More students than ever are interested in a career in accounting. So, where do you begin? What do you need in order to become a successful accountant? How can you market yourself in the accounting world to stand out among employers? This is a broad overview of what you can do now, and what it takes to be a successful accountant.
Your biggest investment you will ever make is investing in yourself. Being part of student and professional accounting organizations are essential to market yourself and it stands out to employers on your résumé, and on interviews.
When you enter college, it is important to join a club that closely relates to your major and career path. Joining the accounting club and being on the board is a great way to show leadership. It also helps with managing your time between work, school, and extra-curricular activities. Juggling all of this while excelling in your studies is an excellent way to show employers your skills. These are some of the most popular accounting organizations you will find:
The American Institute of CPAs is the world’s largest member association that represents accounting professionals and has a goal to set ethical standards. When you join as a student, it is completely free. You will receive special discounts for review courses, training, guidance and networking opportunities.
The Professional Accounting Society of America is designed for entry and mid-level associates working in accounting firms in America. This membership offers resume help, networking opportunities and access to online articles related to accounting.
The National Association of Enrolled Agents is an organization dedicated to Enrolled Agents, most commonly referred to as America’s Tax Experts. Being a member gives you access to special review courses, monthly tax magazines, free membership to students, and discounts for CPE courses.
In the accounting profession, there are many areas of specialization that you can choose from. To name a few, there are:
Auditors prepare and examine financial records to make sure they are accurate and that taxes are being paid on time. Auditing is a big deal – they ensure that organizations run efficiently and follow the accounting guidelines of GAAP.
Payroll specialists run payroll for their clients’ employees frequently. They are able to calculate all types of payroll taxes, perform workers compensation audits, file tax returns for the clients, and are able to calculate net and gross pay and are knowledgeable in the deductions that employees can take. They are efficient in using the payroll software.
Forensic accountants take on the role of auditors in an investigative setting. Forensic accountants typically hold government jobs by the FBI, CIA, and IRS. Their duty is to investigate fraud and embezzlement in the case of a crime. Their findings are used in legal situations.
Wealth managers manage and invest people’s money to help them become financially secure in their future. They offer retirement, savings, investment, and estate advice for the benefit of their clients. Wealth managers take on the responsibility to analyze individual tax returns or high net worth individuals to create future savings plans for them.
A lot of other careers require knowledge in accounting; Managerial jobs, administrative jobs, and owning your own business. If you want to be your own boss and have your own business, having an accounting background is important in order to own a profitable company and to manage your business effectively. Knowing the basics of accounting can allow you to land a job in bookkeeping and payroll, and can be very useful if you want to start on your own as a business.
What Skills Are Needed?
To be a successful accountant, you will need a baseline of skills. Accountants work with numbers all day long, so it is important that they pay close attention to detail. Being detail-oriented is a necessary skill and comes from working carefully.
Accountants also work on computers and with various types of software, so knowing computer language and information technology is important in case there is a glitch in the software or if you make a mistake. Knowing your computer and software very well will allow you to fix minor problems easily. There are also certifications for Quickbooks (popular accounting software), which can allow you to teach courses, be a representative, and receive higher pay at your job.
Communication skills are also very important. You will be talking to handfuls of people almost every day, so knowing how to interact with them is important in order to get complete information. Not only will you have to communicate with clients, but with upper management as well. Being friendly and explaining complicated tax law to clients in a way that they can understand is key to building a respective client base.
Working in the accounting field, you will be analyzing financial statements, tax returns, and supplemental client data. Having strong analytical skills is very important because you will be able to find any type of misstatement or find wrongly classified information on the clients’ books. Being able to analyze financial statements and know what you are looking for is very important to succeeding in your field of work.
Professional Designations and Their Education Requirements
Education is key to working in the accounting field. These are a few of the professional certifications/designations and their education requirements:
CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
Requirements vary by state but according to NASBA.org, almost every state requires 150 semester hours (credits) from an accredited college and a bachelors degree with courses taken in the following areas:
- Various business courses
- Financial accounting
Depending on the state in which you live, or want to gain a license in, you may be able to sit and take the exam with just 120 credits. Once you pass all 4 parts of the exam, you will need the additional 30 credits (150) within the scope of accounting to be licensed.
The 150 credits can be achieved by declaring a double major in your college, or you can go to graduate school.
After becoming licensed, CPE (continuing professional education) credits are required to maintain your license.
CFP (Certified Financial Planner)
To become a CFP, you ultimately need a Bachelor’s Degree from a college or university that is registered with the CFP board. The coursework requirement must be completed before you take the CFP exam and the bachelor’s degree may be completed within 5 years after you pass the exam. Some of the courses include:
- Estate planning
- Income tax planning
- Retirement planning
- Investment planning
- Insurance planning
A capstone course is also required for the CFP. This capstone course is taken at college and is designed to enhance your knowledge, understanding and skills in the financial planning world.
PFS (Personal Financial Specialist)
Anyone who wants to hold the PFS designation must have an unrevoked CPA license. Only CPAs can become Personal Financial Specialists. The education requirements for obtaining the PFS is simply 75 hours of personal finance education within 5 years of the PFS application
CMA (Certified Management Accountant)
CMA’s explain the “why” behind the numbers not just the “what”. They are the global benchmark in accounting. You will need a Bachelors in Economics, Accounting, or Finance degree from an accredited college.
Working in the accounting field, in many different types of specializations and designations are a great way to enhance your knowledge and growth as a person. Invest in yourself to grow your career.