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You dream of a stable career with plenty of room for growth. Accounting could be an excellent option. This field does not always receive the high praise it deserves, as misguided stereotypes suggest that it is inherently boring. Many accountants, however, cherish a surprising secret: they are downright passionate about accounting and happy to have selected such a wonderful career path.

Survey any population of accountants, and you will no doubt find plenty who are happy to share just how much they love their work. The field of accounting may not be suitable for everyone, though it could offer a rewarding career path to those who appreciate its analytical nature. For that reason, it is important to understand the ins and outs of this field before you move forward with an accounting degree program. To help, we have outlined all the basics: what accountants do, what the accounting career path might involve, and the often-understated benefits of becoming an accountant.

What Does an Accountant Do?

Accounting is a diverse career field, but all positions ultimately boil down to one main concern: finances. Whether handled at the personal or corporate level, accountants are responsible for ensuring that financial records are both thorough and accurate. To achieve this end, they may be involved in the following key tasks:

  • Examining financial statements with an eye for compliance.
  • Handling a variety of tax concerns, such as preparing returns or helping clients with audits.
  • Completing accounting close procedures, such as reconciliations or journal entries.
  • Offering analysis and insight on performance metrics and benchmarks.
  • Reporting on financial performance to executives and making recommendations based on in-depth insights.
  • Developing process improvements to make accounting procedures more accurate.

Accounting Career Path

Accounting professionals can pursue a wide variety of opportunities, ranging from self-employment and entrepreneurship to high-level roles within corporations or government agencies. Some are incredibly ambitious, with the ultimate goal of rising through the ranks to secure accounting-related managerial or executive positions. Others are happy to enjoy the stability of the accounting field and the potential to find a role that provides a desirable work-life balance.

Below, we describe the many facets of the modern accounting career path, including the main categories of accounting and the targeted education and credentials needed to obtain positions in these niches.

Public Accounting

When you picture a ‘typical’ accounting position, public accountants probably come to mind. Sometimes employed by accounting firms but often successful as freelancers or small business owners, these professionals serve a variety of clients. Many focus primarily on tax concerns, such as preparing federal tax returns or conducting audits.

Public accountants may assist not only individual clients but also businesses from every industry imaginable. In this capacity, public accountants typically focus on consultancy rather than working exclusively for one corporation.

Private Accounting

Not all accountants prepare taxes or work with large numbers of clients. Private accountants narrow their focus, often committing exclusively to a single organization. Under this setup, they handle a variety of internal concerns, such as financial performance evaluations, regulatory compliance, and even forecasting procedures. Professionals who favor private accounting over public setups appreciate the enhanced stability of this pursuit, in which there is no need to actively court new clients.

Education, Licenses, and Certificates

Whether you ultimately opt to work in public or private accounting, your career will likely begin with a targeted accounting degree. While an Associate of Science in Accounting could be sufficient for entry-level bookkeeping positions, many employers prefer candidates equipped with a relevant bachelor’s degree. Should you choose to transition to accounting after completing an unrelated degree program, a post-baccalaureate accounting certificate can help you gain a targeted skill set.

Many — but not all — accountants are CPAs (certified public accountants). A CPA obtains a state-issued license. While the requirements in each state vary, they include a specific curriculum, work experience, and the Uniform CPA Examination, which consists of four sections that must be completed within 30 months. Becoming a CPA is not easy, but it provides an extra degree of respect that can be especially valuable for public accountants.

Accounting Specializations

While some accountants serve as generalists, many prefer to specialize in areas that reflect their personal interests or expertise. Some of these require additional training above and beyond a typical accounting degree. Common specialties include:

  • Forensic Accounting. Centered around efforts to fight financial fraud, this niche may call for advanced training, and could benefit from an additional credential: the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).
  • Internal auditing. The Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) credential conveys expertise in internal auditing, which involves objective analysis of corporate governance and other internal controls.
  • Management accounting. When accounting insights drive decision-making at the corporate level, management accounting provides relevant information and analysis. Again, this niche provides the opportunity to obtain a targeted credential: the Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

Benefits of Becoming an Accountant

Accounting is not for everyone, but passionate professionals appreciate the range of advantages this career path can provide. In general, this field is known for its stability. This forms the basis of both accounting career pros and cons, as we describe below:

Well-Defined Career Path

With many career fields, it can be difficult to know how exactly you will qualify for various positions or what it will take to impress potential employers. This is never a concern with accounting: it should be abundantly clear what employers are looking for and how you can rise to the occasion. Additional structure is available if you pursue a specialty credential or make the effort to become a CPA.

Portable Skillset

It would be an understatement to claim that accounting skills are desirable. While these are obviously valued within dedicated accounting and bookkeeping positions, they can also be helpful in any field that calls for attention to detail or analytical abilities. For this reason, many accountants are successfully able to transition into fields such as finance or even executive leadership

Stable and Expanding Job Market

As both personal and corporate finances become increasingly complicated, there is an accelerated need for skilled accountants. There are currently nearly 1.5 million accounting positions within the US and these are not likely to disappear, given the high demand among both individual clients and corporate entities.

Make a Difference by Helping Others

Our standard perception of service-driven careers centers around fields such as healthcare, education, or social work. However, it is possible to make a meaningful difference through analytical work such as accounting. As a public accountant, you can provide much-needed relief for clients struggling to navigate taxes and other stressful financial concerns. Your assistance will remove a huge mental and emotional burden from their shoulders and could also prove financially transformative.

