In an increasingly global business environment, accounting is an expanding field. According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), public accounting firms across the country are hiring accountants at a brisk pace. In fact, over the past few years, record numbers have been hired to help companies stay competitive in a complex and fast-changing landscape.

For professionals with the right combination of skills and education, the accounting field offers numerous opportunities and a variety of career paths.

Job duties vary by employer, although accountants typically are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of financial and tax records for individuals and firms. They make sure taxes are filed and paid on time, accounting reports are up to date and statements provide a clear financial picture.

Another common duty is analyzing reports to determine profitability or to identify areas of concern. Accountants may advise management on ways to cut expenses, improve productivity and boost profitability. They are also often responsible for creating new accounting procedures to improve consistency and accuracy.

Accountants often work with other departments to ensure they receive and understand important financial information, follow billing procedures correctly and keep cost centers on budget. 

Job Outlook and Salary Range for Accountants

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of accountants and auditors nationwide is projected to grow by 13% through 2022, which is faster than the average growth forecast for all occupations. Stronger laws and regulations, particularly in the financial sector, will boost demand, along with the continued growth and globalization of the economy.

According to the BLS, there were more than 1.1 million accountants and auditors employed in the United States as of May 2012. The average salary for those professionals was about $71,000, with salaries for the top 10% of earners exceeding $111,500.

Employment prospects and salary ranges typically vary based on an individual’s work history and educational qualifications, as well as on regional market conditions.

Education and Training for Accountants

In order to land an entry-level position, individuals generally must have graduated from a bachelor’s degree in accounting program or a related discipline. Some employers prefer to hire candidates with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a master’s degree in accounting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that candidates with a master’s degree and/or the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation may have an advantage in the employment marketplace.

Many accountants strive to become CPAs to enhance their career prospects. Licensure requirements for CPAs vary, although most states mandate a minimum level of college coursework (usually about 30 hours more than a bachelor’s degree) and work experience. In addition to meeting state requirements, CPA candidates must pass a four-part test developed by the AICPA.

CPAs typically have the opportunity to earn a higher income over the course of their career, the BLS notes. Plus, the designation demonstrates a higher level of capabilities, expertise and professional ethics, which employers may find attractive.

Career Paths for Accountants

Accountants have a wide variety of potential career paths. From entry-level positions such as cost accountant or junior-level auditor, they may advance to managerial roles such as accounting supervisor, budget manager, chief cost accountant or chief financial officer.

Some accountants open their own firms; others may become financial planners or compliance managers.

As the AICPA noted in a 2013 report, demand for accounting graduates is at “an unprecedented level,” with more than 40,000 hired the previous year.

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