Overview of the accounting profession

April 29, 2014

Accounting can be a rewarding, challenging career for those with a strong analytical background. In this article, we’ll go over the basic career choices available to new accountants.

1. Accounting education

The basic educational background for accountants is the 4-year bachelor’s degree. You’ll be required to take classes ranging from standard accounting courses to business and management courses.

If you’re a career changer and have two degrees, you can realistically stop at that point, but a 22-year-old fresh out of college will need an additional 20 to 30 credit hours to reach the 150-hour minimum required by most states to get the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.

2. Public accounting as a career choice

Public accounting is the one of various major career paths available to a brand-new accountant. Your duties will depend on the size of the firm (generally a partnership) you are working for. In a very small firm, you might work on business audits and taxes for both businesses and individuals. In a larger firm, those functions are usually segregated, so you will likely work on audits or taxes, depending on your interests and the needs of the firm. Analytically-minded accountants could also find themselves working for the business advisory or consulting segment of the company.

Most firms generally recruit from nearby universities for semester or summer internships and entry-level accounting positions. If you’re a current student at a major university, try to interact with as many firm representatives as you can. If, on the other hand, you are taking classes online, perhaps for a second degree, you can increase your chances of landing an interview by passing all or part of the CPA exam. Although online degrees are becoming more accepted, there are still hiring managers out there who will immediately look down on a self-study degree. Passing exam sections ahead of getting a job shows that you are serious about public accounting and that you know just as much as a full-time university student.

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant is an absolute necessity for advancement in the public accounting career path. For the first several years of your career, you will gain certification while advancing towards senior accountant positions. Soon after, you will have the opportunity to advance into management positions, eventually leading to a potential partnership offer. You might also decide to split away from the firm and found your own partnership.

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