Accounting Career Guide

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Accounting jobs exist across a variety of industries and workplaces, where these professionals monitor finances for individuals and businesses and ensure compliance with laws and regulations. Accounting professionals also handle taxes for individual clients and businesses. They file taxes and ensure correct and timely payment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for accountants are projected to grow by 10% between 2016-2026, making this a great time to begin an accounting career.

Keep reading to learn more about this thriving field and the different accounting degrees you can earn.


There are many reasons to choose a career in accounting, including great salary potential and continued growth in the field. Explore more reasons to pursue accounting jobs below.

  • High Salary Potential: Accountants and auditors earn a median annual salary of $70,500. Accountants with significant work experience often command higher salaries, and experienced professionals can make an accounting salary up to $80,000 a year.
  • Accountants Are in High Demand: The BLS projects careers in accounting to grow 10% between 2016-2026 -- much faster than the national average for other careers. This expected growth places accountants in high demand.
  • Earn Marketable Credentials: Students typically earn the certified public accountant (CPA) credential in about four years, sometimes less. This designation provides a higher salary potential.
  • Accountants Earn More in Less Time: As a CPA, you may work long hours during tax season, which falls between January and April, but work is lighter during other seasons. CPAs help individuals and businesses file their taxes and earn the majority of their annual salary in that short time.
  • Accountants Often Work Outside the Office: Accountants serve all kinds of clients, including large corporations and companies. Depending on where you work, you may enjoy a lot of time working outside of a traditional office setting. 
  • Accountants Work in Most Industries: Almost every industry employs accountants because most businesses need professionals to handle their finances and taxes. Working as an accountant provides you with a variety of options when it comes to where you want to work.
  • Many Education Options: Depending on what specialization interests you, multiple degree options exist for prospective accountants. Accountants typically need at least a bachelor's; however, accountants may pursue a graduate degree to increase their salary potential and career opportunities.


Record, Report, and Manage Financial

Managing various types of financial transactions is a primary task for accountants. Whether working for an individual or a corporation, accountants must ensure their clients adhere to federal law and legislation regarding taxes and finances. This includes auditing tax forms and correctly filing them on the client's behalf.

Analyze and File Taxes

Both private and public accountants serve clients by preparing and auditing their taxes. Many CPAs work with individuals to help them fill out required forms and review their finances. Corporate accountants perform similar tasks but on a larger scale, working for an entire organization. Accountants ensure their clients adhere to federal tax legislation and policy.

Audit Finances

Auditors work both inside and outside of businesses and organizations to ensure compliance with laws and policies. External auditors working for third parties to analyze an organization's finances, sometimes on behalf of the federal government. Internal auditors work within organizations to maintain financial compliance and manage spending.

Manage Financial Data and Information Technology

Accountants with experience in information technology often monitor and manage digital financial data for clients. They may handle information security to ensure financial data comes from legitimate sources and sensitive financial information is protected and stored securely. These accountants sometimes work alongside other IT professionals within an organization.

Work Alongside Federal, State, and Local Government

Accountants ensure clients adhere to federal and state financial regulations. Often, accountants work directly with the federal or state government as external auditors. They may also work as internal government auditors, tasked with managing government spending and ensuring various departments adhere to budgets and spend tax dollars appropriately.

Required Skills

Successful professionals in accounting careers typically possess the skills listed below. Degrees in accounting prepare graduates with many of these skills.

  • Expertise in math
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Knowledge of necessary computer software
  • Attention to detail and critical thinking
  • Time management and organization
  • Strong problem-solving abilities



Auditing entails closely examining the financial records of an organization or individual client. Auditors work both internally within businesses and externally as third party investigators in various work settings and environments.


Accountants working in finance or financial firms manage all the financial records, transactions, and reports for an organization or business. They monitor budgets and spending and often handle the filing and submission of federal taxes.


Accountants working for the government may serve in a variety of roles. Some work internally, handling finances for governmental departments at the federal, state, or local levels. Others may work externally as federal auditors.


Accountants focusing their practice in tax help businesses and individual clients fill out tax forms, analyze their finances, and submit the appropriate paperwork and payments before annual tax filing deadlines.


Forensic accountants work with police and detectives to analyze financial documents involved in ongoing criminal investigations. They create forensic reports based on their analysis and sometimes appear in court as expert witnesses.


Management accountants analyze the financial risks associated with different types of investment and spending. They may handle the budget for a business or organization and work alongside payroll and bookkeeping to manage and monitor spending. Management accounting careers typically require a graduate degree.


