Accounting Careers Jobs, Salary, and Education Information for Aspiring Accountants

From managing celebrities’ finances to investigating fraud for the government, accountants have an array of job opportunities. Accountants help individuals and businesses manage money, pay taxes, and meet financial goals, and they work in virtually every industry, from fashion to nonprofit. Find out more about job opportunities for accountants, the outlook for accounting careers, and what it takes to get started.

Career Options for Accountants

Pursuing a career in accounting can lead to a position as a financial manager at a Fortune 500 company, a personal financial advisor in private practice, or an investigator who works with the FBI. Explore some of the common career opportunities for accountants.

Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors examine and prepare financial records, helping organizations run financial operations efficiently and pay taxes on time.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 11%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, such as business administration

Tax Examiners and Collectors, and Revenue Agents

Individuals who work in these careers help to ensure that the government collects tax revenue from businesses and citizens. The job involves reviewing tax returns, conducting audits, and collecting overdue payments.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): -6%

    (Federal tax examiner positions have declined in recent years due to budget cuts, but state and local positions have remained stable and are expected to grow.)

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, such as business administration or economics

Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

These professionals help organizations track financial transactions and ensure records are accurate. Most work in offices and some may travel to meet with clients.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): -8%

    (These careers are declining as technology replaces several bookkeeping functions; however, bookkeeping careers are linked to small businesses and may rebound with small business growth.)

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Some college education, but typically a degree is not required

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014

Personal Financial Advisors

Advisors in this rapidly growing profession help individuals manage their taxes, investments, insurance, savings, and retirement funds. Personal financial advisors may work in the finance or insurance industry, or be self-employed.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 30%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree; most employers do not require personal financial advisors to have a degree in a specific field, but a degree in accounting, finance, economics, business, mathematics, or law may be helpful.

Financial Analysts

Financial analysts assess stocks, bonds, and other investments to help businesses decide how to invest money.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 12%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    Bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, statistics, mathematic, or business administration

Financial Managers

These experienced professionals are responsible for making sure organizations are financially healthy. They create financial reports, manage investments, and help organizations meet their financial goals. Financial managers typically have at least five years of experience in accounting or finance.

  • Job Outlook (2014 to 2024): 7%

  • Minimum education requirements:

    At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, accounting or business administration; many employers now seek a master’s degree in business administration, economics, or finance

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014

Personal financial advisors
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 14%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree, work experience in accounting

Auditors
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 9-13%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree, work experience in accounting

Credit Analysts
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 5-8%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree, work experience in accounting

Budget Analysts
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2-4%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree, work experience in accounting

Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2-4%

  • Education and Training:

    Bachelor’s degree, work experience in accounting

Tax preparers
  • Projected Outlook (2014 to 2024): 2-4%

  • Education and Training:

    Vocational school, associate’s degree, on-the-job training

Data Source: Occupational Information Network, 2014

Accounting Salary Trends

Positions in accounting and related fields, such as auditing and personal financial advising, are growing at a faster than average rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As demand for accountants increases and baby boomers retire from accounting positions, companies are offering higher salaries and other incentives to recruit new hires – according to the Robert 2016 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance, accounting salaries increased between 4.0 and 5.3 percent from 2015 to 2016. Take a closer look at salaries for various accounting roles:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015

Salaries in accounting can also vary based on level of experience, skillset, and education. The more professional work experience you have in the field, the more likely you are to earn a higher salary. Similarly, if you have the right skills and education, you’re likely to see a bump in pay as well.

How Experience Affects Accountant Salaries

Median
Salary
  • Late-Career +11%
  • Experienced +8%
  • Mid-Career +7%
  • National Average $47,000
  • Entry-Level-6%

How Certain Skills Affect Accounting Salaries

  • Financial analysis +8%
  • Financial reporting +5%
  • Budget management +5%
  • General ledger accounting +5%
  • Data analysis +2%
  • National average $14,000

Source: PayScale.com

How Do I Know if Accounting is for Me?

Accountants need a variety of skills to succeed, from mathematical analysis to interpersonal skills. According to the AICPA, accounting may be a good fit if you have the following skills or attributes:

  • You have strong math skills and enjoy managing money
  • You can adopt and use new technology easily
  • You have excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • You’re a problem-solver and enjoy logic problems
  • You’re interested in business and assessing the risks involved with investing in or running one
  • You’ve demonstrated leadership skills, such as taking a board position for an organization or teaching someone

Required and Preferred Skills

Mathematics

Math skills are required for accounting careers, which involve managing, analyzing, and interpreting financial data.

Critical thinking

Accountants must be able to think critically to help clients and businesses solve financial problems and meet goals.

Communication and collaboration

Accounting is a service-oriented field, so it’s critical for accountants to be able to communicate with clients and work effectively with colleagues to complete tasks.

