Accountants handle bookkeeping and maintain financial records. If you’re organized and enjoy working with numbers, a career in accounting could be a good fit. Find out how to get started.
Accountants are professionals who manage financial records for businesses and individuals. If you enjoy working with numbers and have an eye for detail this may be the field for you. Let’s take a look at what they do and how you can set yourself up for success in the field.
Accountants have numerous duties and can choose many specialties, but all of them have one thing in common: money. Whether you work for private individuals, big corporations, small businesses, government agencies, or nonprofits, you’ll manage finances and offer advice on how to make the best decisions regarding money. You’ll keep records and make sure they’re accurate and up-to-date.
Depending on your specialty or the needs of a clients, other duties may include:
Examining financial statements for accuracy
Preparing, filing, and paying taxes
Ensuring compliance with all federal, state, and local financial laws
Analyzing trends and financial data
Making budget recommendations
Advising on ways to cut costs and raise profits
Keeping records and books organized and up to date
Providing auditing services or working together with an auditor
Identifying risks and recommending solutions
If this sounds like the field for you, these steps will help prepare you to find a job and advance through your career.
You’ll spend your days analyzing, calculating, presenting, and proofreading numbers, so above everything else, you should enjoy it. You don't have to be a math expert. As long as you can do the basics—adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing—you can do the job.
There's more to this role than basic number skills. You'll also need to be:
Detail-oriented—one small mistake can have a big impact
An analytical thinker
A good verbal and written communicator
A problem solver
Literate in general computer skills and accounting software
Ethical—when you have access to financial information, confidentiality is a must, as is your willingness to do what's best for your client while following all laws and regulations
If you're in high school and you already know you want to go into this field, take as many courses in math, computer science, economics, statistics, and business as you can. If you're not currently in school, consider taking online courses that can help prepare you for your career and future education. Explore whether accounting is right for you with a course like Fundamentals of Accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Accounting Basics for Managers and Entrepreneurs. Apply principles that underlie financial statements and facilitate business decisions and goals.
21,333 already enrolled
Average time: 6 month(s)
Learn at your own pace
Skills you'll build:
Income Statement, Cost, Financial Statement, Balance Sheet, Accounting, Accounting Terminology, Financial Ratio
While a bachelor's degree is not absolutely necessary—some people enter the field with only an associate degree or on-the-job training—most experts strongly encourage it.
Many entry-level positions require a candidate to have a bachelor's degree. Aim for a degree in accounting or a related field, where you'll study topics like basic financial accounting, business law, statistics, economics, auditing, managerial accounting, accounting entities, income tax accounting, and more.
Once you graduate with your bachelor's degree—and maybe even before—it's time to gain some experience. You can do this through an internship or with an entry-level position. Not only will it look great on your resume and help you land a better job in the future, but it will help you understand the field better and maybe even lead you to a specialty.
Some entry-level jobs in accounting include:
Not all accountants do the same thing. While you're gaining experience, think about what you might want your specialty to be. If you like solving problems and getting to the bottom of a situation, forensics may be for you. If you enjoy paying close attention to details, you may want to become an auditor.
Accountants make competitive wages, but you’ll typically earn more if you have a master's degree. While the degree is not necessary, it can help provide the skills you need for a specialty and the hours you need to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Many master's degrees in accounting can be obtained through online programs.
Learn more about what it’s like to earn your Master of Accounting online through the University of Illinois. You can sample a course from the program (U.S. Federal Taxation or Financial Reporting) before you apply. If you choose to enroll, your completed courses could count toward your degree.
U.S. Federal Taxation of Individuals & Businesses. Learners will develop knowledge in U.S. federal taxation as applied to individuals and businesses.
10,705 already enrolled
Average time: 9 month(s)
Learn at your own pace
Skills you'll build:
Depreciation, Federal Tax Returns, Tax Law
There are some financial responsibilities, especially within large businesses and organizations, that require a CPA. You’ll typically make more money and enhance your job prospects or pool of potential clients.
Requirements to become a CPA vary by state but may include a bachelor's degree, a specific number of hours of accounting-related education and experience, age minimums, residency requirements, and passing an ethics exam. Once you meet the requirements, you'll need to work under a licensed CPA for a certain number of hours. Check with your state's Board of Accountancy for specific requirements for your jurisdiction.
