(6.6 out of 10)
|Number of Jobs:||190,700|
|This Job is Ranked in|
|Best Business Jobs||#3|
|The 100 Best Jobs||#36|
This is a left-brain profession that requires attention to detail, as well as a passion for numbers and their practical application. There are several types of accountant. Public accountants perform auditing, tax preparation, and consulting for corporations, nonprofits, and individuals. Forensic accountants investigate white-collar crimes like embezzlement and securities fraud. Management accountants record and analyze financial information within a specific company. Government accountants—at the federal, state, or local level—maintain records of government agencies and audit private businesses or individuals whose activities fall under government regulation or taxation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15.7 percent growth for accountants between 2010 and 2020, which is much faster than the average growth for most other professions. An additional 190,700 accounting and auditing jobs will need to be filled during that time period.
According to the Labor Department, the median annual salary for an accountant was $62,850 in 2011. The best-paid 10 percent earned roughly $109,870, while the lowest-paid made approximately $39,640. The best-compensated in the field are usually working within the federal executive branch, with securities and commodity contract intermediation and brokerage, or with financial investments. The highest-paid accountants work in the New York City metropolitan area, the San Jose, Calif., metropolitan area, and Nassau, N.Y.
Accountants need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, and many in the profession choose to obtain certification, such as becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), to advance their careers. That means taking a uniform exam set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Like passing the bar to practice law in a certain state, you will probably need to take the exam in the state in which you wish to work. Most states require at least 150 hours of related coursework before you become eligible to take the exam. There are other certifications. For example, the Institute of Management Accountants offers a Certified Management Accountant designation, which requires a bachelor's degree, two years of work in management accounting, and passing an exam. It is possible to do accounting work without these certifications. In that case, you would probably be working under a certified accountant. Some employers even prefer a master's degree in accounting or business administration.
Rebecca Mahler, manager of career research and student organizational partnerships at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), can't stress enough how important it is for aspiring accountants to become certified. "It's really the gold star on the resume," she says, primarily because certified public accountants must take courses each year to maintain their certification, which is useful to employers. "It's an invaluable credential, and you get a 10 to 15 percent higher salary." Aside from obtaining certification, Mahler has several tips for landing an accounting job. First, she suggests specializing in a specific type of accounting, like forensic or managerial, which can lead to consulting opportunities. Second, Mahler recommends networking, saying that "The more you can get involved in the accounting community, the more likely you are to get that phone call." And lastly, Mahler strongly recommends taking some time to study before an interview. "My number-one recommendation for applicants is to brush up on your basic accounting skills," she says. "Interviewers want to know that you still have that foundation."