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Accountant Careers

When you think of accounting, do you immediately associate the job title with taxes? Well, that's what some accountants do, but there are other types of accountants.

From preparing an audit to looking over financial records, accoutants have a busy schedule. Some of the year, they will work 40 hours a week, but other times they'll work a lot of overtime. So if you like money more than having a work-life balance, considering accounting.

What Does an Accountant Do

Accountants and auditors prepare and examine financial records. They ensure that financial records are accurate and that taxes are paid properly and on time. Accountants and auditors assess financial operations and work to help ensure that organizations run efficiently. 

Duties

Accountants and auditors typically do the following:

  • Examine financial statements to ensure that they are accurate and comply with laws and regulations
  • Compute taxes owed, prepare tax returns, and ensure that taxes are paid properly and on time
  • Inspect account books and accounting systems for efficiency and use of accepted accounting procedures
  • Organize and maintain financial records
  • Assess financial operations and make best-practices recommendations to management
  • Suggest ways to reduce costs, enhance revenues, and improve profits

In addition to examining and preparing financial documentation, accountants and auditors must explain their findings. This includes preparing written reports and meeting face-to-face with organization managers and individual clients.

Many accountants and auditors specialize, depending on the particular organization that they work for. Some work for organizations that specialize in assurance services (improving the quality or context of information for decisionmakers) or risk management (determining the probability of a misstatement on financial documentation). Other organizations specialize in specific industries, such as healthcare.

Some workers with a background in accounting and auditing teach in colleges and universities. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

The following are examples of types of accountants and auditors:

Public accountants perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting tasks. Their clients include corporations, governments, and individuals.

Public accountants work with financial documents that clients are required by law to disclose. These include tax forms and balance sheet statements that corporations must provide potential investors. For example, some public accountants concentrate on tax matters, advising corporations about the tax advantages of certain business decisions or preparing individual income tax returns.

Public accountants, many of whom are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), generally have their own businesses or work for public accounting firms. Publicly traded companies are required to have CPAs sign documents they submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including annual and quarterly reports.

Some public accountants specialize in forensic accounting, investigating financial crimes such as securities fraud and embezzlement, bankruptcies and contract disputes, and other complex and possibly criminal financial transactions. Forensic accountants combine their knowledge of accounting and finance with law and investigative techniques to determine if an activity is illegal. Many forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement personnel and lawyers during investigations and often appear as expert witnesses during trials.

Management accountants, also called cost, managerial, industrial, corporate, or private accountants, record and analyze the financial information of the organizations for which they work. The information that management accountants prepare is intended for internal use by business managers, not by the general public.

Management accountants often work on budgeting and performance evaluation. They also may help organizations plan the cost of doing business. Some may work with financial managers on asset management, which involves planning and selecting financial investments such as stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Government accountants maintain and examine the records of government agencies and audit private businesses and individuals whose activities are subject to government regulations or taxation. Accountants employed by federal, state, and local governments ensure that revenues are received and spent in accordance with laws and regulations.

Internal auditors check for mismanagement of an organization’s funds. They identify ways to improve the processes for finding and eliminating waste and fraud. The practice of internal auditing is not regulated, but The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) provides generally accepted standards.

External auditors perform similar duties as internal auditors, but are employed by an outside organization, rather than the one they are auditing. They review clients’ financial statements and inform investors and authorities that the statements have been correctly prepared and reported.

Information technology auditors are internal auditors who review controls for their organization’s computer systems, to ensure that the financial data comes from a reliable source.

How To Become an Accountant

Most accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Certification within a specific field of accounting improves job prospects. For example, many accountants become Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).  

Education

Most accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some employers prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting.

A few universities and colleges offer specialized programs, such as a bachelor’s degree in internal auditing. In some cases, those with associate’s degrees, as well as bookkeepers and accounting clerks who meet the education and experience requirements set by their employers, get junior accounting positions and advance to accountant positions by showing their accounting skills on the job.

