Accountant

Career Information

Female accountant keying in numbers
Steve Weinrebe / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Job Description

An accountant ensures the accuracy of individuals', companies' and organizations' financial statements. He or she sees to it that laws are followed, taxes are correct and paid on time, and that procedures are properly followed. An accountant prepares financial documentation and explains his or her findings to individuals or to a company's or organization's management.

There are several types of accountants.

Management accountants prepare financial information that is used internally by the companies that employ them. Public accountants who work for accounting firms or are self employed prepare financial documentation and tax forms, and perform audits for clients. Government accountants work with government agencies' financial records. They also audit businesses, organizations and individuals that are subject to government regulation and taxation.

Employment Facts

Approximately 1,275,000 people were employed as accountants or auditors in 2012 (Note: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports statistical information for both these occupations together). About a quarter work for accounting firms. Others were employed by the Federal and state governments, private companies and other organizations.

Most jobs in this field are full-time. Many jobs require overtime work particularly during tax season or when quarterly or annual financial statements must be filed.

Educational Requirements

To become an accountant one must earn at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field of study. Some employers prefer job candidates who have earned a Master's of Science degree in accounting or taxation or an MBA with a concentration in accounting.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements

Anyone who files documents with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission must be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Licensure is granted by individual states according to their own rules and regulations. Typically one must have a college degree and pass the Uniform CPA Examination to become a CPA. To find out what the licensing requirements are in the state in which you want to practice please see the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop.

In addition to formal education and a license one also needs certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to succeed in this field. Good listening skills, for example, are necessary as are strong writing and speaking skills. Accountants also need good critical thinking and complex problem solving skills. They must be well-organized and detail oriented.

Advancement Opportunities

After spending a year or two in an entry-level job, one may be promoted to a position with more responsibility. Some accountants advance into managerial positions.

Why Do You Need to Know About Advancement?

Job Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this field will experience job growth that is about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2022.

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?

Earnings

In 2012, people working in this field earned a median annual salary of $65,080 and median hourly wages of $31.29 (US).

Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much an accountant currently earns in your city.

A Day in an Accountant's Life:

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for accountants found on Indeed.com:

  • Assist with preparation of operating budgets; coordinating insurance renewals with outside agencies.
  • Enter cash transactions for loans and reconcile account balances.
  • Prepare accurate work papers, schedules and reconciliations for audit purposes.
  • Send invoices to accounts.
  • Enforce payment terms with accounts.
  • Research state and local tax laws and assist in corporate registrations for new markets.
  • Assist with the preparation of income and franchise estimated payments, and gathering information for filing.
  • Work with external auditors.
  • Record payments, disbursements and adjusting entries in the loan accounting system verifying the accuracy of each posting. 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Accountants and Auditors, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm (visited May 23, 2014).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Accountants, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/13-2011.01 (visited May 23, 2014).

Career Paths for Accounting Majors

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