What Does an Accountant Do?
Although there are several careers available to those with an accounting degree, one of the most common careers is an accountant. General accountants are responsible for preparing and organizing an individual's or business' financial statements. They ensure that these statements are accurate and that taxes are correctly accounted for.
Some accountants may bring their money and numbers expertise to other areas of the business to help with tasks like managing budgets, reducing costs to improve profits, and auditing. Accountants may work in their own accounting firm or for a myriad of business sectors like government, retail, corporations, and non-profits. They may also specialize in a specific area of accounting based on their skills and interests.
Accounting Degree Jobs
There are several specialized areas of accounting available to those with an accounting degree. In addition, there are other careers without the accountant job title to explore as well. Let's take a look at a few here.
Certified public accountants (CPA) are licensed accounting professionals who create and evaluate financial reports. They work with individuals and businesses to ensure that financial reports are clean, accurate, and in compliance with state and federal regulations. A major portion of their job description is preparing tax returns, so CPAs can expect to be busiest during tax season.
If you're looking into a career as a CPA, consider these important skills necessary to excel in this position:
- math literacy
- attention to detail
- technical skills
- and the ability to learn and adapt quickly
The minimum requirement to become a CPA is to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting, have at least 150 credits, and pass the CPA exam.
Tax managers are well-versed in all things related to taxes. They are responsible for preparing taxes, making sure tax documents follow regulations, reviewing complex tax returns, organizing tax audits, and developing policies to ensure an individual or business is in compliance.
To become a tax manager, you must be a licensed CPA. A bachelor's degree in accounting is valid to be considered for this career, but professional experience and a master's degree will make you a more competitive candidate.
Forensic accountants are CPAs who specialize in investigating financial statement fraud. These professionals often will present their findings as evidence in a legal setting, so attention to detail and accuracy are critical in this position. Typically, forensic accountants are employed by government, bank, or insurance agencies, and they work with cases involving things like personal injury, business disputes, divorce, and employee misconduct.
While a graduate degree is not required to become a forensic accountant, it will make you a more competitive candidate. Master's degrees in forensic accounting are available for those who want to earn that extra layer of education.
Auditors are charged with ensuring an organization's financial statements are clean and communicating budgetary or fraud concerns. They review these statements for inaccuracies either caused by error or misstatement. Auditors may be internal or external depending on the role they play in their profession. Internal auditors are employed by the organization they are auditing while external auditors are employed outside of the organization and report back their findings to investors and authorities.
A bachelor's degree in accounting is the minimum requirement to be considered for an auditor position, but you'll also need to be a licensed either as a CPA or CIA. Those who are analytical, organized, and have strong communication skills can excel in this career.
Entry-level Accounting Jobs
There are some positions available to new graduates which are a great way to get your foot in the door. Here are a few entry-level accounting positions to consider to get some professional experience in the field.
If you've earned an associate's degree in accounting, then you're qualified to be an accounting clerk. These professionals support the accounting department of an organization by reviewing, updating, and compiling reports, records, payroll, and financial transactions. Multi-taskers and those with strong communication skills will excel in this career due to the myriad of administrative and clerical tasks required in the position.
New graduates who have earned their bachelor's degrees in accounting are eligible for entry-level accountant jobs. These positions may help you decide on a career path that's right for you, whether it's public, private, forensic, or another accounting option. As an accountant, you'll be tasked with helping with payroll, taxes, budgets, and other monetary divisions of a company.
A bachelor's degree in accounting is the minimum requirement to become a budget analyst. This career is a great option if you're looking to get your foot in the door and earn some experience. As a budget analyst, you'll work under a budget analyst manager or project manager to help create, monitor, and analyze an organization's budget.
Accounting Careers Salary
No matter the degree level in accounting you're pursuing, there are many career options available to you, several of which have excellent salary earning potential. Accountants, for example, earned a median salary of $69,350 in 2017. Those in the top 10% earned at least $122,220.
Of course, many factors play into how much you'll earn in an accounting career. Some of the major variables are experience, degree level, and location, all of which play into your salary and earning potential in a career.
Let's take a look at the highest paying accounting jobs out there.
Highest Paying Accounting Jobs
|Career||Median Salary*||Top 10% Salary Base*|
|Chief Financial Officer (CFO)||$127,848||$212,816|
|Cost Account Manager||$84,094||$111,620|
|Senior Financial Analyst||$77,828||$98,247|
Source: Payscale.com (2018)
Accounting Career Path
Once your foot is in the door, your accounting experience will open many new career opportunities to you. Whether you want to work in a public or private accounting firm, you'll be able to explore ways to advance your career based on the sector you work in, any specialization you have, and your interests.
For public accountants, you can start work in the field and then take the CPA exam and earn your licensure. You may also work as an auditor. From there, you are more likely to qualify for managerial and senior positions, which will come with more responsibilities and a higher paycheck.
Career advancement for accountants in the private sector starts off much like those in the public sector, since you'll find positions early on as a general accountant or auditor. From there, you may work up to positions higher up in the company such as a department head, controller, or senior management positions. The top of the ladder for private accounting positions is chief financial officer (CFO).