Many colleges help students gain practical experience through summer or part-time internships with public accounting or business firms.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Every accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Many other accountants choose to become a CPA to enhance their job prospects or to gain clients. Many employers will often pay the costs associated with the CPA exam.

CPAs are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy. Becoming a CPA requires passing a national exam and meeting other state requirements. Almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be certified, which is 30 hours more than the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree to meet the 150-hour requirement, but a master’s degree is not required.

A few states allow a number of years of public accounting experience to substitute for a college degree.

All states use the four-part Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Candidates do not have to pass all four parts at once, but most states require that they pass all four parts within 18 months of passing their first part.

Almost all states require CPAs to take continuing education to keep their license.

Certification provides an advantage in the job market because it shows professional competence in a specialized field of accounting and auditing. Accountants and auditors seek certifications from a variety of professional societies. Some of the most common certifications are listed below:

The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) to applicants who complete a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must have worked at least 2 years in management accounting, pass a two-part exam, agree to meet continuing education requirements, and comply with standards of professional conduct. The exam covers areas such as financial statement analysis, working-capital policy, capital structure, valuation issues, and risk management. 

The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) offers the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) to graduates from accredited colleges and universities who have worked for 2 years as internal auditors and have passed a four-part exam. The IIA also offers the Certified in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA), and Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) to those who pass the exams and meet educational and experience requirements.

ISACA offers the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) to candidates who pass an exam and have 5 years of experience auditing information systems. Information systems experience, financial or operational auditing experience, or related college credit hours can be substituted for up to 3 years of experience in information systems auditing, control, or security.

For accountants with a CPA, the AICPA offers the option to receive any or all of the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certifications. The ABV requires a written exam, completion of at least six business valuation projects, and 75 hours of continuing education. The CITP requires 1,000 hours of business technology experience and 75 hours of continuing education. Candidates for the PFS also must complete a certain amount of work experience and continuing education, and pass a written exam.

Advancement

Some top executives and financial managers have a background in accounting, internal auditing, or finance.

Beginning public accountants often advance to positions with more responsibility in 1 or 2 years and to senior positions within another few years. Those who excel may become supervisors, managers, or partners; open their own public accounting firm; or transfer to executive positions in management accounting or internal auditing in private firms.

Management accountants often start as cost accountants, junior internal auditors, or trainees for other accounting positions. As they rise through the organization, they may advance to accounting manager, chief cost accountant, budget director, or manager of internal auditing. Some become controllers, treasurers, financial vice presidents, chief financial officers, or corporation presidents.

Public accountants, management accountants, and internal auditors can move from one aspect of accounting and auditing to another. Public accountants often move into management accounting or internal auditing. Management accountants may become internal auditors, and internal auditors may become management accountants. However, it is less common for management accountants or internal auditors to move into public accounting.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to identify issues in documentation and suggest solutions. For example, public accountants use analytical skills in their work to minimize tax liability, and internal auditors use these skills to detect fraudulent use of funds.  

Communication skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to listen carefully to facts and concerns from clients, managers, and others. They must also be able to discuss the results of their work in both meetings and written reports.

Detail oriented. Accountants and auditors must pay attention to detail when compiling and examining documentation.

Math skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures, although complex math skills are not necessary.

Organizational skills. Strong organizational skills are important for accountants and auditors who often work with a range of financial documents for a variety of clients.

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Average Salary
$52,548
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
6%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
40,208
Job Openings

Accountant Career Paths

Top Careers Before Accountant

Top Careers After Accountant

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Average Salary for an Accountant

Accountants in America make an average salary of $52,548 per year or $25 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $66,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $41,000 per year.
Average Salary
$52,548
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Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
New York, NY
Salary Range51k - 74k$62k$62,126
Washington, DC
Salary Range50k - 72k$61k$60,730
Fort Lee, NJ
Salary Range50k - 72k$61k$60,519
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range48k - 69k$58k$57,884
Boston, MA
Salary Range48k - 66k$57k$56,561
Arlington, VA
Salary Range46k - 66k$56k$55,608
$36k
$74k

