Successful accounting professionals must possess a wide skill set, which includes everything from a fine sense of detail to an understanding of the latest technology to excellent interpersonal skills.
Accounting careers require that you monitor your clients’ financial transactions to make sure that they are both accurate and legal. No matter in which field of accounting you work, you likely will spend a great deal of time entering data while preparing financial documents. Preparing and reviewing these documents takes patience, concentration, and a fine sense of detail. For example, when auditors take inventory of their clients’ assets, they need to pay careful attention to how their inventories match up to the clients’ financial records.
In order to prepare financial statements well, accountants require honesty and integrity. Tax laws and other legal information pertaining to accountancy can change over time, so successful accountants need to take the initiative to stay up to date on current laws and trends. Your clients are depending on you to help them stay in compliance with the law, so as an accountant, you will need to have the knowledge and integrity to provide your clients with correct information.
- Aside from paying attention to the details of transactions and financial records, people working in accounting careers need to have a good understanding of financial concepts and be able to explain these concepts to their clients. Often, accountants are called upon not only to create financial documents but also to provide financial advice to clients on how they can run their organizations or businesses more efficiently. Accountants need the analytical and mathematical skills to review the data they find and translate their analyses into helpful advice for their clients.
- Working in accounting careers also requires knowledge about technology. Nearly all of the financial documents you create and analyze will be electronic. Not only will you need a solid understanding of current accounting software, but you also must have the technological ability to remain up to date on new accounting technology. Throughout the course of your accounting career, the computer programs accountants use likely will evolve, and your skills will need to evolve with them. If you are particularly inclined toward technology, you may want to look into opportunities to design and maintain accounting software.
- Good communication and social skills are also intrinsic to accounting careers. As an accountant, you will interact with a wide variety of people encompassing both your colleagues and your clients. Accounting may seem like solitary work, but you will be spending a great deal of time working side by side with your colleagues. Many people begin their accounting careers working for large public firms. In this situation, you will likely be placed on a small team of people. Your team may work together to prepare documents or travel together to a client’s site. In whatever capacity you depend upon your team, you will need to work productively with your colleagues and supervisors.
- Perhaps even more important than getting along with your coworkers is getting along with your clients. All kinds of businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations require accountants. If you are working for a large public accounting firm, you will likely spend a lot of time out of the office and at your clients’ sites. With such a wide variety of potential clients, you will need to be able to interact with people of many different backgrounds.
- Networking is a great interpersonal skill for accounting careers, too. While many accountants begin their careers at large public firms, not all stay on this path. In fact, many branch off to become self-employed or start their own firms. It never hurts to keep in touch with your classmates and colleagues because you never know who could offer you a job or opportunity to collaborate in the future.
Despite the likelihood of working side by side with a team of colleagues, you will find yourself responsible for your own productivity with a career in accounting. Self-discipline is important for completing assignments on time. When you spend time working out of the office at a client’s site, you may well be on your own to make sure your job gets done correctly and in a timely fashion. Many careers in accounting require a large number of hours during tax season, and you could find yourself needing to take work home from the office. In order to minimize time spent on a large workload, you will need to be able to work efficiently without supervision.
Together, a combination of technical and soft skills makes you a good fit for careers in accounting. If you love math, details, and technology, as well as working with and getting to know a variety of people, then an accounting career could be a good match.
Advantages of Accounting Careers
Accounting careers offer many rewards—and not only financial rewards—many accountants enjoy rewarding personal and business experiences because of their career choices.
As far as tangible rewards go, salaries for accounting careers are fairly high. Often entry-level accountants earn within $50,000 to $60,000 per year, and there is ample room for salary growth as you gain experience. Many accountants go on to become managers in about six years and increase their earning potential to an average of $100,000 per year. A few continue on to become partners at large firms, with earnings ranging from $200,000 per year to, in some extreme cases, over $1,000,000.
Many accountants opt to become self-employed after beginning their careers with larger firms. Some people view self-employment as a benefit in and of itself because it offers flexibility. As a self-employed Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you have control over your schedule and over what kinds of clients you want to work with.
