Accountant

accountant-header-career

Table of Contents

Overview

Job Responsibilities

  • Assuring accuracy of financial reports and compliance with tax laws
  • Completing audits by cooperating with the internal and external auditors
  • Preparing and maintaining records of accounting documents such as original records of invoices, receipts, orders, vouchers, revenues, expenses, budgets, and other records which evidence a financial transaction
  • Reviewing and analyzing expenditures and suggesting appropriate budgets
  • Compiling and evaluating financial information such as balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and shareholder’s equity statements

How Much Does an Accountant Make?

Accountants made a median salary of $70,500 in 2018. The best-paid 10 percent made $122,840 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $43,650.

Accountant-Bell-Graph

Common Requirements

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting or any related field.
  • Extensive knowledge of US GAAP
  • Advanced computer skills in MS Office and accounting software.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.
  • High level of numeracy
  • Organizational skills and ability to manage deadlines

Similar Careers

Accounting Assistant

Accounting Clerk

Accounting Manager

Accounts Payable Clerk

Accounts Receivable Clerk

Bookkeeping

Budget Analyst

Payroll Clerk

Staff Accountant

Tax Accountant

Common Skills

Quickbooks

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Powerpoint

Accounting

Microsoft Excel

Lacerte

Accounts

Payable/Receivable

Microsoft Access

Peachtree

MEDIAN SALARY

$70,500 per year
$33.89 per hour

JOB OUTLOOK

6%

NUMBER OF JOBS

1,424,000

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming an Accountant

Accountants are one of the greatest assets in a company. They ensure that financial records such as debts, profits, and liabilities are accurate and well-maintained. They are also responsible for tasks such as analyzing data, finance reports and accounting records, performing audits, preparing taxes and tax returns, and providing consultations. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of an accountant is $70,500 as of 2018 and it is also projected that there will be a 6 percent increase in employment from 2018-2028.

To be an accountant, one must have a high degree of integrity, dependability, and trustworthiness because they are dealing with money – and sometimes a significant amount of it. 

What Does an Accountant Do?

Accountants have an important role and contribution when it comes to the financial decision making of an individual or a business. Since they are responsible for maintaining the financial record, they can provide input on how to help with risk management and even assist with the implementation of business strategies. They also help reduce or control the cost of a business by preventing misuse of the assets and controlling the budget. An accountant’s duties may vary depending on his/her specialization and job sector. 

An accountant’s duties may include:

  • Ensuring accuracy of financial reports and compliance with tax laws
  • Completing audits by cooperating with the internal and external auditors
  • Preparing and maintaining records of accounting documents such as original records of invoices, receipts, orders, vouchers, revenues, expenses, budgets, and other records which evidence a financial transaction
  • Reviewing and analyzing expenditures and suggesting appropriate budgets
  • Compiling and evaluating financial information such as balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and shareholder’s equity statements

Signs You Should Consider Becoming an Accountant

Do you have what it takes to be an exceptional accountant? These are the key qualities that make a successful accountant:

1. You are an expert in numbers.

Being proficient in mathematics is one skill an accountant will need to be successful in the chosen field. Some accountants these days rely on calculators and spreadsheets when doing computations, but we shouldn’t rely on technology 100% because there is always a possibility for inaccuracy. That is why accountants should be efficient with numbers to double check and ensure accuracy. 

2. You have an eye for details.

 If you are meticulous about accuracy and details, then being an accountant is the right career for you. Being attentive to details is an important trait an accountant should have because they need to make sure that all of the numbers they are working on their documents are correct. To become detail-oriented, they should develop their sense of focus as this will reduce the risk of making mistakes. The smallest mistake could equal huge consequences so when performing tasks such as preparing a financial statement and report, all of the information included should be accurate and error-free. 

3. You are organized.

Accountants must demonstrate strong organizational skills. They must be able to stay on top of everything because they are dealing with a lot of paperwork. Accountants must also have easy-access to documents they might need, which will help them optimize their productivity and work accurately. They usually manage this by maintaining a system that will help them keep track of the accounts and transactions they handle. 

4. You love solving problems.

Having strong analytical skills is what helps accountants use logic to solve problems. They read, analyze, compare, and interpret numbers to help an individual or organization manage and understand their accounts and finances. They use this skill to solve mathematical problems, perform critical thinking, problem solving, and plan formulation.

