At various points in life, we spend time making decisions about our careers. These decisions require serious thought about how to make the best living to support ourselves and our families. We hope our choices match our skills and talents, so that we are enthusiastic about our daily work. One career worth considering is accounting.
Accounting is an attractive career choice because it offers jobs for those with different skill levels, education and experience. Every business, non-profit and government organization needs good financial information and advice in order to make good decisions.
Accounting departments are responsible for preparing, storing, interpreting, analyzing and verifying financial information for managers to use in the decision-making process. This data explains if profits are adequate, if the business should expand or contract, if the price of a product or service should increase or decrease or if overhead is too high and a reduction in expenses is necessary.
Future of Accounting
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics the growth rate for jobs in accounting and auditing will grow much faster than average when compared to other occupations. Anyone considering accounting can look forward to good job prospects. Those with professional certification, a masters degree in accounting or a masters degree in business with a concentration in accounting will have the best opportunities.
Employment prospects will grow by 22 percent. This is due to an increase in the number of businesses developing, the need for accounting professionals to set up the books, offer advice and counsel to business owners and oversee taxation matters. Other reasons for growth include changes in financial laws, corporate governance regulations and a greater focus on protecting an organization’s stakeholders.
Diverse career paths await those considering a career in accounting. Public accounting firms, large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations and governmental entities need accountants and auditors. Those with college degrees and certification have the best prospects for jobs as auditors, financial managers, tax experts, accounting consultants and forensic accountants. There are also a lot of opportunities for those with high school diplomas or associate degrees as bookkeepers, clerks and junior accountants.
The field of accounting has 2 distinct parts: managerial and financial.
- Managerial accounting is work involved with preparing financial reports that managers use to make day-to-day decisions.
- Financial accounting is work involved in preparing quarterly and annual reports. The information in these reports informs shareholders and others about the financial activities and well-being of the organization.
There are 4 major career paths to take in accounting:
- Public accounting
- Management accounting
- Government accounting
- Internal and external auditing
Public accounting firms offer a wide variety of services to the general public like tax, auditing and consulting services. The “Big 4” are the most well-known public accounting firms. They are Deloitte, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young and are the largest global public and professional accounting service firms in the world and are responsible for auditing large corporations and publically traded companies.
Working for one of the “Big 4” can be intense but a great career move. The time spent in 1 is like accounting boot camp but increases your credibility in the eyes of future employers. There are smaller size public accounting firms that offer services like preparing tax returns, reviewing financial statements, designing accounting record-keeping systems and assisting in the preparation of bankruptcy documents and filings.
Management or cost accountants work directly for the organizations employing them. They are involved in the day-to-day recording and analysis of information and the creation of financial reports and statements. They prepare statements that are used by stockholders, the government and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Information critical for managers are found in cash reports, sales figures, pending orders, accounts payable and accounts receivable, outstanding debts and available inventory.
Management accountants are responsible for performance evaluations, budgeting, cost and asset management and strategic planning. Jobs in management accounting have titles like bookkeeper, accounting clerk, accountant, controller, auditor and analyst.
Accounting professionals can work for local, state or federal government agencies and departments. They create, manage and balance budgets. The federal government hires accountants for agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, the Government Accounting Office, the Departments of Defense and the Treasury.
Government accountants audit businesses and individuals who pay taxes, those that receive grant monies from the government, organizations involved in providing contract services to the government, or those regulated by the government.
Public sector accounting professionals could be involved in making certain that local school systems have enough money to run their extracurricular programs, that funds for new road construction are allocated properly or that the U.S. military is able to invest in the latest technology.
Internal and External Auditors
Internal auditors work for the organizations employing them and make sure a business is running smoothly, efficiently and has the least amount of exposure to financial risk. Auditing is done on an on-going basis by monitoring and evaluating the reliability and effectiveness of the operation.
Auditors are objective and consultative in their approach and help to make certain that controls within are working to minimize risk and comply with the governance processes. They provide guidance on how to rectify any problems that might surface.
External auditors do not work for the organizations they audit. They provide an independent opinion on the annual report to prevent any oversights and mismanagement of finances for stockholders. Their role is to make certain that financial statements accurately represent the activities of the organization and meet the generally accepted accounting principles.
Skills and Attributes
A set of skills and attributes is needed to be successful in accounting. If you are considering the profession, be realistic about the strengths you have now and those you can develop as you work. If you like studying math, business, or computers then accounting could be a good fit. Honestly ask yourself if you have these skills and attributes:
- Math and analytical skills
- People skills
- Detail oriented; ability to concentrate
- Leadership abilities
- Creative problem solving skills
- Good computer skills
- Work well with teams
- Good interpersonal skills
- Good communication skills to explain your work to managers, co-workers and clients
- Responsible, conscientious, ethical, honest and reliable
- Discrete – much of the information you will be working with is confidential
- Patience – accounting tasks can be repetitive; some work is done each week or month
Accounting isn’t for everyone so an honest inventory of your likes, dislikes, skills and attributes is required. The educational coursework (and certification process) you will take will be rigorous. To advance you must also be willing to work your way up through the ranks and keep on top of changes in the profession.