careertrend article image
Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

How to Become an Accountant

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Accountants record transactions and prepare financial reports for employers or clients. While a bachelor's degree is the minimum qualification, a CPA license is standard for ambitious accountants.

Basic Education

Accountants typically earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, such as business administration. Both business administration and accounting degrees include multiple courses in accounting, along with classes in finance. However, accounting programs include more specialized courses in different areas of accounting, such as cost accounting, financial accounting and reporting, and tax accounting. These degrees give you the basic knowledge to understand the role of accounting and how to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Certified Public Accountant Credential

While you can find junior-level bookkeeping and accounting positions with your bachelor's degree, a Certified Public Accountant credential is a huge career stepping stone for accountants. In addition to having advanced technical knowledge in accounting, a CPA can file earnings reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission on behalf of a publicly traded company. Non-CPA accounts aren't authorized to do this. This ability expands your value to more employers. CPAs must pass a national exam and get licensed by their Board of Accountancy. Most states require that you have 150 hours of college credit, so a master's degree in business or accounting is typical.

Training Requirements and Advancement

Accountants usually have to prove themselves in small-scale bookkeeping or accounting roles. An internship during your junior or senior year of college is a good starting point. During an internship or in an entry-level position, you get hands-on practice applying accounting principles. An internship allows you to learn on the job, make mistakes and get correction from a senior-level accountant. Entry-level responsibilities include recording basic financial transactions and preparing financial statements for internal use. One or two years of success in a lower-level role improves opportunities for advanced positions. Over time, accounting skills, combined with leadership abilities, can lead to management roles.

Skill Development

Several important skills are necessary to succeed in accounting. Analytical skills are critical because accountants must have the ability to analyze financial reports and spot potential problem areas both in the accounting itself and in the financial performance of the company or client. Errors in accounting hurt a company's reputation and could lead to SEC penalties for publicly traded companies. Math skills are a given because of the importance of adding and subtracting numbers. Some aspiring accountants are surprised to learn that communication skills are necessary as well. That's because business managers and clients rely on accountants to communicate information about transactions, reports and budgets.

2016 Salary Information for Accountants and Auditors

Accountants and auditors earned a median annual salary of $68,150 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, accountants and auditors earned a 25th percentile salary of $53,240, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,670, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,397,700 people were employed in the U.S. as accountants and auditors.