5. Sense of accountability. 

An accountant’s role is critical to a company. Accountability makes an accountant obliged or legally responsible to do the part of his/her job professionally. Since they are dealing with the financial statements of an individual or an organization, they need to make sure that these records are accurate. Inaccuracy of financial statements may cause the responsible party to pay for any losses or even face legal consequences.

6. Reliable and Trustworthy.

Accountants live by their credibility. They establish a good reputation by being reliable and trustworthy. Dealing with financial statements and financial health of an individual or organization should be a confidential topic to protect their security. Clients trust their accountants that they will not take advantage of them or suddenly go in the wrong direction. 

accountant-career-header

How Do You Become an Accountant?

There are different paths you can take to become an accountant, depending on the type of accounting career you want to pursue. However, there are basic requirements that you should complete to become successful in any of those accounting career types.

1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting or any related field.  

Most companies consider a bachelor’s degree in accounting or any related field such as business administration as a minimum degree to be an accountant. You also need to earn a bachelor’s degree if you are planning to be a certified public accountant (CPA). 

Each state has its own requirements; some states may even require you to take additional coursework such as tax accounting, financial reporting, auditing, and even marketing and finance. Asking advice from an academic counselor would be a great help before you enroll in a degree program.

2. Choose an accounting career type.  

Accounting features four career types: Public Accounting, Private Accounting, Internal and External Auditing, and Government Accounting. Within those four sectors are a series of unique careers paths and positions you can choose from.

Public accountants

This type of accountant offers his/her services to an “external” or third-party individual or company. They usually choose to work as freelancers and sole-proprietors and even accept offers of joint partnerships. They also work with accounting firms and government agencies. To sum up, they work with several clients and are not solely employed by only one client.

A public accountant’s services include, but are not limited to:

  • Organizing tax returns
  • Auditing financial statements
  • Preparing financial statements
  • Business operations analysis
  • Analysis and development of budgets
  • Assisting with developing tools and accounting systems for record management

To be a public accountant, you must have a bachelor’s degree and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification.

Private or corporate accountants

This type of accountant offers their services “internally” or to only an individual, one business entity or specific company. Since they exclusively work for one client and focus on one field and in one type of service, it allows them to become more familiar in that area, developing a higher level of financial expertise in that field. 

They are hired internally and are responsible for performing a variety of tasks depending on the requirement of their clients. As a result, they have wide knowledge in the specific industry’s business requirements and processes; therefore, they become more familiar with tasks such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash flow, payroll, billing and manufacturing costs reports, etc.

Being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is not required for this position, although it is preferred.

Government Accountants

This type of accountant works in government agencies, offices, or public sectors such as the General Accounting Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as government offices. They also have an understanding of the accounting principle that is set by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). 

A government accountant’s services include, but are not limited to:

  • Assessing the government and taxpayers’ financial documentation
  • Inspecting documents and statements for possible white-collar crime of financial fraud
  • Reviewing and auditing books to ensure government agencies legal compliance
  • Evaluating of the public funds usage in community projects
  • Ensuring that private businesses comply with the fiscal standards

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a must if you want to pursue this path in accounting.

Internal and External Auditor

One of the main objectives of an internal auditor is to improve an organization’s operation by reviewing its activities and reducing risks. On the other hand, an external auditor’s objective is to validate the accuracy of an organization’s financial records and accounting methods if there are irregularities.

Internal auditor vs. external auditor​

Internal Auditor

  • Hired employee of an organization 
  • May or may not have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification
  • Provides advice and assistance to the organization
  • Submits audited reports directly to the organization
  • The scope of audit is decided by the organization

External Auditor

  • Contracted from a third-party firm by the organization’s shareholders
  • A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification is required to perform activities
  • Restricted from supporting the audited organization
  • Submits audited reports to the public sectors, stakeholders, or investors
  • The scope of audit is decided by the shareholder or relevant authority

3. Find an internship

Internship can help your resume stand out. Undergoing an internship will help you gain firsthand experience of the common duties and responsibilities of an accountant. This is enormously important since employers prefer hiring someone who has experience.

You can ask your school’s accounting department to give you a list of accounting firms or other local businesses that have an existing partnership. If your school doesn’t offer this kind of program, you can ask for the network of your accounting professor. In addition, you can also find internships online. There are a lot of companies who are looking for interns and they commonly post available internship positions online. 

4. Pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

To become a CPA, one must pass the examination and meet specific requirements like having a minimum bachelor’s degree at 150 semester hours of credit. 

Being a CPA brings you more opportunities aside from helping you earn more because it shows that you have the expertise in the field. You can perform certain legal services such as filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and you can even start your own firm. It also gives assurance to the public and your clients that you are credible and that you have achieved the required education, training, and experience that is essential in performing your duties.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be an Accountant?

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)

As an accountant, you must understand the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). These accounting standards are a set of rules and practices used throughout the accounting industries. All regulated, publicly held, and publicly traded companies are obliged to follow the GAAP standard.

Creating financial statements

Accountants create formal records of the financial activities of an individual or organization, which are generally called financial statements. Financial statements include balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and shareholders’ equity statements.

  • Balance sheet: This is a statement report of a company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholder’s equity. It is an overview statement of what an entity owns and owes, and it records the investments of a shareholder.
  • Income statement: This statement contains the profits, losses, sales, and expenses during a particular period of time. It helps the management, current investors and potential investors evaluate the performance and determine the future standing of a company.
  • Cash flow statement: This statement helps measure the cash entering and leaving a company. It helps measure how a company manages its cash position.
  • Statement shareholders’ equity: This is a statement detailing a shareholder’s equity details by measuring the equity’s changes over a period of time. This helps the shareholders see how their investments are doing.

Accounting and Economics

Accounting and economics go hand in hand when dealing with financial issues. Both are also involved with a lot of numbers and computations, thus, knowledge and skills in mathematics are a must. Also, both skills are concerned with the same interest: goods and services.

Skills in accounting and economics are essential if you want to become a successful accountant. The main focus in economics is the production, consumption, and distribution of wealth, goods, and services. On the other hand, accounting is analyzing, summarizing, and recording financial transactions.

Spreadsheet software or program

Accountants use a spreadsheet software or program these days to analyze, organize, and store data. This type of software replaced the old paper accounting worksheets, thus tasks became easier. This tool can be used to automatically calculate mathematical problems by manipulating data with formulas and commands. They can also use this software to review past, present, and future performance or trends.

Account Reconciliation. 

This is the process of matching sets of records between two accounts to ensure that the information of funds going out of the company matches the actual money spent. The account reconciliation process is done before the end of a particular financial period. If the accountants find discrepancies in the account balances, they will perform investigations and take corrective action to rectify the inaccuracies.

  • University of Texas – Austin
  • Brigham Young University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Mississippi
  • Indiana University
  • University of Chicago
  • Ohio State University
  • New York University
  • Texas A&M University
  • UC Berkeley
  • Cornell University
  • Wake Forest University
  • University of Tulsa
  • Stanford University
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Florida
  • University of Richmond
  • Southern Methodist University
  • University of Wisconsin
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  • University of Georgia
  • Michigan State University
  • Tulane University
  • City University of New York
  • Northern Illinois University
  • Miami University
  • University of Santa Clara
  • Boston College
  • Penn State University
  • University of Utah
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  • University of Alabama
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Iowa
  • Oklahoma State University
  • College of William & Mary
  • University of Connecticut
  • Bentley University
  • American University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Ball State University
  • Belmont University
  • University of Arkansas
  • Bryant University
accounting-career-header

How to Get a Job as an Accountant

Most companies have at least one accountant in their team. Accountants are responsible for the reporting, recording and analysis of business transactions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of accountants is expected to increase 6 percent from 2018 to 2028. The BLS also reported in 2018 that the median annual salary of an accountant in the United States is $70,500. 

Although the employment growth is quite high, finding a job as an accountant can still be a challenge.

How can you get a job as an accountant and what are the key requirements to be successful in the accounting field?

First, you must complete a bachelor’s degree in accounting or any related field. You should also maintain a GPA of at least 3.5 or higher to have a chance to position yourself with major companies such as:

Second, you must gain hands-on experience. This is by enrolling in an internship or by doing volunteer work. Getting hands-on experience is as important as having a degree because you will have a chance to be exposed in the field. Thus, you’ll be able to acquire the knowledge and skills that will make you a more competitive candidate in the job market.

