Accountant Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of an accounting career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming an accountant is right for you.
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An Accounting Career: Pros and Cons

Accountants help run the financial aspects of businesses and nonprofit organizations. Explore the pros and cons of becoming an accountant below to help you decide is this is a good career choice.

PROS of an Accounting Career
Good job growth (13% expected growth between 2012 and 2022 for all accountants and auditors)*
Higher than average salary ($73,670 mean annual salary for all accountants and auditors)*
Transferability of skills*
Possibility of self-employment or work-from-home arrangements*
Wide variety of types of work*

CONS of an Accounting Career
Many employers prefer an advanced degree*
Long work hours during certain work cycles*
Rigorous exams for certain licensing and credentials*
High pressure in some environments*
Continuous education requirements in technology and regulations*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Duties

Accountants are primarily responsible for recording financial transactions for a business or organization. Common job duties include analyzing how money is spent, making recommendations for efficient spending, determining investment options and reducing tax liabilities. These professionals also help ensure a business is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Career Paths and Specializations

Accountants work in managerial, public and governmental accounting and auditing. Movement between these areas can be relatively easy. For example, you might start your career performing basic accounting functions, transfer into auditing to gain a big-picture view of the company and then work your way up into management. If you like taxes, you might become an IRS agent, which could prepare you for a tax advising or auditing position within a private firm. Working as an auditor reviewing accounting practices and controls might lead you to work as a consultant designing efficient accounting systems.

Earning your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license might help you prepare to run your own firm or lead a group within a company. Because the CPA license requires exams and experience, employers may also prefer to hire CPAs. You may also consider other certifications available through professional accounting organizations, such as the Certified Forensic Accountant credential.

Job Growth and Salary

If you can meet the education, examination and working requirements, this is an attractive field according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which projected that employment in accounting would grow about as fast as the average for all occupations between 2012 and 2022. The BLS also reported that the average salary of accountants and auditors in 2014 was $73,670 (www.bls.gov). Salaries will vary based on education, credentials and employer; for example, as of 2014, accountants and auditors working for the federal government earned an average of $93,000, while accountants working for state governments earned $58,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Licensing

Although some accountants begin with an associate's degree and move up as they gain experience, most hold bachelor's degrees in accounting. For students preparing to take the CPA exam, colleges offer bachelor's degree programs or bachelor's/master's combination degree programs with an optional fifth year, allowing them to earn the 30 extra hours required by most states to sit for the exam. During the course of an accounting degree program, you would take courses in financial, managerial, cost, forensic and tax accounting, economics, calculus, information systems, ethics, business statistics and law.

Earning a CPA license can be challenging, and the BLS noted that less than half of the applicants who take the exam pass all four sections of it on the first try. In addition to the extra undergraduate coursework, most states require an experience component and continued professional education to achieve and maintain licensure.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Job postings demonstrated that employers seek candidates who are self-motivated and possess strong communication, leadership and team-building skills. Technical skills in various accounting software packages and Excel are also required. The following are a few examples of real job postings listed during March 2012:

  • An electricity and gas company in Washington, D.C., sought a senior tax accountant to review and prepare all types of returns and interact with taxing authorities. A bachelor's degree in accounting or equivalent experience was required, while the CPA credential or an M.S. in Taxation was preferred. Occasional overtime was mentioned.
  • A truck manufacturer in a Seattle suburb advertised for a senior cost accountant to develop, analyze and review product costing. A bachelor's degree in accounting plus 2-4 years of accounting experience were required, while a CPA or MBA was preferred.
  • An aerospace company in Florida looked for an international accountant. The position involved international financial reporting and contract accounting. Customer and team relationship-building skills were requested, along with the ability to travel.
  • A non-profit organization advertised for a CPA for a 2-year contract position with the possibility of permanent full- or part-time employment. The organization wanted the candidate to design, set up and manage a fully Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)-compliant accounting system with internal controls.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

The BLS reported that job prospects would be best for those with a CPA license or certification, a master's degree in accounting or an MBA with an accounting concentration. Specializations in computer technology, information systems, international financial reporting standards or business might also help you to stand out. Many job postings ask for strong interpersonal and communications skills, so additional coursework in areas like business communication, writing, advertising or psychology would likely be helpful.

