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Operational accounting offers steady, high-paying careers. Operational accountants use financial data to help businesses set budgets, manage employees, and plan for the future. These professionals need strong problem-solving, analytical, and interpersonal skills.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants earned a median annual salary of $73,560 as of 2020. The BLS projects jobs in the field to grow by 7% from 2020-2030. Careers in this field typically require a bachelor's degree in accounting.
This guide explains the steps necessary to become an operations accountant. We discuss what education, credentials, and experience aspiring accountants need to achieve top-paying positions in their field.
Steps to an Operational Accountant Career
Bachelor's Degree Path
- Earn a bachelor's degree. Many operational accountants hold a four-year degree in accounting. Some accountants earn a bachelor's in business administration or a related field.
- Gain entry-level accounting experience. In many companies, an operational accountant needs on-the-job training in junior-level accounting positions.
- Learn industry-specific financial impact. Operational accountants can work across a variety of industries. Different factors contribute to financial impact in each industry.
- Consider a master's degree. Operational accountants seeking leadership or management roles often need an advanced degree. Possible degree paths include a master's in accounting, an accounting MBA, or a graduate degree in another finance-related field.
- Earn certification. While not required, certification can help advance an operational accountant's career. The certified public accountant (CPA), certified management accountant (CMA), and chartered financial analyst (CFA) designations may be especially appropriate for this field.
Required Education for an Operational Accountant
An associate degree may open up some entry-level accounting positions. Professionals with a two-year accounting degree can pursue bookkeeper, accounting clerk, or auditing clerk positions.
However, most operational accountants hold a bachelor's degree or higher in accounting or a related field like business. Some employers offer senior-level accounting positions only to applicants with a master's degree in accounting or business or an accounting certification.
A master's in accounting or an MBA plus relevant experience may prepare finance professionals to assume executive-level positions like CFO. Accountants who plan to sit for the CPA exam need 150 college credits. Since most bachelor's programs comprise about 120 credits, many CPA candidates also earn a master's.
- Read about associate degree programs in accounting.
- Read about bachelor's degree programs in accounting.
- Read about master's degree programs in accounting.
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Certifications and Licensure for Operational Accountants
Generally, private organizations and associations offer certifications while state agencies provide licensure. In many operational accounting positions, professionals do not need licensure or certification. An accounting credential like the CMA or CPA can help operational accountants step into management roles or other advanced positions.
People typically need a bachelor's degree to become an operational accountant. Although most employers do not require certification or licensure, earning a credential may improve an accountant's job prospects.
Two popular qualifications include the CMA and the CPA. Operational accountants involved in analysis, planning, decision-making, or performance management may opt for CMA certification. Professionals who file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission must hold CPA licensure. Both the CMA and the CPA require applicants to pass a standardized exam.
The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) governs the CMA credential. IMA members with a bachelor's degree plus two continuous years of professional accounting experience may sit for the exam. Each state licensing agency sets its own requirements to qualify for the CPA exam.
Graduate degrees and accounting certifications can help operational accountants advance in their careers. Accountants with a master's degree and/or CPA license to find work as an auditor, financial analyst, or senior accountant. Other popular credentials include certified financial planner and CFA.
Most students need two years to earn a master's degree in accounting or an accounting MBA. Applicants to these programs need a bachelor's degree in any subject and should hold experience in accounting or a related field.
Master's-level courses cover advanced auditing, corporate accounting, and accounting information systems. These degrees can help accountants pursue mid-level or senior-level positions in accounting firms.
Required Experience for an Operational Accountant
In addition to education, applicants can prepare for entry-level operational accounting roles with volunteer experience, an internship, or work in a related field. Some business schools include an internship or practicum as part of the accounting curriculum. These programs can help students gain work experience while going to school.
Advanced accounting roles may require applicants to hold at least a year of experience as a bookkeeper, accounts clerk, or payroll administrator. Large companies where operational accountants hold significant financial responsibilities could expect more experience.
Earning a CPA certification requires at least two years of accounting experience in most states.
Should I Become an Operations Accountant?
Operations accountants often excel with numbers and get along well with other people. Accountants must solve problems, determine a business's health, and perform well under pressure.
The path to becoming an accountant usually begins with a bachelor's degree. Accounting students should expect coursework in business, accounting, and math. Detail-oriented people with strong problem-solving skills may thrive in this curriculum.
Accountants often complete tedious work and put in overtime during busy periods. However, the accountancy field offers steady career growth and high salaries. Skilled professionals may advance to financial leadership roles or positions at major accounting firms.
The Job Hunt
Operational accountants can access many tools in their job search. Job fairs, professional organizations, conferences, and online job boards advertise new positions. Many colleges and universities sponsor career fairs on campus or online.
Organizations such as the Young CPA Network and the Professional Association of Small Business Accountants host regular conferences. Participating in these events can help accountants develop rich professional networks. These connections can help accounting professionals launch or advance their careers.
This website provides information about accounting degrees, careers, and certifications. Accounting.com maintains a robust, industry-specific job board.
More than 110 million job-seekers and 2.8 million businesses have used this general job connection website. ZipRecruiter's job database includes openings for accountant positions.
Founded in 1948, Robert Half is a global specialized staffing firm. Accounting professionals can sign up to get personalized job recommendations.
One of the world's largest job boards, Indeed hosts 250 million unique visitors every month. Searchers can research job openings, apply online, and post their resumes.
Read more tips on job searching:
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- How do you write a resume?
Operational accountants can advance into positions with more responsibility, including senior operational accountant, accounting manager, or financial controller. In these advanced roles, accountants lead teams of financial professionals.
- At most companies, the senior operational accountant leads the accounting division. These professionals typically hold a master's in accounting, but an accountant with a bachelor's degree and deep experience may qualify. PayScale reports $69,380 as the average annual salary for this role as of September 2021.
- Accounting managers supervise teams of accountants in diverse industries. These managers usually need a master's degree in accounting and may benefit from CMA certification. PayScale reports that accounting managers earn an average annual salary of $74,030 as of September 2021.
- Financial controllers manage an organization's financial activities. Controllers rely on deep knowledge and experience to lead teams, interface with regulatory agencies, and create financial projections. They earn an average of $85,710 a year as of September 2021, according to PayScale.
Questions About the Operational Accountant Career Path
What degree do you need to become an operations accountant?
Aspiring accountants usually need a bachelor's degree in accounting, business management, or a related field. Senior operational accountants may also benefit from a graduate certificate or master's degree in accounting.
How long does it take to start an operational accountant career?
A four-year degree in accounting or a related major can open up entry-level positions in this field. Advancing into a management role may require five years of experience and/or a graduate degree or certification.
What certifications do you need along the operational accountant career path?
Becoming an operational accountant requires no specific certification. However, many accounting professionals hold CPA licensure. Some accountants also earn credentials as a CFA or CMA.
Are operational accountants in demand?
The BLS projects that job openings for accountants and auditors will grow by 7% from 2020-2030. While new technology may absorb some routine accounting tasks, businesses will continue to need the analytical skills operational accountants bring.
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