Technology acquisition

The ability to learn new technology quickly is a preferred skill. A large portion of Chief Financial Officers say staying current with technology is one of the biggest challenges for finance and accounting teams, according to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.

Project management

Project management skills are preferred for accountants, who may need to plan and manage projects from start to finish.

Notebook computers

A necessary tool for the job, accountants use computers to access and analyze financial information.

Microsoft Excel

Employers often prefer accountants who have advanced Microsoft Excel skills. Accountants need to use spreadsheet and database software, such as Microsoft Excel, to analyze and calculate information quickly.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, such as Oracle or SAP

Businesses are adopting ERP systems that collect data, including financial data, about various business processes and prefer to hire professionals who have the skills to use these systems.

QuickBooks

The ability to use QuickBooks, an accounting software program, may be required for accountants who work for small- and mid-sized firms.

Microsoft Visual Basic

Accountants with skills in this computer programming language can use computer programs and spreadsheets in more sophisticated ways.

Education Requirements

Not all accounting positions require a college degree, but many careers require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, such as finance or business administration. At a minimum, accountants should have some education in mathematics and computer skills. Here are some degree options at the undergraduate level:

Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting

In this program, you’ll learn the fundamentals of accounting and also gain exposure to key topics that play a big role in the day-to-day tasks of an accountant, such as legal compliance and ethics, finance, marketing, economics, and quantitative decision making. Specific course titles will vary from college to college, but examples of core courses are Principles of Accounting, Quantitative Business Analysis, Government and Nonprofit Accounting, Auditing, and Business Taxation. Some programs require students to complete a capstone project to demonstrate what’s been taught throughout the program. A bachelor’s degree can help prepare you for an accounting career in the public, private, nonprofit, and government sectors.

Bachelor’s Degree in Finance

A bachelor’s degree in finance is a broader degree that teaches you how to prepare, interpret, and analyze financial data – skills that can be applied to careers in accounting, banking, financial planning, and insurance. These skills allow you to create, evaluate, and manage financial portfolios for a range of clients. Example courses include Accounting I and II, Management and Organization Theory, Risk Management, Financial Analysis, Investments, Business Finance, and Contemporary Issues in Finance Practice.

Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration

If you choose to pursue a degree in business administration, you’ll gain a wide set of skills that can be used in the field of accounting and beyond. Curriculum covers accounting, business communication, finance, marketing, and organizational behavior, which are all critical for understanding how today’s businesses operate. Courses will vary by school, but example titles include Microeconomic Analysis, Macroeconomic Analysis, Introduction to Financial Accounting, Analytical Decision Modeling, Marketing, and Management of Human Resources.

Another option is to earn a more advanced degree and become a certified public accountant (CPA). In most states, accountants who want to become CPAs must complete 150 credit hours at an accredited college or university. Some states also require CPAs to take a number of credits in accounting, auditing, and tax-related coursework, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). A graduate degree is not required to become a CPA, but, according to AICPA, many accountants may find obtaining one of the following degrees can be helpful in achieving career goals:

Masters of Business Administration (MBA)

Business school is all about learning how to become an effective business leader. As a result, this degree option focuses more on advanced business and management concepts, but does includes accounting and financial topics that are relevant to accounting careers. MBA students learn fundamental management concepts, theories, and best practices through courses such as Leadership Communication, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Financial Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Business Ethics. Many MBA programs also include several credits for elective coursework, where students can customize their studies and gain specialized skills and knowledge in a particular business area. Universities often create new electives to keep up with the ever-evolving field of business. For example, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania notes that some of its newly created electives include Advanced Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation, and Innovation, Change, and Entrepreneurship.

Master of Accountancy (MAcc)

Typically a rigorous one-year program, this degree helps prepare students specifically for the field of accounting and also helps prepare graduates to sit for the CPA exam or Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam. Students gain advanced knowledge in critical accounting principles such as revenue recognition, IFRS, auditing, fraud, and materiality. Students also gain exposure to the business, legal, and ethical aspect of the field in order to become effective and professional CPAs who can identify and address real world issues. At a glance, some courses students can expect to take include Managerial Finance, Financial Reporting, Managerial Economics, Business Ethics in Accounting, and Taxation of Business Entities.

Certificates

Many colleges also offer certificate programs in accounting for those who may not want to pursue a degree, such as anyone looking to enter the profession quickly or those considering a career change. Students usually complete these programs in one to one and a half years. Programs cover the most current information on accounting principles and practices, reporting, and regulatory requirements.

Some colleges also offer shorter, more specialized, noncredit certificates to help students boost resumes. For example, City College of San Francisco offers the following programs:

Computerized Accounting Specialist Certificate

Students learn spreadsheet functions to help with the preparation of financial reports as well as computerized record maintenance.

