How to Become an Accountant

Accountants serve as the backbone of the financial world and are always in high demand. The career of accounting is a promising one that offers exceptional job opportunities, a fantastic salary, full employment benefits, and stability. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of accounting is expected to grow by almost 200,000 new positions by the year 2020. With an average salary of nearly $30 per hour, accounting is a fantastic career for anyone looking for security and earning potential. In addition to the lucrative salary, most accountants enjoy a full complement of employment benefits that may include health and life insurance, vacation and sick pay, retirement benefits, bonuses, and more. Although accounting is not the ideal career for everyone, those who are dedicated, detail oriented, and highly organized can benefit greatly from choosing this career.

Paths to Becoming an Accountant

Although there are different paths available for accounting careers, all start with at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university. If students plan on becoming Certified Public Accountants, most states require at least 150 semester hours, 30 of which are in upper-level accounting courses. In this case, a standard bachelor’s degree will not provide enough credit hours to meet the requirement. As such, many students choose to get a master’s degree. Students may choose to get this training through an on-campus program, online, or a hybrid of both. The best method depends entirely upon the student’s individual needs. For instance, a student who is working a full-time job and has family responsibilities may choose online learning. Those with no existing obligations who need face-to-face instruction may prefer traditional learning.

On-Campus Training Programs

Traditional on-campus accounting training programs require students to attend classes at set times on a physical campus. The programs have set class times and may provide classes during day or evening hours, depending upon the school chosen.

Advantages

  • Opportunity to interact personally with other students and instructors
  • Access to physical resources
  • Learning environment that is highly structured

Disadvantages

  • Inflexible scheduling
  • Investment of time and money needed to commute
  • Need to sacrifice time spent with family and at work

Online Training Programs

Many adult students choose online training programs because this learning format allows them to earn a degree from home and at any time that is convenient. Many online programs provide the same quality of education and support services as on-site programs and are equally valued among prospective employers.

Advantages

  • Class work can be completed from any location and at any time
  • Students can work full-time while earning a degree
  • Instant access to technology and online resources
  • Students can learn independently and have some control over pacing

Disadvantages

  • Students must be highly organized and motivated
  • Little opportunity for interpersonal interaction
  • Some programs may require students to report to physical campus for testing

Hybrid Training Programs

Hybrid accounting programs involve taking some classes online and some on campus. These programs are more flexible than traditional programs and can reduce commuting needs, but are not as flexible as 100% online programs.

Advantages

  • Allows for both flexibility and interpersonal interaction
  • Lower commuting costs than traditional programs
  • Students have access to online resources

Disadvantages

  • Students must be highly organized and motivated
  • Programs are less flexible than 100% online programs

Licensing and Certification

Because any accountant filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission must be a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, many accountants choose to take this path to enhance job prospects and to gain more clients. States have different requirements for becoming a CPA, but typically require at least 150 semester hours of college as well as two years of experience. In addition, candidates must pass the four-part CPA examination. Candidates are not required to complete all parts of the examination at once, but must pass all four parts within an 18 month period of passing the first part. Once the CPA license is granted, most states require CPAs to meet continuing education requirements for licensure. In addition, many states require CPA candidates to pass an ethics examination.

The Certified Management Accountant certification is available to applicants who complete a bachelor’s degree and who have worked at least two years in management accounting. Applicants must pass the two-part examination, comply with professional conduct standards, and meet continuing education requirements to maintain licensure.

The Certified Internal Auditor certification is available to graduates from accredited accounting programs who have two years of experience as internal auditors and who pass the four-part examination. This certification is available through the Institute of Internal Auditors, which also grants the Certified Government Auditing Professional, the Certified in Control Self-Assessment, and the Certified Financial Services Auditor to individuals who pass the examinations and meet the experience and educational requirements for each.

The Certified Information Systems Auditor certification is available to applicants who have five years of experience in auditing information systems and who pass the examination. Up to two years of the experience requirement may be met by experience in information systems, operational auditing, or relevant college credit hours.

Once accountants attain the CPA, they may also receive Accredited in Business Valuation, Certified Information Technology Professional, or Personal Financial Specialist certifications from the American Institute of CPAs. Each of these certifications has unique requirements that may include experience, examinations, or references.

Preparing Your Resume

Once you have completed your degree program, you must get experience in order to attain certifications and/or licensure. In order to get this experience, you must find a good job that will give you the particular experience needed to get the certifications you need to meet your career goals. Many times, your cover letter and resume will make or break your chances of landing an interview and a position. Since it is so important to making your dreams come true, take the time to prepare a cover letter and resume that will grab attention and that will present you as a highly skilled and valuable asset to any company. Keep your submissions concise, but make sure to provide sufficient information showcasing all of your qualifications and skills. Make sure to use accounting-specific terminology to support the fact that you are knowledgeable about the field. In addition, invest the time needed to research each employer to which you are applying and create a custom cover letter that reflects the atmosphere and goals of the company. This is more time consuming than creating one generic cover letter, but will demonstrate a level of commitment and drive that will grab the attention of hiring managers.

Finding a Job

It can be somewhat difficult for new graduates to find an accounting job without prior experience. If you are having this difficulty, consider taking a paid or unpaid accounting internship to get some relevant experience. This will help you to show your knowledge and skills and to persuade employers that you have what it takes to make a valuable contribution to the business to which you are applying. Aside from getting experience, the most powerful boost you can give to your job chances is to perfect your interview skills.

Acing the Interview

Once your resume and cover letter have secured an interview, you must make the most of your opportunity and wow the hiring manager to ensure that you will get the job. Since even one less than perfect answer can sink your interview, it is important to know what to expect and to fully prepare yourself to answer even the most difficult questions with poise and confidence. Although each interview experience will be unique, and it is impossible to prepare for everything, there are some common questions used in accounting interviews that you can be prepared for. Here are some of the common questions you may be asked:

  • Why should we add you to the team?
  • Why did you choose accounting?
  • What is the toughest task you have solved so far?
  • Why did you choose our company?
  • What knowledge do you have of accounting standards?
  • What makes a good accountant?
  • How do you ensure accuracy in your work?
  • Describe a stressful work situation you have handled. How did you manage it?
  • What is the goal of an accountant in a company?
  • What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
  • What accounting applications are you familiar with?
  • What is creative accounting? How do you approach it?
  • What is your motivation to do such a routine job?

While these questions are typical of an accounting interview, the actual questions you may encounter may vary greatly. As such, the best thing you can do is to spend some time thinking deeply about how you feel about the career, what you hope to accomplish, what you love about the accounting field, and what makes you a valuable addition to any company.

In addition to being thoroughly prepared to answer interview questions, it is important to make sure your professional image is polished. Choose a stylish but traditional business suit and keep accessories to a minimum. When you enter the interview, use good posture, make solid eye contact, speak clearly, and show confidence in yourself and your abilities. When employers see that you believe in yourself as a professional, they will be more likely to see you as a valuable asset to the company. During the interview, take cues from the interviewer regarding familiarity levels. Answer all questions clearly and knowledgeably without hesitation, and be sure not to come across as overconfident. In addition to answering questions, make sure to ask questions that show your level of interest in the business and in the position for which you are interviewing. End the interview by thanking the interviewer for his or her time and expressing hope that you will hear from them soon.

Although it can be a long path to enter the field of accounting, the career is definitely worth it for those who possess the drive, passion, and interest. If you are ready to become an accountant, the first step on your journey is to find a good accredited accounting program that will allow you to get the education you need to enter this growing field.