How to become an Accountant

This article provides in-depth information into What is an Accountant? What Accountants do? Degrees for Accountants, Steps to become an Accountant and much more

What does an Accountant do ?

An accountant is a professional who performs accounting functions such as accounting audits and accounts analysis. In the words of a layman, an accountant maintains and inspects financial records, prepares and completes tax returns, understands the impact of financial laws and regulations, and proposes solutions to business roadblocks. Since an accountant deals with money, integrity is one of the most important qualities they must possess. Becoming an accountant can help in getting employed with some organization or they can set up their own practice. Also, prospective students can maximize their career in accounting by following certain methods and with consistent efforts to acquire success. 


Steps for becoming an Accountant

1

Obtain The Right Degree

While it is not mandatory to get a bachelor’s degree for all accounting positions, most do attend college to earn one for better career prospects. Bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance is the minimum educational requirement for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Choose the major wisely and be sure which major suits the best for you by learning the difference between finance and accounting. A total of 150 credit hours is the minimum required to successfully graduate with a degree in accounting. Accounting degree programs are quite popular and available at colleges and universities across the US. For aspirants who cannot afford to shift base or attend full-time classes may opt for distance learning. Aspirants should make sure that they check for full accreditation before pursuing any program. 

obtain right degree

2

Get The Right Internship

while studies will provide the required theoretical knowledge, the right internship will give you a hands-on experience about how the industry works. Working at a paid or unpaid internship will help you gain knowledge and increase your chances of getting a better-paid job offer. Internships can also help you build contacts and networks for future professional references.

get the right internship

3

Choose The Right Specialty

Usually, accountants specialize in one or more areas of practice. The two most common areas of specialization are - Public Accounting and Corporate or Business Accounting. There are a number of other sub-specializations available like managerial accounting, taxes, internal auditing, etc.

choosing right specialty

4

Determination Of A Career Path

Determine the apt career path- whether you want to be an accountant or a CPA. It will give you a fair idea about the requirements to actively practice in your specialty. An accountant doesn’t always require certifications or licensure and typically works within an organization. Whereas, for a CPA, it is imperative to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree, pass the CPA exam, and work for a set of 1800 hours under the supervision of an active licensed CPA. While deciding which career path to pursue in accounting, an individual must honestly assess their personal goals and willingness to put in considerable time and effort that will be required.

One important thing is, it is possible to become an accountant without experience by building your network, enhancing your skills, self-learning the Softwares and accounting principles, and other methods. 

career path

5

Clear All Exams

If you choose to pursue the CPA, it is mandatory to pass the CPA exam. There are four parts of the CPA exam. They are Audit and Attestation, Business Environment, Concepts, and Financial Accounting and Reporting. This exam is offered during the first two months of every quarter over several days. The candidates are free to take the tests in order of their choice. Once they have passed one part, it is mandatory that they successfully complete the remaining parts within 18 months from the date of passing. 

clearing exams

6

Land A Job

Most companies offer jobs if you perform well during internships. Make sure you work towards landing a job with your interning company. You can also apply for entry-level jobs on job portals and make use of your contacts and networking-that you have honed during internships.

getting a job

7

Decide On Continuing Further Education

In order to keep up with the latest accounting trends, continuing education is the key. Earning a certification or a master’s degree in an accounting specialization can help boost your job prospects. The most successful of accountants never put a stop to their studies. In order to keep up with the latest accounting trends, you will need to continuously participate in education that will help you enhance your accounting skills.
further education


Accountant Salaries

Accountant

Accountant Degree Levels

Bachelors

Most staff accounting positions require you to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Principles of accounting, business communications, accounting technology, and business law are the mandatory subjects in an accounting bachelor’s program. There will be other subjects too depending on your college. A bachelor’s degree in accounting is available both online and in traditional classroom settings and can take up to four years depending on your previous college credits. After completion of your bachelor’s program in accounting, you can work as a tax examiner, budget analyst, auditor, financial analyst amongst others.

Forensic Accounting
  • Applied in a complex financial transaction

  • Prepares students describe business matters

  • Provides skills applicable to the various workplace

Objectives
  • Critical thinking

  • Essential business knowledge

  • Financial Advisement

Accounting Finance
  • Combines investment and business strategies

  • Teaches financial theories and principles

  • Optimizes an organizational financial asset

Objectives
  • Finance management

  • Financial management

  • Networking

Financial Planning
  • Examines financial market and ethics

  • Focuses on wealth management

  • Performs financial regulations

Objectives
  • Preparing financial statements

  • Internal auditing

  • Financial advisement

Masters

Students planning to become CPAs or aspiring to high-level accounting positions within competitive firms should focus on a Master’s in Accounting as it is an ideal program for becoming a CPA. Students from an accounting background can complete this degree in one year. Programs in master’s degrees offer students an option to complete an intensive internship program, providing hands-on experience and opportunities to make valuable contacts within the industry.

