To become an accountant, there are a number of training, certification, and experience hurdles to address. In addition, there are several types of accounting tracks from which to choose. We will address each aspect of becoming an accountant, as follows:
- Is this right for you? Any accounting position requires a strong focus on basic math skills. This is not advanced calculus, but rather requires detailed attention to ratio calculations, aggregating large data sets, and possibly statistics (for auditors). In addition, one must have a good knowledge of processes, understanding how transactions must be completed the same way, every time, and why this is necessary. Further, errors must be minimized, so one must closely attend to the details of every transaction. In short, the job requires someone to be careful and analytical.
- Obtain training. The type of training needed depends on the type of accountant that you want to become. A basic bookkeeping position requires training in a two-year associates degree program, while anyone wanting to get on the track to becoming a controller or audit partner must obtain an accounting degree from a certified four-year program. Anyone wanting to specialize, such as in information technology audits, will likely require an additional master’s degree program. Further, if an individual wants to become an auditor, it is useful to take extra courses in auditing while in a four-year program; this helps to get a job with an audit firm.
- Get an internship. If possible, get an internship with an audit firm or large company during the summer. This is useful not only for gaining practical experience, but also for deciding later whether you are more interested in public or private accounting.
- Earn a certification. If you have obtained a degree from a four-year program, you have fulfilled part of the requirements for the two major accounting certifications, which are the CPA and CMA certifications. The CPA certification is better known, but requires two years as an auditor, plus passing the examination, before the certification is awarded. If you do not intend to become a CPA, then the CMA exam is the better choice. Consider taking either of these exams as soon as you have completed school, while the knowledge is fresh. It can be useful to take a prep course for whichever exam you choose. A certified bookkeeper certification is also available for those planning to be a bookkeeper. If you intend to be an internal auditor, consider taking the CIA (certified internal auditor) examination.
- Public or private? The main choices in career path are to go into public or private accounting. Public accounting means becoming an auditor. Auditors examine the financial systems and statements of clients, and issue opinions on their financial statements. This is a high-stress field that many people find themselves to be unsuited for, which results in a high turnover rate. However, it also results in exposure to a large number of clients and their systems, so one can gather a great deal of experience in a short period of time. There is also a small chance of being promoted to partner, which is both prestigious and financially rewarding. Private accounting means working for an organization as an accountant, and moving up the career path to assistant controller, controller, and then chief financial officer. Advancement tends to be slower in private accounting, but can involve less stress and more job security.
Becoming an accountant is an involved process that will require many years of work. However, the investment of time and money can pay off handsomely for someone who has an inclination for this type of work. Senior-level auditor or accountant positions pay quite well, and usually have excellent benefit packages associated with them.