Public accountants, or CPAs, work either as private consultants or within a larger accounting organization. They file taxes, correct payments, and help clients adhere to financial and tax policy and law.


Top 5 Cities

1New York, NY
2Los Angeles, CA
3Chicago, IL
4Washington, D.C.
5Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
Source: BLS

Top Employers

2Deloitte & Touche, LLP
4Ernst & Young
Source: PayScale


Degree LevelLength of Time to CompleteSalary PotentialCareer Path
Certificate1.5-2 years$51,000Entry level - bookkeeper or accounting assistant.
Associate2 years$45,000Entry level - administrative assistant or staff accountant.
Bachelor's4 years$69,000Mid level - staff accountant or accounting manager.
Master's1-2 years$69,000Upper level - financial analyst or senior accountant.
Ph.D.4-5 years$150,000Upper level - actuary or corporate controller.


Bradford L. Hall is the managing director of Hall & Company, a CPA and consulting firm in Irvine, CA. With 40 years of industry experience, his core strengths lie in strategic tax planning for high-net-worth individuals, including corporate owners and executives, closely held corporations, partnerships, LLCs, and trusts. Bradford has grown his firm into one of the largest independent CPA firms in Southern California. He can be reached at (949) 910-4255 or
Why did you choose to study accounting? Was it something that always interested you?

In high school, I was always good at every math course. After class, I would tutor other students in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. I loved the feeling of helping others understand the intricate workings of a complex problem and giving them insights into strategic thinking. Solving math problems was like building a big puzzle, and the accomplishment of finishing that puzzle was a great feeling for me.

When I graduated high school, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so when I entered the University of Southern California (USC), I pursued medicine. This lasted a semester before I realized that without numbers I was like a fish out of water. I needed to work with complex equations to feel satisfied. I started taking accounting courses and that was all I needed. The USC accounting courses really started my career as a CPA. After 42 years, I have never looked back.

What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in accounting?

School is tough and it really should be. There is a lot of competition in the employment market, and those who can differentiate themselves from the status quo will succeed in a particular industry. My passion for accounting and desire to help others manage their businesses helped keep me focused and inspired. I was able to tailor my talents and mold them into a long-term career, which helped me lead a team of professionals to do the same things I strived to do as a student at USC.

My best advice would be to remain diligent, focused, and goal-oriented while obtaining a degree, and to never forget that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Accounting is a tough profession that requires brain power, devotion, and focus.

How many years of experience do you have in accounting?

I have been in the accounting industry for 42 years: ten years with two firms and then the past 32 as the managing director and founder of my own CPA firm.

What made you decide to become a CPA?

CPAs were in the top five respected professions behind doctors and police officers. When I realized that medicine wasn't for me, I knew early on that CPA was a natural career path for me with my strength in math. When I think about my starting salary in 1978 being only $13,000 per year, it clearly wasn't a profession where I was destined to become wealthy. I wanted to become a CPA so that I would be well-respected.

What are the benefits of being a CPA?

I love being a CPA because not one day in my 42 years has been the same. Every day poses a new challenge, and I love new projects that challenge my thinking. We do have long hours during tax season, but it allows us to take tons of time off during the summer months.

What was the best advice you were given about the CPA exam?

Practice, practice, practice! Practice tests are so beneficial to understanding the way questions are posed. Try to time yourself as if you were taking the actual exam. Also, make sure you get sufficient sleep the night before! Take a CPA review course and don't ever give up when you don't succeed the first or second time. They say there is an 85% failure rate.

Do you plan to pursue an advanced degree? Why or why not?

I received my master's in taxation in the first five years after getting my bachelor's degree. This has been very helpful in my career. Now that it takes 150 units to take the CPA exam, most of our employees come in right after getting their master's.

Any final thoughts for us?

The real key to a life as an accountant or CPA is to find a great firm that will teach you from the ground up. Once you find a mentor who wants to build up your strengths, you should really consider staying with the firm. Now, it has become common to move firms every few years. This will only slow your growth and your ability to climb the ladder within the company.

My final thoughts are to continually grow and find new activities, reach new goals, and meet new people. You may find yourself at a crossroad, but just remember that the end result will be worth it and you'll be proud when you look back at all you have accomplished.


The list below features some of the different accounting careers you can pursue with an accounting degree, starting with entry-level positions and leading up to advanced careers. These job opportunities can also include private or government accounting careers.

Explore More Accounting Careers


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