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How To Become An Accountant

Are you a student, intern, or recent graduate interested in learning what it takes to become an accountant? Check out this comprehensive guide to the skills, education, and knowledge you’ll need!

What is an Accountant?

An accountant is a professional who creates, audits, and analyzes financial records. Accountants ensure that the financials for any organization, corporation, individual, or government are accurate, legal, efficient, and profitable.

If you’ve run the math and you’re considering becoming an accountant, congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step toward achieving an incredibly fulfilling and stimulating career.

Similar Job Titles

If you’re interested in a career as an accountant, then it’s safe to assume you’ve considered some similar careers as well.

Accountants utilize a combination of financial analysis and data analysis to assess thousands of financial data points and provide the most accurate financial information and advice. If digging into the financials of an organization is what piqued your interest in becoming an accountant, then perhaps a career in financial analysis is more your style.

What about all that data? Accountants must assess and understand huge amounts of data. If analyzing scores of data points and deciphering exactly what that data is saying stimulates your intellect, then a career in data science may be for you.

And despite stereotypical ideas about accounting, the field offers an array of diverse and exciting opportunities.

For instance, most accounting majors probably don’t imagine themselves as FBI agents. But in fact, the FBI employs teams of forensic accountants to “follow the money” and investigate financial crimes like money-laundering and fraud.

What about music, the entertainment industry, or professional sports? Admittedly, a degree in accounting won’t get you onto the field of professional sports or onto the big screen, but it can give you the opportunity to work as an accountant for professional sporting organizations and film producers.

Relevant Education Needed

Business, finance, and accounting are integrally linked, and no industry can function without all three. For this reason, accounting programs at most universities include education on all three subjects, and the study of each subject is recommended by accounting industry experts.

The aspiring accountant should strive to complete a minimum of an associate’s degree to qualify for positions in bookkeeping or as an accounting assistant. A bachelor’s degree in accounting can provide career opportunities in financial auditing, planning, technical accounting, and financial consultation and will most likely include education on business strategy, statistics, calculus and basic economics.

According to the Uniform Accountancy Act, all state jurisdiction boards qualify candidates for licensure after a minimum of 150 semester hours and the completion of a bachelor’s degree. This means that in order to qualify for the certified public accountant exam, you’ll first need to accumulate 150 hours of coursework and earn your bachelor’s degree.

Students who successfully complete this exam can begin their career with an established accounting firm or establish their own firm as a certified public accountant.

In addition to the CPA certification, there are a number of other certifications that can provide opportunities in the accounting industry.

These beneficial certifications include:

  • Certified Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP)
  • Certified Bank Auditor (CBA)

A master’s degree (MBA or MS) in accounting is the logical choice for those students looking to become master accountants. Master’s degree programs typically take two years to complete and often require a specialization such as tax accounting, tax planning, or financial auditing.

Expected Skills

In order to be a successful accountant and meet the expectations of your future employer, there are certain skills you’ll need to master. The accounting industry is all about the result at the end of the equation. Learning the following skills will ensure you add up.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are defined as tangible skills that can be quantified and are a necessity in order to complete the functions of the job in question. The ability to type, calculate probability, and hit a baseball are considered hard skills because you can either type, calculate probability, and hit a baseball, or you cannot.

Accounting requires at least a basic understanding of a number of software programs, including QuickBooks and IBM Cognos. In addition, an advanced understanding of Microsoft Excel will be required by most, if not all, accounting firms.

Aspiring accountants would also do well to develop a thorough understanding of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), revenue recognition, risk and compliance, and data analytics in order to perform at the level expected by most accounting organizations.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are skills that are less quantifiable and more open to interpretation, such as “works well with others” and “effort.” Successful accountants have the following skills in spades and utilize them on a daily basis.

  • Organization: Great accountants have an organizational system that works for them. Accountants have to keep track of a lot of accounts, clients, and records, which means the ability to stay organized is essential to the successful accountant.
  • Time Management: Writers are not the only professionals with deadlines. Accountants must manage a cascade of overlapping deadlines, audits, and due dates that require a system of efficient time management.
  • Communication: The ability to communicate verbally and in writing is essential to any successful business career. Accountants must have the communication skills to work well with colleagues and communicate with professionals who are not necessarily fluent in financial jargon. Accountants who understand their trade well enough to communicate about it to others who don’t understand accounting are a valued asset to any organization.

Knowledge

Now that you know the skills required for every accountant, it’s time to learn how to apply them. It’s important to your career and to your future employer that you understand the big picture.

What are your team’s goals? What are the goals of the organization, and how can you work to align them with yours? These are questions that a good accountant asks before applying the many skills they’ve acquired.

Get out there and have lunch with your boss. Attend seminars. Read memos and company newsletters to gain insight and sharpen your skills even further. It’s important to never stop learning and improving in your field. The most valuable accountant in any organization isn’t the one who’s best at math, but the accountant who’s the most eager to further the goals of the organization and continue honing their craft.

If you’re thinking about applying for jobs, check out our accounting resumes and cover letters. We also have specific interview questions to help you prepare for your next interview!

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