Accountant Careers

| Kathleen Swed Modified on May 2, 2022

Accountant Careers

Accountants investigate financial reports and prepare tax documents. Accounting careers encompass varied paths and industries. Accountants can work as clerks, managers, forensic accountants, and auditors. They may also advance to high-level executive jobs.

Many accountants work in tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services. Others work in finance, insurance, and government. Accountants can work for large companies, in small businesses, or as self-employed professionals.

Those considering a career in accounting might choose the field for its vast options. Accountants work in many industries and enjoy steady demand across the country.

Accountants need a bachelor's degree to begin working in the field. Some decide to obtain certified public accountant (CPA) licensure to increase their employability. Obtaining CPA credentials usually entails additional college coursework.

On this page, readers can explore the daily tasks required of an accountant. These sections also cover important skills, salary details, and possible accounting career paths. This page acts as a hub for all accounting careers and specializations on the site.

Accountant Duties

Accountants prepare and monitor their organizations' financial records. They calculate cash flow, expenses, and tax obligations. They may also oversee payroll and handle billing processes. Accountants work with other managers, reporting regularly on their companies' financial status. They often assess financial performance and make improvement suggestions.

Frequent accounting tasks include:

Key Hard Skills for Accountants

  • Math: Because they spend so much time preparing and analyzing financial documents, accountants need excellent math skills. They often use algebra, calculus, and statistics in their daily work.
  • Bookkeeping: Accountants need to know the accepted practices for preparing and presenting financial reports. Depending on the specific position, they need to know how to maintain ledgers and prepare bank deposits.
  • Software: Accountants use specific software programs to perform their jobs. They may need to be familiar with programs like Microsoft Excel and Intuit Quickbooks. Other popular accounting software includes Sage 50 Accounting, Oracle E-Business Suite Financials, and ATX Total Tax Office.
  • Communication: Managers need updates on the financial status of their company. Accountants need to communicate well both orally and in writing to ensure that organizational leaders can understand complex reports.

Key Soft Skills for Accountants

  • Critical Thinking: Accountants regularly dig into records to analyze the financial health of companies. They need the ability to understand the data they see and use it to suggest improvements.
  • Detail Orientation: Accountants may deal with many accounts and records in their work. They need to understand the details of financial regulations and apply them to their company's operations.
  • Organizing Skills: Because they keep important records, accountants need to easily access information about their company's financials. Without good organizing skills, tasks and records can get lost.
  • Teamwork: Though accountants perform many solo tasks, they often coordinate projects with other team members. They also need to work with management teams and company executives. Thus, they must work well with others.

How to Become an Accountant

Aspiring accountants need a bachelor's degree in accounting or business to begin work in the field. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four years and 120 credits to complete. Those with an associate degree might enter the field as bookkeepers or accounting clerks.

Job opportunities increase significantly for accountants who obtain a CPA license. To qualify for the CPA exam, accountants must complete 150 college credits. Therefore, many accountants earn a master's degree. Some schools offer five-year combined accounting programs, after which graduates hold the necessary credits for CPA licensure. Some states also require age minimums, work experience, and citizenship.

Depending on the specific accounting career, individuals might also pursue designation as a personal financial specialist, certified internal auditor, or certified management accountant (CMA).

Accountant Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS reported a median annual salary of $73,560 for accountants as of May 2020. The BLS projects demand for accountants to grow by 7% from 2020-2030, on pace with the average growth rate for all occupations.

The BLS reported a median annual salary of $73,560 for accountants as of May 2020.

With accountants needed in a variety of industries across the country, those aspiring to enter the field can take advantage of plenty of choices. Accounting can provide a stable career as increased international business and complicated taxes require more financial professionals.

Accountant salary varies depending on the specialty, education level, and experience. Location can also impact salary. The sections below explore the salary specifics for accountants.

$73,560


Source: BLS

Salary by Education

Accountants can increase their earning potential by pursuing higher education and industry credentials.

Aspiring accountants should remember that CPA certification requires 150 credits, which often means completing a master's degree.

As the table indicates, those with a bachelor's in accounting earn an average annual salary of $72,000. Though a master's degree increases the average salary slightly, much larger jumps occur with industry credentials such as CPA or CMA certification.

Aspiring accountants should remember that CPA certification requires 150 credits, which often means completing a master's degree.

Tests like the CPA exam require study time and additional fees. Some states mandate additional tests, such as an ethics exam. Extended timelines and upfront costs might deter some accountants from pursuing the CPA. However, the large salary increases and additional job opportunities can make the effort worthwhile.

Salary by Location

The table below illustrates how location can impact accounting salaries. The top-paying states for accountants include the District of Columbia, New York, and New Jersey.

These areas tend to pay higher salaries, but they also include some of the country's largest urban centers. While city living can be exciting, population density can also mean higher costs of living, smaller apartments, and a more challenging quality of life.

Accountants who want to live in more rural areas might consider the top-paying nonmetropolitan areas, such as Northwest Colorado and the Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode region of California.

Top-Paying States for Accountants, 2020

State Number of Accountants Employed Average Annual Salary
District of Columbia 10,050 $110,140
New York 112,360 $101,440
New Jersey 39,060 $96,260
Massachusetts 34,710 $88,830
California 150,050 $88,130
Source: BLS

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Accountants, 2020

Metropolitan Area Number of Accountants Employed Average Annual Salary
Salinas, CA 690 $111,680
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 119,910 $105,720
Midland, TX 1,610 $103,120
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 15,360 $102,920
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 24,510 $101,090
Source: BLS

Explore Accounting Careers

Accountants may specialize in a specific field or industry. Specializing allows accountants to follow their interests while making their expertise more attractive to certain employers. Explore the possibilities of accounting career specializations below.