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Accountant Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming an Accountant. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write an Accountant Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Accountant resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Accountant Demographics

Gender

female

57.0 %

male

37.1 %

unknown

5.9 %

Ethnicity

White

64.5 %

Asian

15.7 %

Hispanic or Latino

9.6 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

35.5 %

Chinese

11.0 %

Mandarin

10.9 %
See More Demographics

Accountant Education

Majors

Business
24.0 %
Finance
7.2 %

Degrees

Bachelors

67.1 %

Associate

11.8 %

Masters

10.8 %

Top Colleges for Accountants

1. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

2. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

3. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

4. SUNY at Binghamton

Vestal, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$9,808
Enrollment
13,990

5. Villanova University

Villanova, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,308
Enrollment
6,819

6. San Diego State University

San Diego, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$7,488
Enrollment
30,018

7. Bentley University

Waltham, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$49,880
Enrollment
4,177

8. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238

9. SUNY Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$9,625
Enrollment
17,407

10. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339
See More Education Info

Online Courses For Accountant That You May Like

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4.3
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Payroll calculations - federal income tax, social security, Medicare - Payroll journal entries posted to ledger accounts...

Payroll Accounting Introduction
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4.5
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This course prepares the learner with the basic knowledge needed to administer the accounting for payroll...

Financial Accounting: The Complete Introductory Crash Course
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4.6
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Learn the Basics of Financial Accounting: Financial Statements, Debits and Credits, The Accounting Cycle and More!...

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Top Skills For an Accountant

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 18.3% of accountants listed general ledger accounts on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and communication skills are important as well.

  • General Ledger Accounts, 18.3%
  • Financial Statements, 15.1%
  • Gaap, 5.3%
  • Payroll, 5.3%
  • Special Projects, 5.1%
  • Other Skills, 50.9%
  • See All Accountant Skills

Best States For an Accountant

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as an accountant. The best states for people in this position are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Accountants make the most in New York with an average salary of $61,966. Whereas in New Jersey and Connecticut, they would average $60,211 and $58,432, respectively. While accountants would only make an average of $57,855 in Rhode Island, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New York

Total Accountant Jobs:
1,468
Highest 10% Earn:
$86,000
Location Quotient:
1.16
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Connecticut

Total Accountant Jobs:
392
Highest 10% Earn:
$81,000
Location Quotient:
1.2
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. District of Columbia

Total Accountant Jobs:
317
Highest 10% Earn:
$85,000
Location Quotient:
1.92
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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How Do Accountant Rate Their Jobs?

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1.0

Accountant in GreeceFebruary 2020

1.0

Zippia Official LogoAccountant in GreeceFebruary 2020

What do you like the most about working as Accountant?

It's an office job. Show More

What do you NOT like?

Everything else. Too much anxiety, debts, low sallary (€700/month). Show More

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5.0

5.0

What do you like the most about working as Accountant?

I like when the numbers fall in to place. I enjoy helping clients reach their financial goals. I am great with client consultations. I appreciate the chance to help plan for a client's needs. Show More

What do you NOT like?

I dislike situations where no planning had been done. I am bothered when a client has an accounting problem that could have been avoided by proper planning. Show More

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Top Accountant Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ accountants and discovered their number of accountant opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Robert Half International was the best, especially with an average salary of $51,825. Walmart follows up with an average salary of $52,292, and then comes Kelly Services with an average of $53,100. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as an accountant. The employers include USAA, Assurant, and Xylem

1. Robert Half International
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$51,825
Accountants Hired: 
1,687+
2. Walmart
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$52,292
Accountants Hired: 
191+
3. Kelly Services
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$53,100
Accountants Hired: 
179+
4. Ernst & Young
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$64,981
Accountants Hired: 
152+
5. Google
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$74,336
Accountants Hired: 
149+
6. Chugh,
3.7
Avg. Salary: 
$59,210
Accountants Hired: 
140+

Accountant Videos

Updated October 2, 2020