If you don't want to become a CPA, there are other certifications you can earn:
A certified management accountant (CMA) has both accounting and managerial skills. This is typically needed to become a chief financial officer for a company.
An enrolled agent (EA) is an expert when it comes to the tax code and works mostly on tax law.
Certified internal auditors (CIAs) are certified to conduct internal audits of a company.
When you're ready to apply for a job, you may want to start online. Job boards across the internet have thousands of openings for various types of organizations. This will help you get an idea of what's out there and where you want to work.
You'll also want to find out if anyone within your network—former classmates, professors, co-workers, and so on—can make any recommendations. Once you have a little experience, you may even consider starting your own firm and becoming your own boss.
There are several types of accountants. Some of the most common are:
|Types of accountants||What they do|
|Public accountant||• Works for an accounting firm or has their own practice|
• Variety of duties may include taxes, financial planning, auditing, and consulting
|Auditor||• Hired by organizations to make sure financial records are precise and accurate |
• May work internally or externally
|Forensic accountant||• Reviews records and looks for fraud and other wrongdoing|
• May be called into court as an expert witness from time to time
|Tax accountant||• Expert in tax laws |
• Prepares tax returns, makes tax payments, helps individuals and organizations minimize their tax burden
|Fiduciary accountant||• Deals mostly with trusts and estates |
• Usually works with individuals to help them find what's in their best interest rather than organizations
|Cost accountant||• Analyzes an organization's expenses to see where its money is going|
• May offer the organization advice on how to create a more effective budget
|Investment accountant||• Specializes in stocks, bonds, ETFs, precious metals, and other investments |
• Typically hired by brokerage firms and asset management firms
|Government accountant||• May work for city, county, state, or federal governments |
• Ensures taxpayer money is wisely spent and that agencies are meeting financial goals
|Staff accountant||• General accountant who works in almost every field |
• Handles basic accounting needs
|Project accountant||• Typically works with a project manager on a case-by-case basis to oversee the financial aspects of a particular project |
• Examples include launching a new marketing campaign, manufacturing a new project, or constructing a new building
|Management accountant||• Helps organization leaders make sound financial decisions |
• Duties may include budgeting, planning, risk assessment, and financial reporting
|Consultant||• Has the highest expertise in a particular subject matter |
• May be hired by an organization to offer advice or prepare reports and documents
Start building job-ready skills for a role in accounting with the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate. Practice interpreting and analyzing financial statements as you work through the phases of the accounting cycle. Upon completion, you'll have a credential from a top industry leader for your resume.
Launch your career in bookkeeping. Gain the professional skills you need to succeed in the bookkeeping field. No degree or prior experience required.
43,182 already enrolled
Average time: 4 month(s)
Learn at your own pace
Skills you'll build:
Double-Entry Bookkeeping System, Bookkeeping, Bank Reconciliations, Accounting Concepts and Measurement, Basis Of Accounting, accounting software, Accounting Cycle, Creating Financial Statements, Accounts receivable and cash receipts, Inventory costing methods, PP&E Accounting, Asset Accounting, Depreciation, Accounts Payable and Payroll, Owner’s Equity and Owner’s Draw, Accounting, Long-Term Liabilities and Note Payable, Accounting for Liabilities and Equity, Cash Flow, Bank Reconciliation, Financial reports analysis, financial statement analysis
In 2021, the median pay for accountants and auditors in the US was $77,250, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) . The state where you work, the type of work you do, and your level of education may impact those numbers.
Over the next decade, the need for accountants is expected to grow at a rate of about 7 percent. That's similar to the average growth rate for most careers.
You can work just about anywhere, ranging from schools and hospitals to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. You can work for small businesses or large corporations. You can even work for individuals or start your own firm and have several clients.
Many accountants work 40 work weeks, keeping typical business hours. However, some work part-time and some work longer hours, especially if they own their own firms. You may find that certain times of year are busier than others. For example, tax accountants will be busier from January through April 15.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Accountants and Auditors, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm." Accessed July 14, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.