How to Become an Accountant

If you love numbers and figuring out puzzles, a future in accounting could be for you. Accountants range from tax professionals to auditors and have an extremely stable job outlook.

What is an Accountant?

How to Become an Accountant

Public sector accountants work for public accounting firms.

An accountant is a financial specialist that deals with the recording of monetary amounts. There are many specializations within the field of accounting. Some accountants function primarily as bookkeepers and controllers while others do complex audits for grants and non-profit organizations.

The three major areas of accounting are government employees, public sector employees and private sector employees. The focus of employees in these different institutions can often be quite different.

Accountants need to be extremely conscientious workers and they need to focus on the accuracy of their work above all else. Most accountants are required to have at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or Business, but some may have an Associate’s Degree and experience instead.

Accountants also need to be very well-versed in the accounting software suites that are used throughout the industry. Some of these programs include Peachtree, QuickBooks and Timberline, but increasingly many companies are switching to web-based and cloud-based accounting solutions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase in accounting positions by 16 percent in the next decade.

What Does an Accountant Do?

Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Accountants that are within the private sector will work for a company managing the company’s books and cash flow. An accountant usually begins as a staff accountant within a company and a company will usually have a financial controller in charge of their operations.

Accountants may be in charge of the paid bills, received bills or a mix of all of these. Accountants may also be in charge of the general ledger work and maintaining and compiling proper financial statements, depending on their seniority and their experience.

Public sector accountants work for public accounting firms. These firms usually specialize in taxes, cash management and auditing. A public sector accountant will usually work longer hours but will gain more experience than those in the private sector. They will usually specialize on a specific area of accounting and they will progress based on seniority.

How Do You Become an Accountant?

Accountants usually start out as staff accountants. An accountant will usually need to do an internship before they are hired if they wish to be hired by one of the major public accounting firms. There are only a handful of large national accounting firms and positions within these firms can be highly competitive. Accountants will usually do their internships while acquiring their Bachelor’s Degree in accounting.

On-the-job training and training through internships and school programs is extremely common through the accounting field. An accountant will usually need at least a little training before actually pursuing a career.

Many accountants begin in public accounting firms before moving on to the private sector. Public accounting companies tend to provide more background and more comprehensive training than private companies. Government positions are usually less highly paid but they get more time off and they have very structured promotion paths.

How Do You Advance as an Accountant?

Advancement as an accountant is usually a matter of seniority. In most large firms, a staff accountant that has been with the company longer than three to five years will be considered a senior accountant. Advancement can also be pursued through passing the Certified Public Accountancy exams.

There are four total CPA exams that need to be passed to become a Certified Public Accountant, in addition to state regulations that usually involve specific educational credits and hours worked at a CPA firm. The CPA exam, provided by the American Institute of CPAs, is very comprehensive, and most individuals need to study for the exam for months.

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