How to Become a Cost Accountant

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Updated September 27, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Discover how to become a cost accountant, including what education, experience, and credentials these professionals need and what that process looks like.

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Cost accountants specialize in delivering cost efficiency for organizations. They focus on organizational costs, monitor spending, analyze data, and provide efficient solutions. These accountants assist with budgeting, pricing, and operational performance evaluations, as well.

Compared to many other accounting positions, cost accountants have a larger influence on business decisions. In addition to general accounting, math, and organizational skills, cost accountants rely on their data analysis, problem-solving, and communication abilities.

This guide explores how to become a cost accountant, including education requirements, available credentials, and experience professionals need for employment.

Steps to a Cost Accountant Career

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in accounting: A bachelor's degree in accounting meets the requirements for most entry-level positions in the field. In these programs, students learn accounting fundamentals and can specialize in cost accounting through concentrations or electives.
  2. Complete an internship: An accounting internship helps students learn the ropes while developing practical skills. They may also receive mentorship and valuable on-the-job training.
  3. Acquire an entry-level position: Accountants may need to start in junior positions to build experience before taking on cost accounting roles. These jobs may emphasize cost data collection and reporting.
  4. Get certified: While not required for the cost accounting field, professional certification can help professionals land more desirable positions.

Alternate Career Path

  1. Train in accounting: An associate degree in accounting or an accounting certificate can also lead graduates to the cost accounting field. These programs feature condensed accounting training that may meet the requirements for some entry-level positions.
  2. Gain experience: After completing an associate-level or certificate program, graduates can pursue general accounting or bookkeeping roles. Familiarity with accounting, along with a degree or certificate, can help professionals acquire more advanced and specialized positions.
  3. Pursue continuing education: While building experience, accounting professionals can increase their education with a bachelor's degree or more.
  4. Get certified.

Required Education for a Cost Accountant

While there are multiple paths to becoming a cost accountant, most employers hire candidates who hold bachelor's degrees. A master's degree can make the job search easier, but a bachelor's meets most job requirements. Candidates with associate degrees and relevant experience may qualify for some entry-level jobs.

Prospective students should aim for an accounting major, ideally a program with a cost or management accounting specialization. A business program with an accounting specialization or a finance program may provide similar outcomes. Coursework typically covers business operations, accounting information systems, and data analysis.

A bachelor's or associate degree can provide the business and financial foundations required to enter the cost accountant world and build practical experience. Master's programs explore more specialized and advanced topics, which can lead to senior roles or positions more quickly.

Required Credentials for Cost Accountants

The cost accounting field has no mandatory certifications, but employers often prefer candidates with specialized credentials. Applicable credentials include the certified cost accountant (CCA) from the Institute of Certified Cost and Management Accountants, certified management accountant (CMA) from the Institute of Management Accountants, and the certified professional cost accountant (CPCA) from the Global Association for Quality Management.

Optional Certifications and Degrees

Aspiring cost accountants can improve their chances of employment and professional advancement by completing continuing education opportunities and earning certifications. Optional training and credentials help professionals distinguish themselves from their competition.

The process to qualify for these credentials varies but almost always includes an exam. The CPCA requires the completion of a 40-day course, the CCA requires a combination of business experience and continuing education credits, and the CMA requires a bachelor's degree and at least two years of relevant experience.

While the CPCA credential has no renewal requirements, the CCA and CMA stipulate that certified professionals complete continuing education credits to maintain their certification. The CCA requires 60 hours of study every three years, whereas the CMA requires 30 hours each year.

Required Cost Accountant Experience

To land high-paying positions and jobs within large organizations, candidates may need a combination of experience and education. New professionals can develop relevant experience through entry-level careers. Many entry-level positions offer on-the-job training where accountants learn standard costing practices and principles.

Students can also gain experience, mentoring, and networking opportunities through accounting internships. Cost accounting experience complements education but can also stand in for education in some cases. For example, experienced professionals may not need a bachelor's degree to access all entry-level careers.

Should I Become a Cost Accountant?

Cost accounting can be very worthwhile as an entry-level career because it teaches accountants the fundamentals of pricing and financial analysis. Cost accounting experience can lead to well-paying leadership positions with strong job security.

The broad applicability of cost accounting skills can help professionals more easily switch fields and industries. For example, accountants may pursue business or financial careers, leveraging their costing experience.

Cost accountants perform many activities, which can keep their jobs fresh and exciting. However, the responsibility to provide insightful and informative costing information and analysis can put pressure on professionals. Meeting deadlines for reports and evaluations can also add stress to the job.

The Job Hunt

The job hunt may require time and patience, but aspiring cost accountants can use various resources to help them out. Many schools provide support through job boards, career fairs, mentorships, and internship programs.

Prospective cost accountants can also join professional organizations to access specialized job boards and networking opportunities. The following online job boards are a great place to start.

  • AICPA Global Career Hub: The Global Career Hub from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants features accounting and related positions worldwide. Job-seekers can filter by role, location, and sector.
  • ACCA Careers: The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants job board hosts global accounting and finance career postings. Job-seekers can also receive career notifications and professional advice.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn allows cost accounting professionals to create an in-depth profile for job search and networking purposes. In addition to over 800 million professional profiles, LinkedIn hosts millions of job postings from global employers.
  • AAA Career Center: The career center from the American Accounting Association has specialized job posts from the nation's accounting employers. Job-seekers can sort posts by location, position, company, experience level, and job type.

Upward Mobility

Many employers value professionals with cost accounting experience. Accountants from this field can pursue other accounting and financial positions, such as operational accountant or financial controller careers.

Cost accounting experience can also lead to more advanced positions, such as a financial analyst or financial manager. These professionals oversee all financial decisions, including investments, profits, and growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), financial analysts earn a median annual wage of $95,570, while financial managers make $131,710 as of May 2021.

Along with experience, cost accountants may need additional education or credentials to take on these advanced positions. A master's degree or a graduate certificate in accounting can qualify graduates for many senior-level and management roles. Similarly, a chartered financial analyst or a certified public accountant credential can help professionals meet the requirements for these positions.

Questions About the Cost Accountant Career Path

How do I start a career in cost accounting?

Cost accountants often start their careers in junior-level positions after completing their education. These entry-level roles include data research and reporting, which help familiarize professionals with the costing processes.

What qualifications do I need to be a cost accountant?

According to the BLS, a cost accountant typically needs a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Employers may prefer candidates with general accounting experience, as well.

What is an example of cost accounting?

Cost accountants perform many duties, including refining supply chain costs, analyzing organizational spending, and evaluating the variance in inventory costs. Their work helps companies develop budgets, control spending, and make accurate profit and growth projections.

Is it hard to be a cost accountant?

Cost accounting can be challenging, particularly for those who perform duties like cost analysis and efficient evaluations. However, cost accounting should not be an overly difficult career for professionals with the required education and math skills.

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