If you want to climb the ladders in your accounting career, a master’s degree will help you with that. It will open doors for managerial level jobs across various industries like the banking sector, construction companies, and high tech companies. This degree will require you to commit one to two years of your time

Auditing
  • Provides strong auditing background

  • Behavioral and ethical concerns about auditing

  • Use adequate technical techniques

Objectives
  • Critical thinking

  • Data mining

  • Auditing

Corporate Finance
  • Build knowledge of managerial economics

  • Deals with capital budgeting

  • Focus on Monetary policies.

Objectives
  • Budgeting

  • Designing accounting procedures

  • Include information technology in accounting

Investments and Securities
  • Includes core subjects of business

  • Deals with managerial economics

  • Also manages capital budgeting

Objectives
  • Risk management

  • Critical thinking

  • Design and manage accounting procedures

Certificate

Students who receive an accounting certificate will learn foundational skills that are vital to their careers. Certificates offer students preparation for specific jobs and act as stepping stones to college degrees. Undergraduate Certificate programs provide a choice for students interested in finding entry-level jobs in accounting that do not require a degree. Undergraduate accounting certificates frequently introduce subjects such as financial accounting, managerial accounting, corporate finance, and financial reporting and analysis.

You will be eligible to take the rigorous CPA exam only after you complete 150 credit hours in your master’s degree program.  There are four parts of the CPA exam. They are Audit and Attestation, Business Environment, Concepts, and Financial Accounting and Reporting. This exam is offered during the first two months of every quarter over several days. The candidates are free to take the tests in order of their choice. Once they have passed one part, it is mandatory that they successfully complete the remaining parts within 18 months from the date of passing. You will also have to work under the supervision of a licensed CPA. Once you have successfully cleared all tests, you are eligible to apply for senior accounting roles in different organizations.

Managerial Accounting
  • Maintain accounting records manually

  • Prepare financial statements

  • Evaluate financial performance

Objectives
  • Financial analysis

  • Financial maintenance

  • Critical thinking

Fundamentals of financial accounting
  • Introduction to financial accounting

  • Financial statement

  • Ethical responsibility

Objectives
  • Financial analysis

  • Data mining

  • Ethical responsibility

Federal Taxation
  • Theoretical and practical preparation of tax

  • Detailed presentation

  • Preparation of federal income tax for individuals

Objectives
  • Data mining

  • Taxation

  • Presentation skills

Associate

This degree provides a solid grounding in the field of accounting and related subjects and paves the way for an entry-level job with an organization’s finance department. An Associate’s degree in accounting will help you bag jobs like billing clerk, staff bookkeeper, etc.  An associate’s degree program is available both online and in traditional classroom settings and can take anywhere between 1 to 2 years to complete.

An associate degree covers a wide range of relevant fields such as basic accounting principles, fundamentals of taxation, payroll accounting, and personal finance. Other topics relevant to accounting are also included, such as micro/macroeconomics, business law, and accounting technology.

Financial Accounting
  • Interpret Financial Accounting Information

  • Use external and Internal sources for evaluation

  • Keep track of financial activities in a firm

Objectives
  • Critical thinking

  • Balancing accounting

  • Financial organization

Managerial Accounting
  • Explores financial impact

  • Assess the past and improve the performance

  • Provide data for managers to make decisions

  • Financial benefit of new business practice
Objectives
  • Balancing accounts

  • Payroll management

  • Financial statement analysis

  • Budgeting
Intermediate accounting
  • Extends financial knowledge of a student

  • Works on a theoretical framework

  • Review of accounting cycles

  • Prepare financial statements

Objectives
  • Critical thinking

  • Data mining

  • Payroll management

  • Financial statement analysis

Doctorate

If you are interested in research and want to move to academia within accounting you will have to pursue a doctoral degree. A Ph.D. usually takes up 4-5 years of full-time study. Most doctoral programs have 3 major components: coursework, research & dissertation, and comprehensive examinations. For those interested in taking up teaching as a profession, Ph.D. is a great option

Accounting and Business
  • Consist of Advanced Decision Models

  • Theoretical grip on Business Management

  • Knowledge of Advanced Financial Reporting
Objectives
  • Financial management

  • Forensic accounting

  • Financial Analysis

Economics and Statics
  • Introduction to linear statistical models

  • Game theory and applications

  • Deals with Probability

Objectives
  • Deeper understanding

  • Complex research skills

  • Psychological perspective

Research Methods
  • Behavioural Research in accounting

  • Financial accounting

  • Advanced accounting

  • Capital markets research in accounting

Objectives
  • Deeper understanding

  • Complex research skills

  • Archival or Behavioural knowledge

  • Practical application of theories


Salary of Accountant

In 2020, the average salary of an accountant for an entry-level job is about $55,045 and can increase up to $112,000 on a yearly basis and $4,587 on a monthly basis. The median salary offered for an accountant on an hourly basis is about $26 and can range between $24 to $29. However, the salaries offered can largely depend on your skills, certification. education and experience and prospective candidates can make good money through full-time employment. 

