How to Become an Accountant

how to become an accountant

Are you thinking of becoming an accountant but are undecided or just don’t know where to begin?

Here we’ll cover how to begin a career in accounting as well as the different opportunities that may be available to you in this profession. I hope you find this insight helpful in your decision making.

Why Become an Accountant?

Before we jump into how you can start your accounting career, let’s look into why you might choose accounting in the first place.

First of all, accountants are always in high demand.  Every organization will need an accountant in some form no matter the state of the economy. In fact, accounting can actually be one of the few careers that still thrives during an economic downturn.

Accountants also tend to earn high salaries, and can be amongst the highest paid professionals in the United States. You may even unlock opportunities for international work and travel – as a CMA (and founder of the CMA Exam Academy), I myself have had the wonderful opportunity to travel the world for my work.

And of course, there is a plethora of different career paths to pursue after becoming an accountant, as an accountant can work in a multitude of various industries.  From healthcare to nonprofit agencies, there is always a place for an accountant.

Education

As I’m sure you know, the best way to start is with a good, solid education.  Most accountants opt to earn a bachelor’s degree, and while this is highly recommended and will give you an edge on your peers who did not graduate university, it is not a required step to becoming an accountant.

A quality education in accounting or a related field should equip you with several core skills you will need in your profession.

These fundamental skills include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Knowledge of IT systems
  • Solid math skills

Finding Work

Internship

Once you are nearing the end of your studies at university, it is the optimal time to start looking for an accounting internship.  You can wait until after graduation of course, but if you land one of these while a student, you will have a valuable advantage over your fellow college grads.

Internships are a great way to gain some real work experience, expand your knowledge in the field, and bulk up your resume, making it much easier to land an entry level job when the time comes.  Go to your school’s career center – they can help you find great internship opportunities, and letting them help you set up an internship may be much easier than finding a solid internship yourself.

Entry-Level Job

Now that you’ve graduated, it’s time to apply for some entry-level accounting positions!

You can start by searching and applying for entry level accounting positions online.  The internet has plentiful platforms from which you can perform your job searching such as Linkedin and your’s university’s job site.

As a recent college graduate, you may have trouble finding good job opportunities on your own due to your limited or lack of experience in the field.  In this case, websites that cater to new grads such as aftercollege.com and collegerecruiter.com can be very useful in landing an entry level accounting position (work.chron.com).

Career Paths

What career path you should take as an accountant is reliant upon a number of factors that you must consider.

In what kind of work environment do you thrive?
Do you want to work in business and finance, management, auditing, or the nonprofit sector?
Or do you simply want to be an accountant in an accounting firm?
How much of your time are you willing to invest in education?

You may want to earn a professional certification like a CPA or CMA which will allow you to earn higher salaries (often earning over $100,000) and advance further in your career.

Or perhaps you don’t find all that continuing education and extra workload that comes with it worth your time and are happier kicking off your career with a bachelor’s degree.

It’s a good idea to really think about all of this while pursuing your accounting related degree so that you can gear your education towards a particular focus.

The most common accounting fields are as follows:

Internal and External Auditors

As an auditor, your main function is to manage an organization’s business activities – to thoroughly examine each department in order to identify where there is waste, mismanagement, misrepresentation and other inefficiencies within a company.  A company may hire an internal auditor for this purpose as well as to advise management on how to  improve the company’s efficiency and integrity while reducing risk.

External auditors on the other hand comes to evaluate a company in order to verify the validity of a company’s financial reports and practices.

Government Accountants

Government accountants work for government agencies in every government office (federal, state, and municipal), including of course the IRS (Internal Revenue Service).

Often those in government accounting may work as forensic accountants analyzing criminal activities, or they may work in the nonprofit sector.  Working as an accountant for a government funded non profit agency gives you the  “unique opportunity to manage funds with respect to accountability to taxpayers and grantors” (accountingedu.org)

Public Accountants

Public Accounting is perhaps the most diverse field of accounting.  They come in many forms such as auditors, bookkeepers, tax accountants, tax advisers, forensic accountants, consultants, etc.

According to AccountingEdu.org –
Public Accountants are hired for a wide variety of services that include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Preparation and analysis of accounting records and financial statements
  • Auditing of financial records and reports for accuracy and conformity to standards
  • Preparation of tax returns and monitoring of payment compliance
  • Analysis of business operations, including costs, revenue, and financial obligations
  • Development and analysis of budgets
  • Design of computerized record-keeping and accounting systems
  • Analysis and development of compensation programs
  • Development of long-range tax and estate plans
  • Preparation of records for bankruptcy filings and financial litigation cases

If you want to have the most lucrative career possible in public accounting helping individuals and organizations to attain their financial goals, you may consider become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). In order to achieve this, you will need to further your education in order to pass the required exams.  To learn more about the CPA,  I encourage you to visit the AICPA (American Institute of CPAs) website.

Management Accountants

As a Management Accountant, you will most likely work for a business in the private sector.  You will work closely with upper management staff to manage the financial services of and ultimately achieve success for the company. Your main duties may include product/service development, analyzing financial data, creating budgets, maximizing expenditures, providing financial reports, and basically helping the company make informed business decisions.

The most advantageous way to kick off your career as in management accounting is to become a CMA (Certified Management Accountant), which is what my websites CMA Coach and CMA Exam Academy are all about!  If you are interested in pursuing the CMA designation, please check out the programs I offer, designed to help you thrive in your studies, and pass the CMA exam with confidence the first time around.

Remember that no one accounting specialization is better than the other. You need to weigh the factors for yourself to decide what career path is best for you whether it be pursuing your accounting degree and then climbing up the corporate ladder to CFO or a career that has absolutely nothing to do with accounting whatsoever.  Whatever you choose, be sure it’s the right path for you as an individual.

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