Potential for Entrepreneurship

Many accountants thrive under the stability of working for accounting departments or firms, but this is by no means the only path to success. If you are a self-starter who prefers to carve your own path, you will be thrilled to discover a world of potential as an accounting-oriented entrepreneur, starting your own tax preparation business or consultancy firm.

Versatility to Work in Various Industries

Many types of business can benefit from employing highly skilled and passionate accountants. Name the industry, and you will find a range of businesses or agencies that require insight from internal accountants, consultants, or other dedicated professionals. Industries that commonly hire accountants include:

  • Healthcare
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Hospitality
  • Education
  • Nonprofits
  • Banking
  • Law

Enhanced Financial Literacy Skills

Outside of professional pursuits, accountancy training can be highly beneficial on a personal level. Graduates emerge equipped with a wealth of skills that can prove beneficial when investing or, of course, come tax time. As the financial landscape becomes ever more complicated, there is an increased need for financial literacy to improve basic budgeting, spending, and investment processes.

Intellectually Challenging

Accounting is a fascinating field with plenty of opportunities for intellectual growth. This begins early on; many of the courses required to earn a Bachelor of Science in Accounting are downright fascinating. Additionally, challenges can be enjoyed while completing specialty training or seeking targeted credentials.

Potentially Flexible Work Environments

Conventional 9-to-5 jobs are plentiful in the accounting field — and many professionals strongly prefer the stability of this approach. Others, however, desire greater flexibility, both in terms of environment and location. Both work styles are well within reach, for, as we have discussed, accounting provides a wealth of entrepreneurial opportunities.

If you like the idea of flexible work arrangements, you could be an excellent candidate to open your own business or work as an accounting consultant. Either way, you can develop your schedule as you see fit, taking on only the clients that ignite your passion or allow you to maintain a strong work-life balance.

Disadvantages of Being an Accountant

As with any career path, accounting has its downsides. These do not apply to every niche or position but may be more common in accounting as opposed to other fields.

Accounting Is Often Perceived as Dull or Unexciting

If you tell friends or family members that you plan on becoming an accountant, do not be surprised if they are less than enthusiastic at the outset. While crunching numbers may appeal to your analytical sensibilities, many people think of accounting as downright dull. This is not necessarily how you will perceive it, however, so others’ opinions should not determine whether your career path is sufficiently exciting.

Can Be Stressful at Times

Boring and stressful might seem like inherently opposite descriptions, but both are possible within a single accounting position. Strict deadlines and high expectations can induce anxiety, especially for public accountants who may deal with wild fluctuations in their workload throughout the year. Tax season is a notoriously difficult time for public accountants, who face a sudden influx of clients and may struggle to turn down potentially profitable opportunities. Meanwhile, private accountants may face high expectations from executives, who depend on accounting insights to ensure profitability, efficiency, and compliance.

Requires Working in a Sedentary Office Environment

If you are constantly on the move, accounting — like many office-oriented fields — could be difficult from a physical standpoint. Outside of the potential for business travel, you most likely will not spend much time on your feet. Instead, you can expect to spend long hours at your desk. There are workarounds, however — especially in an age of remote arrangements. Simply taking a short stretch break every hour can make a world of difference, as can a scenic stroll during your lunch hour.

May Require Advanced License or Certification for Senior Roles

Do you have grand ambitions for your accounting career? If you hope to eventually move up the ranks and reach a senior position, you will need to seek extra credentials along the way. Experience alone will not be enough, and you may eventually find yourself pursuing not only advanced certifications but also your master’s degree.

Challenging Degree Program

It takes a lot of discipline to succeed while navigating rigorous accounting degree programs. The learning curve for this profession is steep. Some students simply are not analytically minded, and while that is perfectly acceptable in many degree programs, this could make it difficult to endure the more complex aspects of accounting.

Could Face Ethical Challenges

Ethical concerns abound in the accounting profession. These can arise in both public and private accounting roles. For example, an alarming share of today’s corporations commit financial fraud, but individual accountants sometimes feel powerless to prevent this. Conflicts of interest are common and there is a strong risk of breaching client confidentiality. The Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) provide an excellent framework for navigating these concerns, but it is still up to individual accountants to conduct themselves ethically at all times.

Technology Disruption

Advanced technology is playing an increasingly central role in the accounting industry. While tech has long played heavily in this field, the rate of change is especially rapid these days. Today’s aspiring accountants should be prepared to not only accept but actively embrace new systems and platforms, especially as machine learning and artificial intelligence play a greater role in everyday accounting tasks.

While some accountants fear that these advanced technologies will ultimately displace them in the workforce, the likelier scenario is much more complicated: accountants will increasingly be asked to work alongside AI. This will be true across many professions, however, and should not be viewed as a disadvantage unique to accounting.

Embrace the Best of Accounting at Post

If, after examining these accounting career pros and cons, you are even more excited about pursuing a targeted degree, you will be pleased to find many excellent options at Post. We offer an associate degree in accounting and bachelor’s degree in accounting, an online post-baccalaureate accounting certificate, and online master’s in accountingReach out today to learn more about these opportunities.

Post University assists in researching and providing information regarding licensure; however, each state has different requirements for such licensure outside of the required education. Such state requirements may include licensure exams, background checks, certain work experience, and more. It is ultimately the responsibility of each student to manage their own licensure process and to ensure that all requirements are met in order for the student to obtain licensure. Post University does not speak on behalf of any licensing board or body and does not guarantee licensure. Requirements for licensure are subject to change without notice. 

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Please note jobs and/or career outcomes highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs or career outcomes expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions advisor.