How to start an accounting career

Accounting is a good career choice for multiple reasons. You get decent compensation, the job is in high demand, and you will enjoy it if you like working with numbers and people. A lot of candidates can be wondering about what it takes to become an accountant, what career paths accountants have, how many years it takes to become an accountant, and so forth. In this article, we cover these and other questions about accounting career steps.

1. Where to start and how long it takes to become an accountant

There are a lot of ways to become an accountant, and there are multiple career paths to choose from.  It helps to discuss these first before going into details; so let’s get to it.

Accounting has typical career pathways and non-typical ones.  On one end, we have standard ways of becoming an accountant: receive accounting training and education, get an accounting internship and work experience, obtain necessary licenses and get certified, and then enjoy your accounting career.  On the other end, there are people who get into an accounting career “by accident” going outside of the traditional pathway.  They may have received their degree in a non-business degree (e.g., history, mathematics) and at some point got introduced to accounting, liked it, and decided to switch.  These people may not follow the standard pathway to an accounting career, but they can be very successful as accountants, nevertheless.

Depending on what you are looking for in your accounting career, you may spend (approximately) from 0 to 10 years on training and education.  You can start working as a bookkeeper without any formal education.  You can also aim to obtain a college degree (Bachelor’s or Master’s) in accounting which may take you about 4-5 years.  Finally, if you decide to receive an advanced degree to become an accounting professor and work in academia doing research and teaching, you are looking at 4-5 years to get your Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and another 5 years to obtain your PhD.

Usually, accounting careers lead to public accounting or private sector.  Public accounting is associated with public accounting companies.  There are four largest (international) public accounting firms: KPMG, Ernst & Young (E&Y), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and Deloitte.  There are a lot of other international, national, regional, and local public accounting firms as well. The private sector includes all jobs in small, mid-sized, and large companies and corporations.  We also include any jobs in government, non-profit, academia, etc. areas in the private sector definition.

For the typical accounting career, the following steps will generally be expected:

  1. Get education
  2. Obtain initial experience
  3. Apply for jobs
  4. Get certified and obtain licenses

Note: A lot of information in this article pertains to the U.S.; however, this information may also apply to other countries.

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