Accounting Assistant Certificate

Prepares students for entry-level assistant roles in accounts payable and accounts receivable.

Specialized Skills Certificate

Students can gain basic knowledge in specialized areas of accounting, such as income tax preparation, accounts receivable and payable, and QuickBooks.

Specializations

Accountants may choose to specialize in a certain area, such as the environment, or a certain aspect of accounting, such as personal financial planning. Here are some specializations accountants may choose to pursue:

Business valuation

Accountants in this specialty assess the value of an owner’s interest in a business. The AICPA offers an Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) credential for accountants who specialize in this area.

Environmental accounting

Environmental accountants examine the effects business activity has on the environment. These professionals may work in resource-intensive industries, such as mining, manufacturing and energy, or for non-profit or governmental organizations. According to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, more small and mid-sized organizations are likely to employ environmental management accountants in the future as environmental costs to businesses increase.

Forensic accounting

Forensic accountants perform investigations, generally to detect fraudulent activity, to assist in lawsuits. Accountants who specialize in forensics typically have one to three years of general accounting experience and may become Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs). Forensic accountants with a CFE earn 23 percent more than those without the credential, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

Personal financial planning

This specialty focuses on planning, from retirement to investments to taxes. Accountants who specialize in personal financial planning may run their own practices or work for a finance or insurance company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), personal financial advisor jobs are expected to grow by 30 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than average. The job growth will be fueled by baby boomers seeking financial planning assistance as they approach retirement.

Exams, Certifications, and other Requirements

Accountants may choose to become licensed as Certified Public Accounts (CPAs). The CPA credential isn’t required for all accounting jobs, but earning one can help accountants distinguish themselves from other candidates and may help them garner a better salary—professional certification can increase accountants’ salary from 5 to 15 percent, according to the Robert Half 2016 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance. Here is a list of basic requirements for aspiring CPAs:

Relevant experience

Candidates must have a certain amount of education or professional experience to take the CPA exam. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements for eligibility, but the majority of states require 150 credit hours of education at an accredited college or university, according the AICPA.

The CPA exam

Candidates who meet the education and/or experience requirements in their jurisdiction may take the Uniform CPA exam, offered during eight months each year. The exam is offered in all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. It consists of four parts:

  • The Auditing and Attestation (AUD) section examines candidates’ knowledge of auditing standards and procedures

  • Business Environments and Concepts (BEC) ensures candidates understand the reasons for business transactions and how they affect accounting

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) covers accounting principles that apply to businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and government

  • The Regulation (REG) portion focuses on federal tax laws as well as legal and ethical standards for the accounting profession

Candidates are not required to take all four parts of the exam at once, but must pass all parts within 18 months.

Licensure for CPAs

Passing the exam isn’t the final step to becoming licensed as a CPA. After passing the exam, accountants typically have to meet additional work and education requirements to become licensed as public accountants in their state or jurisdiction. CPA licensure requirements also vary, but most states mandate at least two years of public accounting experience, according to the AICPA.

CPA is just one type of certification that accounting professionals can pursue. There are several certifications available in the following subfields:

  • Public accounting
  • Corporate accounting
  • Government
  • Banking and financial services
  • Personal financial management
  • Audit, Fraud, and Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Tax
  • Information Technology
  • Credit
  • Payroll

According to Robert Half, examples of other in demand certifications include:

  • Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

Places Where Accountants Work

Accountants work in a variety of settings, from private practices to large corporations. Here are some common workplaces for accountants:

Small and mid-sized businesses

Accountants who work at small and mid-sized businesses may conduct bookkeeping activities, help businesses pay taxes and manage financial activities.

Corporations

Accountants employed by large corporations may work in a number of roles, from staff accountants who help to prepare company financial reports to corporate development experts, who consider acquisition and investment opportunities for businesses.

Small accounting firms

Small accounting practices often focus on catering to clients’ needs and may expect accountants to be available to help with financial statements or tax issues on demand. Small firms tend to have a more community-oriented atmosphere and may offer opportunities for accountants to specialize in certain industries or aspects of accounting.

Large accounting firms

Large, national accounting firms may require accountants to travel to clients’ offices and work long hours during tax season and other busy times. Large firms tend to provide a more structured work environment and may pay higher salaries than small ones.

Universities and academic institutions

Accountants working in academic environments are more likely to focus on teaching and conducting research.

Private practice

Self-employed accountants may start their own practice and focus on preparing taxes for clients or serve as personal financial planners.

Where to Find an Accounting Job

You can find accounting jobs posted on most major job boards, such as LinkedIn and Indeed. But you don’t have to limit your search to the big job sites–check out some of these specialized websites that cater to accounting professionals:

  • Accountemps

    Job seekers and employers can take advantage of the services and resources offered by Accountemps, the first and largest temporary staffing company for accounting and finance professionals.