To understand better, the salaries offered based your experience is distributed as follows,

  • Entry-level (<1 year): $46,493

  • Early Career(1-4 years): $49,244

  • Midcareer(5-9 years): $55,166

  • Experienced(10-19 years): $56,046

  • Late career(>20 years): $57,803

Career Outlook

The job growth of an accountant as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is about 6 percent during the period of 2018 to 2028. A career in accounting can be a stable job and a piece of cake if you meet the necessary qualifications. Earning a bachelor's degree followed by a Master's degree will help in advancing your career exponentially while deepening your knowledge in the profession. 

If you are willing to pursue your career as an accountant, the road map to land on a job is easy as the growth trends estimate that there will be 90,700 additional opportunities created by the end of 2028. The career outlook for Certified Public assistant(CPAs) is projected to be the best it isn't late to make your decision today. 

Job Concentrations to consider for an Accountant 

Auditing

Auditing is concerned with ensuring that companies are held to financial standards. It is a fascinating and diverse branch of accounting. You can focus on topics such as business law, accounting research methodologies, etc. and may opt to become an auditor, Auditing manager, or a Fraud examiner. 

As an auditor, you will have to sift through existing financial records to make sure that your company is following all tax laws and regulatory statutes that your company type may fall under. 

As an auditing manager, you will oversee other auditors’ work activities and provide leadership to the auditing team.

As a fraud examiner, you can expect to have a varied set of opportunities. While corporate professionals are brought in to complete internal investigations, those that work with governmental agencies typically do external investigations.

Taxation

Those that are interested in taxation will gain multifaceted knowledge of practices and procedures associated with taxes. As personnel specialized in taxation you have many job opportunities like Corporate Tax accountant, Personal Accountant, or tax consultant. 

As a corporate tax accountant, you may work with both small and large organizations. You will be responsible for preparing tax documents aligned to federal regulations. You will need to hold a CPA license and your other KRAs will include developing strategies to manage financial records and ensuring best practices are employed when preparing taxes. The average salary ranges from $51,316 to $63,322.

As a personal accountant, you will be required to serve individuals by preparing annual tax documents. You can either be employed with some organization or can be self-employed.  The average salary is $64,239.

As a tax consultant, you will be specialized in a specific field. You will have to provide relevant and up-to-date advice on tax issues ensuring tax compliance and optimization for individuals or organizations. The average salary ranges from $300,000 to $900,000.

Forensic Accounting

This specialization will enable you with skills like how to detect and prevent fraudulent in financial practices and proper reporting techniques. You may find job opportunities like Forensic Accountant, Fraud Consultant, and forensic investigator. 

As a forensic accountant, you will undertake forensic research to track funds and identify any misuse or negligence. You will need to analyze financial data and create reports on financial findings. The average salary ranges from $30,000 to $60,000.

As a fraud consultant, one of the prerequisites is having vast knowledge of fraudulent behavior. You will be required to work on various projects like intelligence gathering, identifying GAAP violations, researching embezzlement among others. The average salary is $62,036.

As a forensic finance investigator, you will often work with federal agencies helping them track illegal funds, investigate white-collar crimes among others.

Cost Accounting

Cost accounting is a concentration that is included in the managerial form of accounting that focuses on detailing the necessary cost information to capture a company's total cost of production, controlling the operations, and assessing the variable and fixed cost incurred. Going with the norms, most accountants might tell you that cost accounting is the most difficult concept in accounting which is due to the use of many terms not included in other areas of accounting. But it isn't hard if you're truly interested in pursuing this concentration. 

Standout skills of an Accountant

For an accountant to be outstanding in his field the following skills are a must: 

Numerical Skills: one of the main prerequisites for a good accountant is to have a good number-crunching ability. Usually, accountants tend to excel at math wherein they have to demonstrate their ability to understand and analyze numerical information and draw meaningful conclusions in order to arrive at the right decision. 

An eye for Detail: As an accountant, one of your crucial skills is to be detail-oriented. Even the smallest of errors should not skip the span of your eyes. You must keep track of tasks and ensure that tasks are accomplished by limiting its shortcomings.

Time Management and Organizational Skills: An accountant is required to manage multiple responsibilities like Portfolio management, transaction handling, and meeting important deadlines at the same time. As a result, an accountant always has a time crunch. By discharging all these responsibilities efficiently, you will be able to demonstrate competence, reliability, and how well organized you are. 

Computer Skills: It is quintessential for an accountant to have a good command over computer given the volume of information you have to process on a regular basis. Besides the basic knowledge of excel and word, an accountant must know to operate various in-demand accounting software like - SAP, Oracle, big data analytics and query languages, advanced excel, Microsoft visual basic, etc

Integrity: As an accountant, you will be dealing with the company’s fiduciary and will hold some pecuniary information about the company. You will have to demonstrate an exemplary level of integrity. As such, you will have to adhere to certain ethical standards and make sure you never deal in fraudulent activities 

Leadership: Although this is a skill set required at a later stage of your career it is important to develop leadership qualities from the inception of your career. Employees who demonstrate leadership qualities at an earlier stage draws the attention of the senior management team. As a leader, you will have to mentor your team and make yourself approachable