How to Get a Job as an Accountant | 10 Tips

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Accountants handle bookkeeping and maintain financial records. If you’re organised and enjoy working with numbers, a career in accounting could be a good fit. Find out how to get started.

[Featured image] An accountant works at her laptop computer in a brightly lit office.

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 your field. Let’s look at what they do and how you can set yourself up for success in the field.

What does an accountant do?

Accountants have numerous duties and can choose many specialties, but they all 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 making the best monetary decisions. You’ll keep records and make sure they’re accurate and up-to-date. 

Depending on your specialty or the needs of your clients, other duties may include: 

  • Examining financial statements for accuracy 

  • Preparing, filing, and paying taxes 

  • Ensuring compliance with all financial laws   

  • Analysing trends and financial data

  • Making budget recommendations 

  • Advising on ways to cut costs and raise profits

  • Keeping records and books organised and up to date 

  • Providing auditing services or working together with an auditor 

  • Identifying risks and recommending solutions 

10 tips for getting a job as an accountant

If this sounds like the field for you, these steps will help prepare you to find a job and advance through your career. 

1. Make sure you enjoy working with numbers.

You’ll spend your days analysing, calculating, presenting, and proofreading numbers. Above everything else, you should enjoy this type of work. You don't have to be a maths expert. You can do the job as long as you can do the basics—adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. 

2. Build workplace skills.

There's more to this role than basic number skills. You'll also need to be: 

  • Detail-oriented—one small mistake can have a significant impact

  • Business savvy 

  • An analytical thinker 

  • Organised 

  • 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   

3. Take maths, finance, and business classes. 

If you're in school or college and know you want to enter this field, take as many maths, computer science, economics, statistics, and business courses as possible. Consider taking online courses to 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. 

4. Earn your bachelor's degree.

While a bachelor's degree is not necessary—some people enter the field with only an apprenticeship or on-the-job training—many 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 basic financial accounting, business law, statistics, economics, auditing, managerial accounting, accounting entities, income tax accounting, and more. 

5. Gain experience through an internship or entry-level job.

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 CV 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:

  • Bookkeeper

  • Accounts payable specialist

  • Payroll administrator

  • Accounts receivable clerk  

6. Consider what kind of career you want.

Not all accountants do the same thing. While gaining experience, consider the direction you’d like to take your career and the specialty that can help set you on the path. For example, 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. 

Explore specialisations from some of the world’s top universities through courses like Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination, Auditing I: Conceptual Foundations of Auditing, Managerial Accounting Fundamentals, or Accounting Data Analytics.


7. Earn a postgraduate degree. 

Postgraduate degrees are optional, although if you want to study toward advanced qualifications, it can help. For example, if you earn the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) professional qualification, you will need at least a postgraduate CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting. Postgraduate degrees and experience may offer exemptions to help you obtain the credential faster. 

8. Become a chartered accountant.  

You can choose from various routes to become a chartered accountant. You can study accountancy and finance from an institute of chartered accountancy such as the Association of International Accountants (AIA), The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), or The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). 

Completing one of these courses can exempt you from taking specific exams necessary for becoming a chartered accountant because the courses include the same assessments [1]. Next, you must pass a series of exams covering business strategy and taxation, auditing, and financial management, as well as gaining relevant work experience [2].

9. Get certified.

If you don't want to become a chartered accountant, you may consider other available certifications: 

  • The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) is the minimal level that many accountants achieve. AAT accounting courses span three levels and four qualifications, combining hands-on skills and industry expertise.

  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualifications include two levels for accountants who are just starting out and accountants who are already working professionals. Course topics include everything from accounting fundamentals to data analytics, corporate and business law, financial reporting, and auditing. 

10. Start your career. 

You can start online when you're ready to apply for a job. Job boards across the internet have thousands of openings for various organisations. Understanding what's out there and where you want to work is also an effective strategy.

You'll also want to find out if anyone within your network—former classmates, professors, co-workers, and others—can make any recommendations. Once you have some experience, you may consider starting your own firm and becoming your own boss. 

Types of accountants

Several types of accountants exist, allowing you to specialise in areas that best meet your interests and skill set. Some of the most common are:

Types of accountantsWhat 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 organisations 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, and helps individuals and organisations minimise 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 organisations
Cost accountant• Analyses an organisation's expenses to see where its money is going
• May offer the organisation advice on how to create a more effective budget
Investment accountant• Specialises in stocks, bonds, ETFs, precious metals, and other investments
• Typically hired by brokerage firms and asset management firms
Government accountant• May work for the government
• Ensures taxpayer money gets 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 organisation 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 organisation to offer advice or prepare reports and documents

Next steps

Start building job-ready skills for a role in accounting with the Intuit Bookkeeping Professional Certificate. Practice interpreting and analysing 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 CV.

Frequently asked questions

Article sources

1. Career Boss. “How To Become a Chartered Accountant,” Accessed June 10, 2024.

2. City University of London. “How To Become a Chartered Accountant,” Accessed June 10, 2024.

3. National Careers Service. “Public Finance Accountant,” Accessed June 10, 2024.

4. OnRec. “UK Needs Another 80,000 Accountants by 2050,” Accessed June 10, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.