  • AICPA Job Board

    This is the official job board of the AICPA. Job seekers can browse through openings and get up-to-date information on events that can help with the job hunt.

  • iHireAccounting

    This job board is dedicated to accounting field. Job seekers can post their resume, get matched with relevant openings, and get the most current accounting career advice.

  • National Association of Black Accountants, Inc.

    NABA, Inc. is a nonprofit membership association dedicated to encouraging people of color in business-related fields, including accounting. The association’s career center features several job openings and job search resources.

  • Randstad

    Randstad is the third largest staffing organization in the U.S. and a global provider of HR services. The organizations specializes in a number of industries, including finance and accounting.

  • The Professional Accounting Society of America

    PASA is a professional accounting society that serves entry-level and mid-level associates. On its job board, applicants can find job across the U.S. and new postings are added almost every day.

Accounting Internships

Internships are a great way to find out if a career in accounting is right for you as well as gain valuable, relevant experience. You’ll get on-the-job training and establish a network of professional contacts. Some businesses use internship programs as way to recruit future employees, so your internship could land you a full-time offer.

If you’re studying accounting at a university, your career resources office may be able to help you find an internship, or employers may come to campus to recruit interns. You can also check out accounting organizations, like the American Institute of CPAs Internships and Cooperative page, to find information about companies with accounting internship programs.

To land an accounting internship, you’ll need to create a strong resume, highlighting your strengths and experiences. You’ll also need to complete one or more interviews with the organization sponsoring the internship. Visit the websites of organizations where you’re interested in interning for more details about eligibility and how to apply. Below is a sample of some accounting internship opportunities:

BKD Audit Internship

Location: BKD, Erie, PA

BKD, a national audit and advisory firm, offers full-time and part-time internships in audit and tax accounting during the spring and summer semesters. Internships are available in several locations nationwide. Interns may complete audit testing, prepare tax returns and join client meetings.

Corporate Accounting Intern

Location: Hyatt, Chicago, IL

Interns in this program will learn about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance requirements, month-end-account reconciliation and optimizing accounting procedures while working with the Hyatt Corporate accounting team.

Internal Audit Intern

Location: Compass Minerals, Overland Park, KS

This full-time internship, which runs from May through August, offers hands on experience with internal control systems and operational audits.

Intern – Tax Consultant

Location: True Partners Consulting, San Jose, CA

Interns at True Partners Consulting are trained in various aspects of taxation to prepare them to work on consulting projects. Interns work part-time or full-time in the firm’s office.

Tax Internship

Location: CBS Corporation, NY

Tax interns at this mass-media company focus preparing tax information for state and federal tax returns, responding to tax notices and working with different kinds of tax programs. This is a year-long internship program, requiring full-time summer hours and part-time hours during the spring and fall.

Professional Associations & Organizations

Whether you’re an aspiring accountant looking for a scholarship or an experienced accounting professional moving into a leadership position, professional associations offer resources that can help you reach your career goals.

Many accounting organizations keep members informed about industry news and trends, offer continuing education and career development courses, share job listings for accounting positions, and give members the opportunity to grow their professional networks at conferences and events. Some associations, such as the AICPA, provide information and resources for students pursuing accounting degrees and preparing for the CPA exam.

Some of the top associations for accountants include:

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Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance

This association, founded in 1938 to increase opportunities for women in accounting and finance, aims to help women reach their full potential as accountants. The AFWA has chapters across the country and hosts a national conference every fall.

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American Accounting Association

The AAA is focused on accountants working in academia. The association currently has more than 7,000 members working in 75 countries.

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American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)

With more than 412,000 members, the AICPA calls itself the “world’s largest member association representing the accounting position.” AICPA members work in a variety of sectors, including business, government and education.

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American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants

This association is dedicated to helping women CPAs navigate career and life transitions, such as having children and retirement, and advocating for gender equity in the profession. The AWSCPA offers regional seminars and networking events, publications about issues women in accounting face and awards to recognize women in accounting.

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The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business (IMA)

Previously known as the Institute for Management Accountants, this worldwide association is for accountants working in business. The IMA offers a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential and several publications about financial and management topics.

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National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA, Inc.)

More than 20,000 professionals working in accounting, finance and business-related fields are members of NABA, Inc., an association that focuses on African Americans and people of color. NABA, Inc., aims to advance the careers of its members with education and career connections.

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The National Society of Accountants

The National Society of Accountants represents accountants and tax professionals who work in public accounting. The association has a strong focus on regulatory issues that determine who can practice accounting.

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National Society of Accountants for Cooperatives

This specialized accounting association is for accountants and other professionals involved in financial management of cooperative businesses, which are owned and operated by the people who use their services. The NSAC has about 2,000 members.