5 Steps Toward Starting an Accounting Career

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If you’re thinking about becoming a CPA or accountant, then you need to possess certain qualities.

You’ll need to have a sharp eye for detail. You need to think about whether you’re going to be better off working for a big firm or whether you’d be more comfortable striking out on your own.

You also need to consider whether you’re dedicated enough to finish four years of college and possibly get your master’s degree.

Here are a few of the steps that you can take if you feel like this might be the proper career path for you:

The Right Degree is a Must

The average CPA or accountant doesn’t start their career by evaluating the key factors in CPA practice value and buying one.

For most people, a four-year college degree is the most logical starting point. You might also need:

  • Advanced tax coursework
  • Advanced financial reporting or auditing coursework
  • 150 accounting credit hours

The requirements vary depending on what jurisdiction you live in, and what area of this profession you’re targeting. Many CPAs continue their education and get a master’s degree.

You need dedication to break into this field. One thing is certain: you should always find an accredited program to have the best success chance.

Figure Out Your Specialty

You also should understand that CPAs and accountants generally pick a specialty on which to focus. You can choose between:

  • Public accounting
  • Business or corporate accounting

There are also more specialized areas that you might wish to target. Some of them include managerial accounting, internal auditing, and environmental accounting.

You’re probably going to end up selecting your specialty area depending on what sort of degree you earned.

There might be some particular reason that one of these areas attracted you.

Are You an Accountant or CPA?

You should also know that an accountant and CPA are not the same thing.

An accountant usually works in a business’s accounting department. If you go this route, then you’re probably not qualified to be a CPA, not without some additional training and credentials.

If you’re an accountant, then you may not have state licensure or certification. You can perform tasks, but they’re limited. For example, you could prepare financial statements.

By contrast, a CPA must earn a college degree and pass all the relevant CPA exam parts. You will also have to work for a set number of hours under a practicing CPA. Usually, you need 1,800 hours under your belt before you can earn the title.

As a CPA, you can represent clients before the IRS, review statements, and conduct audits. As you’re trying to figure out which one of these job titles you want, you’ll need to assess your career goals.

Becoming a CPA requires much more of a serious time commitment than is the case if you only want to be an accountant.

You Must Pass the CPA Exam

If you figure out that you want to be a CPA, then you have to pass all the exam parts. There are four of them:

  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Regulation
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Audit and Attestation

You can take the exam during the first two months of every quarter. It will likely take you several days to get through all four parts.

You can take the test parts in any order you like, but once you pass one, you have to pass the others within 18 months in order to earn the title CPA.

You will probably need private test prep courses. There are lots of institutions and individuals that offer them. You’ll need to study hard to be up to the challenge.

Find Yourself an Entry-Level Position

The next thing you’ll probably have to do is find yourself an entry-level job somewhere. An accounting internship is a smart idea even before you graduate. That’s a way to infuse your resume with some real-world experience.

It’s also wise to start putting yourself out there on career platforms like LinkedIn. These types of sites have job postings, as well as forums where you can get advice from others who are testing the job market.

There are also other sites like CollegeRecruiter.com, where you can get traction as a new grad.

After you’ve landed an entry-level position, you should continue with your education however you see fit.

Moving up the career ladder will likely mean getting a master’s degree, though that might not necessarily be in your plans if you have some other idea in mind.

About the author

AP Community

AP Community

Accounting Path community writers are passionate financial & businesses thought leaders eager to share their experience & ideas. Please note, community articles may contain links to products or services which we do not formally endorse and/or for which we may receive compensation.