to you.
If you've obtained, or plan to obtain, a CPA certification, you are eligible to work at a public accounting firm. A public accounting firm generally provides auditing, tax, consulting, and accounting services for a number of clients across a range of sectors, including businesses, individuals, nonprofits, and governments. A job in public accounting will give you experience in many different facets of the accounting field, from the preparation and review of financial statements to analyzing budgets to tax work to consulting and advice on a range of financial issues.
As the name suggests, a tax account focuses solely on tax-related accounting work, preparing quarterly and annual tax returns (local, state, and federal) for individuals and companies.
Forensic accountants examine companies' financial statements and provide analysis for legal cases, investigating crimes such as embezzlement or fraud.
Financial accountants work for a single organization or business, preparing reports that assess fiscal performance (for example, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements) for stockholders, creditors, and taxing agencies - essentially, individuals external to the company.
Managerial accountants perform similar work to financial accountants, but focus on internal stakeholders - they prepare reports for internal review, to help businesses plan, budget, and improve performance.
Some accounting professionals choose to work for financial planning firms, or as independent financial consultants. Financial planners assist individuals with their finances, from budgeting to taxes to investing.
In large corporations, internal auditors ensure that resources are being used effectively, that the company is in compliance with all state and federal requirements, and funds are not being mismanaged.
Government accountants work in the public sector, managing financial information for all levels of the government - local, state, or federal. Their focus is often the management of funds, whether it is being collected and spent according to appropriate laws.
Accounting Career Path Planning
Now that you have a sense of some of your career options in the accounting field, it's time to decide which direction you want to go in. While most accounting positions will require the same general skillset - which typically includes being analytical, being good with numbers, and being able to interpret data, among other key competencies - each accounting career path will require a slightly different set of skills and training. Here are some of the things you'll want to consider.
What Level of Education Do You Have (Or Are You Prepared to Obtain)?
Most professional accounting jobs require a bachelor's degree. If you've completed an associate degree, you may want to consider enrolling in a bachelor's in accounting program to obtain the additional credential, which can make a big difference when being considered for a new role. While most accounting jobs do not necessarily require a master's degree, if you are planning on sitting for the CPA, you will need 150 college credit hours in order to take the exam (most bachelor's programs are 120 credits, meaning you will need to complete an additional 30). These credits do not have to all be in the accounting field, and can be at either the graduate or undergraduate level. Some people choose to fulfill this requirement by completing an accounting certificate or a master's degree in accounting (depending on the number of credits they have to finish in order to reach the 150 hour minimum). Some people also take this opportunity to explore a new subject area and will pursue an MBA or a certificate in a related field.
Do You Want to Sit for the CPA?
This is a key question to consider when you're beginning to think about your accounting career path. While sitting for the CPA can lead to increased job prospects and opportunities in new sectors, it also requires a lot of time, resources, and effort - and isn't necessary for many accounting jobs. Spend some time carefully thinking about your goals to ensure that if you undertake this challenge, you're using your time wisely.
What Kind of Company Do You Want to Work For?
Accountants are needed in almost every type of business, from small to large, across all sectors. That means that it's up to you to decide where you think you'll fit best. Think about your goals: do you want to work for a consulting firm, where you'll have a number of clients, or would you prefer to be on the accounting team in a private company or nonprofit organization? Your interest in specific account fields will also dictate the types of businesses you can work for - if you're interested in internal auditing, chances are you'll need to look at larger corporations. If you're an independent worker, perhaps you'd do well as financial consultant.
What Kind of Work Environment Do You Thrive In?
Depending on the type of accounting you do, your work environment can vary significantly. Some kinds of accounting, such as managerial accounting, have a fairly consistent pace, where your work will be very similar from day to day. Other types of accounting, particularly tax accounting, will have very busy periods (notably around tax season, in the early spring) and then have much slower periods. Think about what kind of work environment you enjoy - do you work well under pressure? Do you need variety to stay engaged? This can help inform your decision.
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