Accountants are one of the most fundamental professions in business. They use accounting tools and their knowledge of tax law to help companies, individuals, and other entities manage their finances. Accountants may specialize in specific areas like financial reporting or compliance auditing, but they all work to ensure that their clients are aware of their financial standing and make informed business decisions.
Accountants typically handle tasks like preparing tax returns, reviewing budget reports, managing accounts payable and receivable, monitoring cash flow, and much more. Their work is often very detailed-oriented and involves a lot of number-crunching.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an accountant and what it takes to become one yourself.
Accountant Job Duties
Accountants are responsible for a wide range of duties:
- Calculating taxes owed to the government and advising clients on how to minimize their tax burden
- Analyzing financial information generated by businesses or other organizations in order to prepare financial statements that comply with reporting standards such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)
- Providing advice on accounting issues such as investments, acquisitions, mergers, and restructuring
- Preparing financial analyses based on client requests or internal needs
- Conducting audits of the books and records of businesses or other institutions
- Helping companies comply with federal and state tax laws through recordkeeping, filing tax returns, and calculating payroll deductions
- Making recommendations about methods of increasing revenues or decreasing costs based on analysis of data trends
- Scheduling regular meetings with clients to review their finances and provide updates on tax changes
Accountant Salary & Outlook
Accountants are among the most sought-after professionals in the world. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, as of May 2020, the median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $73,560. The top 10% of earners in the field were bringing home more than $128,680 per year.
Job growth for accountants is projected to grow 4% over the next decade, which is about average for all occupations. Demand will be driven by a growing economy, globalization, and a complex tax and regulatory environment.
Accountant Job Requirements
Accounting is a profession that requires specialized education and training.
Education: Accountants must have a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Most bachelor’s programs require students to take courses in math, law, business and economics. Some programs also require students to complete an internship or spend time working in the field.
Training: Accountants learn on-the-job training once they begin working with an employer. During these training programs, accountants are trained in the company’s specific accounting systems and policies. They are also trained in how to use software applications like Excel and QuickBooks.
Certifications & Licenses: Many employers also seek certifications on an applicant’s resume to assess their readiness for the position. Some popular certifications include Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).
In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully:
Communication skills: Accountants must be able to communicate effectively with their clients, employers, and other employees.
Time management skills: Accountants must be able to manage time well in order to meet deadlines and maintain high productivity levels.
Business sense: Accountants must have a good understanding of business concepts in order to accurately understand a businesses finances
Organizational skills: accountants often work with large amounts of data that needs to be organized and tracked carefully.
Attention to detail: Accountants must pay close attention to details because mistakes can be costly for both the client and the accountant.
Mathematical ability: Accounting is a numbers game, so accountants need a solid grasp of mathematics in order to do their jobs well.
Accountant Work Environment
Most accountants work in large offices that are equipped with computers and other business machines. Accountants may also keep track of company ledgers and records by hand or through computer software. They may spend most of the day sitting at a desk and working with numbers.
An accountant’s work can be stressful because he or she is responsible for making sure his or her clients’ businesses run smoothly and efficiently. Accountants must report on their clients’ financial situations accurately and on time. The job can be very demanding as accountants usually have many deadlines to meet daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly. Accountants frequently work long hours during busy periods like tax season to meet these deadlines.
Accountant Career Path
As a new accountant, you are expected to be patient and learn everything you can about the company. If you’re looking for a job with job security, this is a good place to start your career. But don’t expect to make a lot of money right away. The salary is low and you’ll likely have to work long hours before you get any benefits.
Five Years Out
By five years, accountants have gained experience and expertise. A large portion of their time is spent on internal audits and coordinating the audit teams. They often supervise new accounting staff members and work with legal counsel. Work is still long and can be stressful, but they may receive bonuses and have more opportunities for advancement.
Ten Years Out
Most accountants are employed by large corporations at this point, where they are responsible for the finances of a division or subsidiary. They often supervise auditing departments. The hours are still long during busy periods, the work is challenging, the pay is good, and the satisfaction is high. Accountants who have established reputations may become partners in accounting firms after ten years.
Here are three trends influencing how accountants work. Accountants will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Evolving Industry Standards
As the industry evolves, accounting standards are also changing; some skills may become outdated over time as new skillsets are required for professionals in the field.
A recent survey found that nearly half of all Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms now require specific technology competencies from employees like Microsoft Office Suite proficiency or experience using QuickBooks; these trends mean that accountants should always be seeking out new training opportunities in order to keep up with industry demands and ensure career longevity.
The Shift Towards Risk Management Accounting Services
In recent years, accounting firms have begun specializing their practices into niche areas where they can leverage expertise or experience in an area such as risk management consulting or auditing. As these specialized practices grow, so too will demand for accountants who specialize and understand these specific needs better than those without relevant knowledge
Value of Practical Experience
Practical experience has become increasingly valuable for accountants—for example, the Certified Management Accountant designation now requires practical experience as well as courses and exams for completion instead of solely relying on college education. The trend towards more reliance on work-based learning is also likely to continue in the coming years due to the value placed on pragmatic knowledge that can only be gained through practice and application over theoretical knowledge gleaned from coursework alone.
How to Become an Accountant
1. Planning Your Career
There are many different types of accountants, each with their own specialties and career trajectories. The first step to becoming an accountant is deciding which area you want to pursue; for example, tax accountants work in the field of taxation while forensic accountants help companies uncover fraud.
If you’re not sure where your interests lie just yet, don’t worry – this is a common dilemma among students who are just starting out on their career path. To gain some experience before making a final decision about what type of accounting you want to do long-term, consider taking an internship or entry-level position that will allow you to explore several fields within the profession. Once you have decided on your desired specialty (and received proper training), it will be much easier to find jobs that match your skillset and career goals.
2. Writing a Resume
Accountants often have the same duties as other applicants. In order to make your resume stand out from others, it’s important that you emphasize how you’ve added value in previous positions. To do this, highlight achievements and skills rather than just listing responsibilities or duties.
3. Applying for Jobs
As a budding accountant, it can be helpful to think about the top 3 to 5 companies you’d most like to work for. Take advantage of your network; if in school, make your professors aware of employers that interest you. During internships, make contacts with hiring managers — perhaps they can introduce you to hiring teams or provide inside information on what makes them a good workplace.
4. Ace the Interview
Before your interview, you will want to research the company and position, as well as brainstorm some questions to ask the interviewer. Try to find a balance between personal questions and questions about the company — remember that the interview is about the company’s needs, not yours. The employer will be looking for someone who is capable of multitasking, who is honest and reliable, and who has strong communication skills.