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Accounting Employment Opportunities
An education in accounting offers you at least four practice options depending on your interests. Generally an accountant will chose a career path in one of four accounting practices. Nothing requires an accountant to stay in one type of practice and some do switch or cross back and forth between practice types as their career and interests evolve and opportunities present themselves. Each of the four practice types offer different experiences and challenges and require a different mix of skills and knowledge. Below is a brief description of the four practice types.
- Public accountants work in a practice that provides accounting services to individuals, businesses and government on a contract basis. Public accountants offer a broad array of accounting services from simple bookkeeping to complicated financial analysis, account management and external auditing for individual clients, business clients, government agencies, and not for profit organizations. A public accounting business can be a single practitioner, a partnership involving two or more accountants or a large firm employing hundreds of accountants.
Forensic accounting is a public accounting specialty which analyzes historical financial date to track white-collar crimes. Forensic accountants need knowledge of both the law and accounting principles and practices. They investigate allegations of securities fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering to name a few. Often forensic accountants are called as expert witnesses in criminal proceedings.
Public accountants are often certified nationally as Certified Public Accountants (CPA’s) as well as licensed by their state.
- Government accountants work in all levels of government and for private business subject to government regulations preparing budgets, tracking costs and providing special analysis of government initiatives. Governmental accountants need to be familiar with the laws governing revenue collection and expenditures and are responsible for ensuring these activities are carried out according to the law.
A governmental accountant may work in an internal audit unit evaluating their employer’s financial management practices, checking for compliance with the law and regulations, and investigating instances of fraud, waste and abuse. Internal auditors may specialize in information technology auditing, compliance auditing and environmental auditing.
- Corporate accountants sometimes called management or private accountants work in businesses of all sizes and types. Some work in large accounting departments and some may be one person shops. They prepare financial statements and tax returns and record and analyze company financial data for the purpose of tax preparation and planning, performance evaluation, cost management, asset management and budgeting. Corporate accountants are often licensed CPA’s. A corporate accountant with a CPA and a MBA or similar educational background and significant on the job management experience is a good candidate for a Controller’s or Chief Financial Officer position.
Corporate accountants may also work in internal audit offices. Like internal auditors working in government internal auditors in corporate practices often specialize in information technology auditing, compliance auditing and environmental auditing.
- Independent accountants are self-employed. Their work is self-generated. Independent accountants generally work for individuals and smaller businesses preparing tax returns, financial statements and performing other accounting services for customers on a contract basis. To be successful financially an independent accountant needs to be a good salesman as well as well versed in accounting practices. An independent accountant’s business is only as good as their ability to attract new clients and retain existing clients.
Public, government and corporate accountant career paths are similar. Each has entry level positions, midlevel positions, and higher level positions with significant responsibilities and lucrative salaries. Entry level jobs, generally as a bookkeeper or account clerks, generally require an associate degree and minimal work experience. With more experience, additional education and a good work history these positions can lead to staff accountant positions. Account managers or directors of account departments are logical next steps up the accounting career path ladder if you enjoy the responsibility of managing a staff. Controllers and Chief Finance Officers are the most responsible, challenging and lucrative positions on the typical accounting career path. These positions generally require a CPA, a Master’s degree and considerable business experience.
If you choose the independent accountant career path you enjoy more flexibility in the nature of your work and control where and when you work. You can work from home a few hours a week or sixty hours a week or you can work from an office. You can work alone or with partners or hire assistants. The compensation you receive is directly related to the amount of time you want to put into you practice and your ability to generate new and keep existing clients.
Within the various accounting practices you may chose an area of concentration. One of the more interesting areas to concentrate on is audits. Work as an internal or external auditor will provide you with a wealth of knowledge quickly about the business or entity you are auditing. You cannot perform an audit without learning a great deal about the entity that is subject of the audit, Experience as an auditor provides you with a good foundation upon which to build an accounting or business career.
Budget analysis is the most creative and perhaps the most challenging of the accounting concentration areas. Budget analyst’s must have strong quantitative and qualitative skills because they not only analyze the financial implications and risks of financial decisions they are required to clearly and accurately relay those implications and risks to decision makers in a timely manner.
You may choose to concentrate on a financial accounting practice. Financial accountants analyze the financial implications of all important business decisions – mergers, acquisitions, employee negotiations, and long term financial planning. A good financial accountant has an understanding of the nature of the business for which they are working and finance concepts as well as accounting practices.
A concentration in a tax accounting practice involves the preparation of tax returns and statements and the development of strategies for deferring taxes. Tax accountants analyze the tax implications of business decisions, acquisitions, sales of business assets and divisions and mergers. Tax accountants must have a complete understanding of the tax codes. Often a tax accountant will combine their accounting education and background with a degree in law or economics.
As you can see a career in accounting offers a diverse and abundant array of work environments and areas of concentration which depending on your interests, skills and career goals offer a variety of career paths and opportunities for advancement.
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