Even when the economy is not in good shape, accounting careers are versatile. Businesses, government, nonprofits, and other organizations will always need to prepare and verify financial statements, so they will need to hire accountants. Although job security at one particular firm may fluctuate, job security for accounting careers in general is high.
Another perk of accounting careers is how much knowledge accountants gain about the business world. While working as an accountant, you will experience firsthand how business is conducted and gain vital expertise not available in the classroom. On-site experience lets you witness the differences and similarities of how business is done in a variety of industries. In addition, preparing and verifying financial statements for clients will provide a vast bank of knowledge about how businesses must manage their money in order to be successful. Many people who begin their working life with accounting careers go on to work in other areas of business. Accountants expand their careers as financial planners, loan officers, or even CFOs and CEOs due to the business experience they gain in the accounting field.
Many accounting careers, especially entry-level careers at large firms, provide a lot of opportunities to travel. Since you will be visiting clients’ sites, you may be able to travel out of state or to other distant locations. While traveling for business, your employer will cover the cost of food, lodging, and even entertainment in some cases. This is a great way to experience new places without having to reach into your own bank account.
Accounting careers also provide you with a broad range of areas in which to work. Large and small private companies, corporations, nonprofits, and even all levels of government employ the services of accountants. You have the option of working for an accounting firm to experience a variety of different clients or to work for a government agency whose mission you believe in. Some corporations and other large businesses hire in-house auditors and management accountants. So if you would like to work as an accountant within a specific industry, a position like this could be a good match.
With so many options of agencies to work for and potential career paths, accounting can form a solid foundation for your career. While accounting may have the stereotype of number crunching, there is enough variety within accounting careers to find a path that is right for you.
Disadvantages of Accounting Careers
While many people find the skills and experiences gained through accounting careers to be valuable, some aspects of the accounting field may be frustrating depending on your personality.
During some portions of the year, accountants are expected to work long hours outside of a forty-hour work week. Usually, this season lasts while taxes are being prepared from January until mid-April. The schedule during this season could require you to work extra hours not only in the office but also from home. Technology can be a burden and a blessing in this case. Laptops and smart phones enable you to work from home as opposed to in the office, but this can make work–life balance difficult if you must respond to e-mails and telephone calls when you are attending to family matters at home.
Deadlines during these busy months tend to be frequent if you are working at a large accounting firm or even as an in-house accountant for a corporation. Self-employment may provide some relief in that you can control your own schedule; however, clients are still likely to have demanding needs in the first four months of the year.
While there is some room for creativity in accounting careers if you are in a position to perform consulting duties for your clients, some people tend to get bored by the more tedious aspects of accounting careers. To be a successful accountant, you need to be able to devote yourself to going over details for extended amounts of time. Accounting careers are best for those with an interest in the intricate financial transactions of an organization. You need to have an attention span that allows you to verify balance sheets without going stir-crazy.
With an entry-level accounting career, you are likely to find your first job at a large accounting firm. These firms each adhere to their own corporate culture. Be aware of the culture at the firms where you are applying before you begin. Different corporate cultures can suit different personalities, and some firms are likely to be more social than others. Working on a team of colleagues that likes to go out together frequently after work can be fun if you feel up to it, but it can be frustrating if you feel like heading home but do not want to miss a networking opportunity. If you wind up at a firm that is either too formal or too laid-back for your tastes, you may not feel comfortable.
Entry-level accounting jobs for large firms also may not provide you with a great deal of flexibility as far as which clients you would like to work with. Your manager may let you voice a preference or may merely assign you to a client.
Many accounting jobs require a great deal of travel. For some people, this is an advantage, and for others, it is a disadvantage. You may hope to spend some time sightseeing while you travel for work and feel frustrated if your work responsibilities do not leave you enough time to do so. You may also wish to spend more time with your family at home and not want to jump from airport to airport.
Most disadvantages of accounting careers depend on your outlook and expectations. If you know ahead of time that you will have a busy schedule from January until mid-April and are prepared to buckle down, your work will feel a lot less tedious. Similarly, if you research the firms you are interested in when you apply, you will not be surprised by their requirements once you begin the job.