Alternative Career Paths

Bookkeeper

If you want to skip the 4-year degree program, bookkeeping might be a good way to start. Accounting clerks or bookkeepers are often hired right out of high school and trained on the job to do basic financial recording, such as paying bills, handling payroll and preparing financial reports. Courses are available that can lead to earning bookkeeping certification or an associate's degree in accounting. The BLS projected job openings in this field to grow by ten percent between 2008 and 2018, and it reported an average salary of $35,000 for bookkeepers as of 2010.

Personal Financial Advisor

Personal financial advising is another route to consider. This will generally require a 4-year degree; however, a master's degree and/or certification is also recommended. This field is a lot more sales-oriented, since financial advisors often sell insurance. The projected employment growth for these advisors was 30%, and the BLS reported an average salary of $91,000 in 2010. Financial advisors may work for themselves or for finance, investment or insurance firms.

Actuary

Actuarial science is another area that might be of interest, and it requires a 4-year degree and passing licensing or certification exams. Actuaries assess the risk of certain events happening and help businesses design policies that minimize the cost of those risks. Actuaries primarily work in insurance, although a variety of other types of companies use actuaries in this manner. The field is intensely competitive in some areas and is expected to grow by 21% from 2008-2018. The pay is higher than average, and the BLS reported an average of $99,000 for these professionals in 2010.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master - Accounting
      • MS in Accounting- Tax Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Audit Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Government Specialization
      • MS in Accounting - Finance Specialization
      • MBA: Finance
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Accounting
      • Bachelor: Managerial Accountancy
      • Bachelor: Tax Accountancy
      • Bachelor: Auditing-Forensic Accountancy
      • BSBA - Investment
      • Bachelor: Public-General Accountancy
    Associate's
      • Associate: Accounting
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • Associate: Business Admin. - Office Mgmt
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Technology Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Human Resources
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Project Management
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting & Healthcare Mgmt.
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Accounting
      • B.S. - Business Management: Business Admin Concentration
      • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Accounting
      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
      • Associate of Science - Business Management
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA-Accountancy
      • MA/Accountancy - Accounting
      • MBA - Finance
      • MBA - Media Management
      • MBA - Business Economics
      • MBA
    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Accounting
      • BA/Sports and Recreation Management - Finance
      • B.A. - Business Admin
      • B.A. - International Business
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Accounting
      • B.A. - Business Admin: Finance
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Accounting
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. Everest

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate's - Accounting
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
      • PhD in Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
      • PhD in Business Admin - Financial Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Accounting
      • MBA - Financial Management
      • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA
      • Master of Business Admin - General Business
      • MBA - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Accounting
      • Master of Finance
      • MS - Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Accounting
      • BS - Business Management
    Certificate
      • Graduate Specialization - Accounting
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
      • Master of Arts in Law - Business
      • Master of Arts in Law - Wealth Management/Financial Planning
      • Master of Business Administration - Finance and Investing
      • Master of Business Administration - Franchising
      • Master of Business Administration
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Science in Business - Accounting
      • Bachelor of Science in Business
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Business
      • Bachelor of Arts in English - Government
      • Bachelor of Arts in Government
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • DBA - Management
    Master's
      • MBA: Accounting
      • MS in Accounting
      • MBA: Finance
      • MBA
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Accounting
      • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
      • BS in Applied Management
      • BS in Finance and Economics
      • BS in Business Admin.

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master - Accounting
  • Bachelor: Accounting
  • Associate: Accounting

Which subject are you interested in?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Public Safety Leadership
  • Bachelor: Accounting
  • Associate of Science - Accounting
  • Diploma: Bookkeeping and Payroll Accounting

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • MA-Accountancy
  • MA/Accountancy - Accounting
  • B.A. - Accounting
  • BA/Sports and Recreation Management - Finance

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Accounting
  • B.A. - Business Admin: Finance
  • Associate of Arts - Accounting

What is your highest level of education?

Everest

  • Associate's - Accounting

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
  • PhD in Business Admin - Advanced Accounting
  • Master of Science in Accounting
  • MBA - Financial Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Master of Professional Accounting
  • BS - Accounting
  • Graduate Specialization - Accounting

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Business Administration - Accounting
  • Master of Arts in Law - Business
  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Science in Business - Accounting

What is your highest level of education completed?