Accounting jobs will always be in demand, and for many people, accounting is a lucrative, reliable, and personally enjoyable field. If you have the right attitude and the right training, you can easily become successful.
But what are the best ways to prepare for a career in accounting?
Is Accounting Right for You?
Before you start preparing for your career in accounting, you should probably be sure that accounting is the right field for you. You don’t want to get two or three years into studying only to find that accounting isn’t what you expected it to be.
Consider the following, at a minimum:
- Your personal motivation. What is it, exactly, that makes you want to be an accountant? There are plenty of good reasons, and a handful of bad ones, that could be motivating you. For example, you might be going into the career because of its long-term stability, or because you’re genuinely interested in the subject. But you might also be going into it because you think you have no other options, or because you think it’s easy.
- Skill with numbers and logic. To be a successful accountant, you need to be skilled with numbers, math, and logical thinking. If you struggle with these, that’s not a death sentence, since you can improve your abilities over time, but you should be prepared for more of a struggle if that’s the case.
- Ability to manage stress. Working in accounting can also be stressful, especially during tax season. Occasionally, you’ll be called upon to work longer hours or take on more challenging tasks than usual. You’ll need to be good at managing stress and dealing with pressure if you’re going to succeed.
If you’re not sure whether accounting is the right field for you, consider talking to someone who’s already in accounting— you could even find a mentor to help guide you. They can tell you what the career is actually like and answer most of your questions.
Before you can become an accountant, you’ll need to learn the fundamentals. You may be able to get started in high school, but more commonly, people begin to study accounting in college. You can graduate with a 2-year or 4-year degree in accounting, taking various classes in either trajectory; most people opt for the 4-year degree.
Additionally, you need to be aware that most accounting jobs require you to pursue ongoing education. In other words, you’ll need to take classes periodically to ensure you’re up-to-date on the latest laws and best practices in the industry.
The CPA Exam
If you want to advance your career as an accountant, at some point, you’ll need to take the CPA exam. The CPA exam is a formalized exam that will test your knowledge of accounting subjects in four main areas: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).
Once you pass (and you meet some other conditions, like having accounting experience), you’ll be a fully certified CPA. This can be massively beneficial for your career, whether you’re a full-time employee or are in charge of your own firm.
Your First Accounting Job
You’ll need to have your first accounting job before becoming a CPA. Depending on your current level of education and the needs of the businesses to which you’re applying, that could mean becoming an accounting assistant, an accounting clerk, or a bookkeeper. Any of these positions will help you sharpen your skills and get ready for further career development.
Advancing Your Accounting Career
After having a few years of experience (and possibly certification as a CPA), you can start advancing your career. There are many available options for you, including:
- Full-time positions. You could become an accountant full-time. This is often the first major goal of newcomers in the accounting field.
- Upper management. Eventually, you could work your way up to become a manager, potentially becoming a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in time.
- Gig work. Thanks to the gig economy, part-time jobs and independent contract work are in high demand. You could easily juggle a number of different clients, taking on jobs as you see fit.
- Your own accounting firm. If you’re interested in more upward growth potential, you could also start your own accounting firm. Just make sure you have at least a few years of work experience first.
There’s almost no limit to the ways you can develop your accounting career; it all comes down to your personal preferences and aspirations. Think carefully about your future as an accountant and choose the path that makes the most sense for you. Even if you decide to change careers eventually, your increased financial knowledge and skills will help you throughout your life.