Pursuing a career in accounting can be fulfilling for people with a knack for numbers and analytics. However, those serious about entering the field should realize the road to a career in the accounting field is a journey marked by educational benchmarks, which can fluctuate depending on the type of accounting career desired. Because of this, it’s important for students to learn how to study accounting based on their interests, so they can be as prepared as possible to enter the industry in the manner they desire.
The Abundance of Career Opportunities
The need for people with accounting skills is projected to be strong for years to come. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10 percent growth in the number of jobs for accountants and auditors between 2016 and 2026, a faster growth rate than average. Accountants typically analyze financial statements to ensure accuracy, prepare tax statements, and devise various strategies to enhance a company’s financial efficiency. However, with more education, career opportunities in accounting can go beyond this level.
Those who obtain advanced degrees such as a master’s or a doctorate can pursue various high-level accounting and corporate finance positions. One such position is that of a financial controller, the person who manages a corporation’s financial recordkeeping and oversees its accounting and accounting-related departments, including payroll. Another high-level position is that of chief financial officer (CFO), the executive who typically oversees the financial health of an organization through the analysis of financial reports, the direction of investment activities, and the implementation of long-term financial corporate strategies.
The Fundamental Skills of the Accounting Field
Regardless of the level of job, success in the accounting profession requires the cultivation of several fundamental skills. A lack of proficiency in the essential accounting skill set can have a profoundly negative effect on a person’s ability to perform his or her duties in an efficient, trustworthy manner.
Because accounting is a numbers-driven profession, it is essential that accountants develop strong math skills. However, it should be noted that the math skills required are basic in nature, and it is not required for prospective accountants to master calculus, geometry, or other complex mathematical concepts to thrive in the role.
It is also important for accountants to have sharp analytical skills. They must have the capacity to spot problems and inefficiencies in a company’s financial data and documentation and be able to suggest solutions. This skill is typically associated with other core competencies that promote efficiency in the position, such as organizational skills and attention to detail.
Additionally, it’s essential for accountants to have solid communication skills. People in the profession must be able to meticulously listen to corporate or client financial concerns as they conduct their work. They must also have the ability to discuss their work in ways that make it easy for those outside the accounting field to understand it.
Degrees and Licenses Needed for Accounting
Not all professions that fall under the accounting umbrella require the same level of education. However, the more education an individual pursues, the greater the potential to attain high-level positions. In some cases, certain positions are only available to those with advanced degrees and specific licenses.
Obtaining an associate degree in accounting can provide students with an understanding of the field’s basic skills. These foundational elements are typically fleshed out further with the completion of more advanced degrees. While earning this degree may make it possible to obtain work in entry-level positions associated with accounting like as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk, most accounting positions require candidates to possess at least a bachelor’s degree.
Those who earn a bachelor’s degree commonly possess a more complete grasp of accounting’s fundamental concepts, making it possible to pursue a wider range of accounting positions. In some cases, students pursuing a bachelor’s can concentrate their studies in a specialized program, like internal auditing. Most colleges also incorporate internship programs into their bachelor’s curriculum, which can enable students to gain practical experience as they study.
A master’s degree is fundamental for those who wish to pursue advanced or high-level accounting careers. It not only deepens the knowledge and skills required for success in the industry, but it also enables students to become certified public accountants (CPAs), an accounting credential that can open the door to an even greater range of job prospects.
The CPA certification is a requirement for an accountant who files a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). However, the total hours of college coursework required prior to taking the CPA exam are greater than the hours needed to complete a typical bachelor’s degree program. Because of this, obtaining a master’s degree in accounting can be an essential step for students in pursuing a high-level accounting position.
Those who want to approach the concept of accounting from an academic perspective may wish to obtain a Ph.D. in accounting. Doing so may give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in ways that transcend traditional accounting roles. For instance, a Ph.D. in accounting could lead to a career as an accounting professor. The pursuit of the degree may enable students to publish high-level research regarding the history and functionality of accounting and its principles.
Other Forms of Certification
While the CPA is the most widely known accounting certification, there are other specialized certifications available. For instance, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) offers a certified management accountant (CMA) program for those who have obtained a bachelor’s degree and have at least two years’ experience in management accounting. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) offers a certified internal auditor (CIA) certificate for college graduates who have two years’ experience as internal auditors. These certificates can be important components of an individual’s entrance into or advancement in the accounting field, as they demonstrate to prospective employers professional competence in accounting, often in a specific area of the industry.
A Long but Fulfilling Road
The longer people study accounting — and the more degrees they complete — the broader their potential job market becomes. The pursuit of an advanced degree boosts the potential for individuals to pursue specific positions in the accounting field that align with their career goals.
Find out more about how Ohio University’s online Master of Accountancy program strives to prepare students for success as financial professionals.
Ohio University Blog, “Career Outlook: How to Become an Accounting Manager”
Ohio University Blog, “Finance Degree vs. Accounting Degree: Two Paths Toward Careers in Asset Management”
Ohio University Blog, “The Benefits of an Accounting Education”
AICPA, Become a CPA
AICPA, Masters’ Degrees Defined
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, CFE Qualifications
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accountants and Auditors
ISACA, How to Become CISA Certified
Journal of Accountancy, “Pursuing a Ph.D. in Accounting: Walking in with Your Eyes Open”
The Strategic CFO, Controller vs. CFO