Accounting Assistant

Accounting Assistant

Accounting assistants help maintain accounts, enter data, and interact with customers. They can enter the field and gain experience with little education. Still, some employers prefer an associate degree.

Accounting Clerk

Accounting Clerk

An entry-level role, accounting clerks conduct data entry tasks and verify calculations. They usually need some education in accounting, but they also receive on-the-job training.

Accounting Manager

Accounting Manager

Accounting managers oversee departments or teams of accountants. They ensure that their organization adheres to regulations. They also plan budgets and make suggestions for improved efficiency.

Actuary

Actuary

Typically working for finance and insurance companies, actuaries calculate financial risk using probability models. They usually hold a degree in math or statistics, plus industry-accepted credentials.

Bookkeeper

Bookkeeper

Responsible for managing their companies' general ledger, bookkeepers perform transaction data entry. They may also compile reports, administer payroll, and handle invoicing.

Budget Analyst

Budget Analyst

Employers need budget analysts to assess future projects' financial viability, report on overall financial health, and reallocate spending where necessary.

Certified Public Accountant

Certified Public Accountant

A certified public accountant, or CPA, deals with public financial documents such as tax filings. They deal with official company reports to investors, clients, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Compliance Officer

Compliance Officer

Compliance officers make sure their companies follow the law when it comes to financial records. These professionals monitor issues like safety standards. They may also assess potential risk.

Comptroller

Comptroller

An executive position, a comptroller supervises all financial operations for public organizations. This can include government offices, nonprofit groups, and businesses.

Cost Accountant

Cost Accountant

While responsibilities vary depending on the company, cost accountants typically prepare budgets and purchasing documents. They plan for and handle tasks related to operational spending.

Financial Analyst

Financial Analyst

Financial analysts research and report on investment opportunities for organizations. They forecast potential earnings by considering a company's financial health and the state of the overall market.

Financial Controller

Financial Controller

A type of financial manager, financial controllers use historical data to forecast their companies' future success. They may manage accounting departments and budget-related staff.

Financial Planner

Financial Planner

Working for individual clients, financial planners help people to manage long-term financial goals. They deal with estate planning, investments, and retirement funding.

Forensic Accountant

Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants analyze financial records for evidence of fraud. They consult in legal matters and may testify in court.

Hedge Fund Accountant

Hedge Fund Accountant

Working closely with investment professionals, hedge fund accountants deal with mutual funds and hedge funds. They analyze statements and develop strategies for portfolio management.

Internal Auditor

Internal Auditor

Internal auditors review their companies' accounting procedures and adherence to laws and regulations. They also assess financial records for potential areas of growth and increased efficiency.

Investment Accountant

Investment Accountant

Investment accountants handle accounting procedures for brokerages. They monitor company and client investments. They also advise company management on financial issues and taxes.

Operational Accountant

Operational Accountant

Operational accountants keep a close eye on organizational spending, including labor costs and purchasing. They help to plan ahead and work to cut operational costs.

Payroll Accountant

Payroll Accountant

Experts in labor policies, payroll accountants ensure that employee compensation adheres to government laws and regulations. They process payments and may administer benefits.

Real Estate Appraiser

Real Estate Appraiser

Real estate appraisers evaluate homes and commercial buildings to determine their market value. They visit properties and provide their assessment in writing to the owner.

Staff Accountant

Staff Accountant

Typically working as part of a team, staff accountants handle day-to-day accounting tasks for their organizations. Duties can include record keeping, tax-related work, compliance, and budgeting.

Tax Accountant

Tax Accountant

Employed by individuals or corporate clients, tax accountants prepare and submit tax documents. They make sure clients follow all relevant tax laws and maximize their deductions.

Tax Attorney

Tax Attorney

Tax attorneys specialize in tax law. They work for organizations and individuals. They make sure clients follow laws and regulations, and they provide expert counsel when tax law issues arise.

Tax Consultant

Tax Consultant

Like other tax professionals, tax consultants work with clients to make sure they follow regulations. They help companies and individuals maximize their deductions and properly file their taxes.

Tax Manager

Tax Manager

Usually employed by a single organization, tax managers oversee tax preparation processes. They direct teams of employees and ensure their companies follow relevant legal requirements.

Tax Preparer

Tax Preparer

Tax preparers assess financial documents for companies and individuals. They calculate tax obligations or refund amounts and file the necessary paperwork.

Questions About the Accountant Job Description

What does an accountant do?

Accountants manage financial operations for their organizations. They keep records, monitor transactions, and prepare and file tax documents. They also analyze financial reports and make improvements for increased profitability.

Accountants can specialize in a variety of topics within the field. They can work as public accountants, tax specialists, financial advisors, or auditors. Forensic accountants investigate fraud.

What are accountant requirements?

Accountants need a bachelor's degree to qualify for entry-level jobs, though bookkeepers and accounting clerks may begin their careers with an associate degree. Many accountants pursue a master's degree and CPA licensure.

Where do most accountants work?

Accountants work in many fields. The top-employing industries for accountants include tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services; finance and insurance; and government.

How much do accountants make?

According to the BLS, accountants earn a median annual salary of $73,560. Accountants can increase their earnings by earning a master's degree and professional licensure (e.g., CPA certification).


Featured Image: Blend Images - JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

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