Accountants are finance professionals who ensure personal and business records are accurate and complete. In addition to keeping the books, a career in accounting may include filing taxes, assisting with strategic planning and maintaining documentation.
What does an accountant do?
- Use financial software to record data from receipts, invoices and other documents.
- Maintain and organize financial files and paperwork.
- Prepare documents such as tax forms and reports.
- Make recommendations regarding how to improve an organization's financial situation.
Where do accountants work?
About a quarter of accountants work for accounting, tax preparation and bookkeeping firms, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Others may have various employers depending on their specific accounting career. Accountants most commonly work in an office setting although some may work from home.
- Public accountants who aren't employed by an accounting firm may find jobs with corporations, the government or individuals.
- Government accountants are employed at the local, state and federal levels of government to oversee budgets and examine financial documents submitted to various agencies.
- Internal auditors are specialized workers who comb through financial records to look for inefficiencies and potential fraud.
How to Become an Accountant
If you're interested in becoming an accountant, you'll need the right education and maybe even an accounting certification to land a job. Although people may take different paths to accounting careers, most follow these steps.
- Earn a high school diploma. Some accounting clerks may be able to find a job with a high school diploma and on-the-job training, but employers are usually looking for job candidates with some formal education.
- Complete an accounting degree program. You can find accounting degree programs at the associate, bachelor's and graduate levels, and many schools offer online courses for these programs. Bookkeeping jobs may be available to those with a two-year degree, but a bachelor's degree is the standard education for this profession. The only exception is for Certified Public Accountants who need additional college credits beyond a four-year degree.
- Certification, licensing and exams for accountants. Accountants who file reports with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission must be Certified Public Accountants. Otherwise, there are no state licensing requirements for this occupation. However, you may still want to earn one of the following or another voluntary accounting certification.
|Certification||Certifying board/organization||Exam details||State requirements||License/certificate renewal?|
|Certified Public Accountant (CPA)||Exam administered by American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), Licensure granted by state Boards of Accountancy||Series of 4 four-hour exams which must be completed within an 18 month period.||Required for accountants filing reports with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission||Varies by state but typically must be renewed every 2-3 years. States may require anywhere from 40 to 120 continuing education hours for renewal.|
|Certified Management Accountant (CMA)||Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)||Two-part exam and a three-year window to complete both parts.||None||30 hours continuing education, including two hours in the area of ethics, must be completed annually to maintain certification.|
|Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB)||National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB)||Four-part exam, each part can be taken separately and applicants have one year to complete all parts.||None||24 hours of continuing education must be completed each year to maintain certification.|
|Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)||The Institute of Internal Auditors||Three-part exam with a three-year window to complete all exam parts.||None||Continuing education required to maintain certification, hours vary depending on certification status.|
Career advancement for accountants
Education and experience are often the best ways to advance a career in accounting. Senior positions within a company may go to those with years in the workforce, an advanced degree or certifications such as a CPA.
Important Skills and Abilities for Accountants
Mathematics - It goes without saying that a strong grasp of math and mathematical reasoning is critical for accountants to do their jobs well.
Critical thinking - Professionals need to be able to decipher the information provided to them by clients and record it appropriately.
- Complex problem solving - Accounting work can involve multiple steps and complex calculations.
- Information ordering - Bookkeepers and accountants must be able to categorize and order data in records according to accepted standards.
- Near vision - Since much of their work involves reviewing documentation and working with software, good eyesight is important.
Accountant Salary and Career Outlook
Accountants play an important role in business and personal finances and are often paid well for their expertise. Here's a look at how much these professionals make and the occupation's expected job growth for the years to come.
Professional Organizations for Accountants
American Institute of CPAs: With a history dating back to 1887, the AICPA is considered by many to be the nation's premier accounting organization.
National Association of Accountants: The NSA provides education services and advocacy on behalf of tax and accounting professionals.
American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers: The AIPB has been serving the interests of the nation's bookkeepers since 1987.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accountants and Auditors, Accessed September 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
- Accelerate Your Success, The Institute of Internal Auditors, Accessed September 2019, https://na.theiia.org/certification/Public%20Documents/CIA-Brochure.pdf
- CPE Credit Requirements by State & Organizations, Western CPE, Accessed September 2019, https://www.westerncpe.com/resources/cpe-requirements/
- Certified Public Bookkeeper Overview, National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers, Accessed September 2019, https://certifiedpublicbookkeeper.org/license/certified-public-bookkeeper/overview.cfm
- Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Requirements for Certified Internal Auditors (CIAs), The Institute of Internal Auditors, Accessed September 2019, https://na.theiia.org/certification/CIA-Certification/Pages/CPE-Requirements.aspx
- Accountants, O*NET Online, Accessed September 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2011.01