What Accounting Careers are Really Like

Accounting is one of the most important but misunderstood professions in today’s job market. The stereotype of an accountant is a spectacled number-cruncher, hunched over a desk all day, obsessed with the smallest details.

Most people would be surprised to see how multi-faceted this field is and even more surprised that it isn’t all number-crunching. Courses at any good accounting school are part of a dynamic curriculum that meets the changing needs of businesses, governments and individuals.

The basic purpose of accounting is to provide trusted, relevant information to management, investors, creditors, government and, sometimes, the general public. This information is indispensable to running a business efficiently and honestly, and can be crucial to individuals with complex financial situations.

Divided Feelings About Accounting Careers

The field of accounting is one that seems to divide people into warring factions. On one side, those who need to get their taxes done think that the profession is a great asset. Businesspeople who dread their quarterly results, however, think a bit differently.

At the same time, some people find accounting’s involvement in math and numbers to be fascinating. Others, with a slightly less rosy view of math, would prefer to run in the opposite direction. One thing that everyone can agree on is that the profession is lucrative, growing, and highly skilled.

Because of the indispensable role of accounting in business, careers can be exciting, dynamic and put you in powerful positions. With technology removing many of the mundane tasks, anyone with a talent for numbers might consider one of the many potential careers in the field. Here are some of the broad career streams available.

Management Accounting

Management accountants participate in planning, analyzing, and steering the activities of the company for which they work. They interpret the financial information for company executives and shareholders.

Along with strategic planning, management accountant responsibilities may include budgeting, performance evaluation, cost management and asset management.

Public Accounting

Public accountants perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax and consulting activities for external clients. They may provide services to corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations or individuals.

These accountants may consult on everything from tax issues to compensation, health care benefits, and the design of accounting systems.

Public accountants are often Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and are either self-employed or work for a public accounting firm.

Government Accounting

Government accountants work in the public sector. They collect revenue and prepare statistics for government agencies. They may also audit private businesses or individuals whose activities are subject to government regulation.

Internal Auditors

Internal auditors verify that a firm’s internal accounting controls and systems are working as they should.

Internal auditors evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of a firm’s financial and information systems, and ensure that they comply with company policies and relevant laws. They also check for mismanagement, waste, or fraud.

Accounting Degrees and Licenses

Most accountants in the United States and most other countries need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business. A bachelor’s degree is a required stepping stone to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

  • Only CPAs are qualified to file a report for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and most public accountants are CPAs.
  • Becoming a CPA involves taking a national exam and meeting state requirements.

Master’s degrees in accounting or business administration are popular options for accountants looking to move forward in their careers, or to specialize in one area, such as in management accounting or taxation. Additional certifications or licensing are also helpful.

Those with associate degrees in accounting can obtain junior accounting positions and advance to accountant positions by demonstrating their accounting skills on the job.