Third, you must pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

Most companies and firms prefer hiring candidates who are CPAs. These are some reasons why you should consider becoming a CPA:

1. More career opportunities. You can choose to work for a government agency or a private company. 

2. Recognition. Gaining the CPA title, the highest level of accountant, is not easy. You will be respected and admired by your peers, clients, and employers because it shows that you are a professional and that you are dedicated to your profession.

3. Guaranteed employment. Since most employers prefer CPAs over non-CPAs, there are many companies who would rather retain their CPAs and also companies who would rather hire CPAs. Also, you can work on your own or even start your own company if you earn a CPA license.

4. Higher pay. The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) conducted a survey and the results shows that a licensed CPA earns about $66,000 to $152,000 in annual pay.

The CPA exam has four four-hour sections:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD)
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC)
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR)
  • Regulation (REG)

You can take these exams within 18 months and you need to at least have a score of 75 on each section to pass. However, take note that every state issues its own CPA certificate, thus, there are different rules and requirements. Asking advice from an academic counselor would be a great help before you take a CPA exam.

To learn more about your state requirement visit ThisWayToCPA.com and choose your state for further details.

Sign up in an organization in the accounting field.

There are numerous professional organizations for accounting students. Not only will this help you find a job, but this step will also help you build your network and get involved with the accounting community. Here is a list of several professional organizations for accounting students:

  1. American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
  2. the Professional Accounting Society of America (PASA)
  3. the American Accounting Association (AAA)
  4. International Federation of Accountants(IFA)
  5. Beta Alpha Psi
  6. Young CPA Network

Join an accounting career fair or program.

Schools and universities that have prominent accounting programs usually conduct career fairs. Attending career fairs or programs is a great opportunity to build your network in the professional world. This is also a chance for you to explore companies and meet your prospective employer.

You can search for these career fairs online. They usually require advance registration which you can do via online registration or phone call.

Merely attending these career fairs is not enough; you have to be prepared, too. Here are some tips on how you can prepare yourself for the event:

  1. It is important that you do thorough research of the attending companies in the career fair. Most universities have a website including the details of the fair so there’s a good chance that you can also find a list of companies that are attending. Visit the website of each company and take note of their history, what they do, and other important facts you think may help you when you meet with them. List down the companies you want to prioritize so you can look for them when you attend the fair.
  2. Remember to look your best and dress to impress. Wear proper business attire just to stay on the safe side and make sure that your clothes are ironed and neat.
  3. Don’t forget to bring several copies of your resume and cover letter, and even business cards (if you have one).
  4. Prepare for the common interview questions.

Search for job openings online

Searching for jobs in the accounting field is much easier these days because of the available job application sites. You can try the websites below in searching for job openings:

Finding an accounting firm that you would want to work for can be nerve-racking, especially when there are almost 140,000 accounting firms in the US as of 2019. Here is a list of the Top 10 Accounting Firms in The USA according to The Big 4 Accounting Firms.

  1. Deloitte LLP
  2. PricewaterhouseCoopers
  3. Ernst & Young
  4. KPMG
  5. McGladrey
  6. Grant Thornton LLP
  7. CBIZ/Mayer Hoffman McCann
  8. BDO
  9. Crowe Horwath
  10. CliftonLarsonAllen

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

The salary is one of the major factors a person considers in finding a job. Accountants have one of the most secure jobs because as long as people are making money, they need the services of accountants. But, an accountant’s wage will vary from state to state due to several factors.

Here’s a list of an accountant’s average earnings in every state according to the latest data from the Discover Accounting dated 2019:

State2018 Mean Annual Wage
New York$95,430
New Jersey$91,400
Virginia$84,740
California$83,540
Alaska$82,040
Connecticut$82,040
Texas$81,330
Maryland$80,930
Massachusetts$80,280
Illinois$80,050
Rhode Island$79,950
Colorado$79,300
Delaware$79,250
Washington$76,010
North Carolina$75,660
Michigan$75,650
Vermont$75,470
Georgia$74,950
Pennsylvania$74,730
New Hampshire$72,360
Ohio$72,350
Minnesota$71,420
Utah$70,640
Florida$70,500
Table DataTable Data
State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Oklahoma$70,480
Missouri$70,180
Alabama$69,650
Arizona$69,340
Oregon$68,780
Maine$67,980
West Virginia$67,510
Wyoming$67,510
Tennessee$67,360
Wisconsin$67,240
New Mexico$66,970
Indiana$66,600
Iowa$66,500
Arkansas$66,260
Nebraska$66,140
Louisiana$65,930
Kentucky$65,600
Nevada$65,580
South Dakota$65,460
Kansas$65,090
Idaho$64,640
Hawaii$64,410
South Carolina$64,220
North Dakota$60,550
Mississippi$59,960

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

A well-crafted resume will leave a good impression on your prospective employer and it also plays a crucial role in getting noticed and remembered by the hiring manager.

Here are some tips to show your potential employer that you are the best candidate they have:

1. Showcase your licenses and certifications.

By now, you already know that a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the highest level and most popular certification in the industry, but there are also other certifications that will help you boost your chances of landing a job and be the cream of the crop

  • Accredited Business Accountant (ABA)
  • Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA)
  • Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP)
  • Certified Bank Auditor (CBA)
  • Certified Business Appraiser (CBA)
  • Certified Credit Executive (CCA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF)
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB)
  • Certified Payroll Professional (CPP)
  • Certified Risk Professional (CRP)
  • Certified Quality Auditor (CQA)
  • Enrolled Agent (EA)

It is crucial to choose which certification/s are going to be included in your resume. Use the relevant certification to the position you are applying for as much as possible.

Also, the license and certification section in your resume should follow a certain structure:

  • Name of certification or license
  • Name of certifying center or authority
  • Dates obtained and expiration (if applicable)
  • Location (if appropriate)

Here are some other things to take note of:

  • License and certification should be presented in reverse chronological order
  • Do not include irrelevant license and certification
  • Include the acronym expansion of your certification, e.g. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

2. Sell your necessary accounting skills.

Focus on your hard and soft skills essential in accounting. Soft skills may include critical thinking, leadership, problem solving, time management, written communication, and oral communication. 

Hard skills or technical skills can be your financial skills, advanced excel skills, business intelligence software knowledge, cloud computing experience, and knowledge on spreadsheets and software such as QuickBooks.

3. Write a powerful resume career objective.

The content in this section of your resume should be short and snappy, but at the same time, persuasive. You can use the information below in writing your career objective:

  • Your years of experience in the accounting field
  • Your duties and responsibilities
  • The degree you hold and certification relevant to the job position
  • The role or position you are applying for, and your pitch on why you are a good fit

4. Quantify your accomplishments and professional experience.

Adding numbers to your resume will help the recruiter picture out how you are an effective and result-driven employee, plus it will also impress the hiring manager. You can quantify:

  • The size of a company’s budget you have handled
  • The total amount and size of investments you have managed
  • The sum of money you helped a company earn or save by using your skills, knowledge, and experiences

Ace Your Accounting Interview

If you landed an interview for an accounting position, be prepared to answer the interview questions.

Here are some common interview questions for aspiring accountants and how you can best answer them:

Prepare to answer the “why” question. One question most interviewers ask is, “Why do you want to be an accountant?” What the interviewer wants to know is your motive in pursuing the career and why you are interested in the position. Thus, focus your answer on the future, such as your career goals.

“What was the biggest challenge you have solved in your accounting profession?” The interviewer wants to see how familiar you are with the industry and what your level of experience is when coming up for a solution to solve a problem.

“Which accounting software applications are you familiar with?” There are a lot of accounting software applications an accountant can use. The best way you can answer this question is by doing research on what software applications the company you are applying for is using. In case you are not that familiar with the software applications they are using, you can demonstrate to your interviewer that you are a computer savvy and you can learn pretty quickly on different accounting applications.

Below are other common interview questions that your interviewer would probably ask:

  1. What is your procedure for keeping track of items requiring your attention?
  2. What’s the most difficult accounting decision you’ve made, and how did you come to that decision?
  3. Describe a recent tough financial analysis problem you faced on the job.
  4. Can you describe a time when you helped reduce costs?
  5. Do you possess any knowledge about accounting standards?

Always remember to present yourself calmly and professionally when answering your interviewer’s questions. You should also project that you are a responsible, detail-oriented, and loyal employee.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Accountants

Sharpen your skills in accounting by taking these top online courses

Skills Success has carefully curated and organized thousands of online video courses. Start your journey to becoming an accountant with these top online courses.

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