How does one become an accountant? What are the different types of accountants?

By Patrick Jean4 min read · Posted Mar 5, 2024

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How does one become an accountant?

“I was always more comfortable around numbers than people. I could control numbers.”—Thor “The Swede” Gundersen (Christopher Heyerdahl), “Hell on Wheels” TV series (2011–2016)

Working with numbers is a stereotype when it comes to being an accountant. Yes, you will do that, but you will also have to deal with people and communicate effectively with them. Hence a comfort level with number-crunching and people skills are both needed for this profession.

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Once you become an accountant, you could work for individuals, companies, or governments with different capacities or roles, discussed further in the article. But how do you become an accountant?

You can become an entry-level accountant by graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in accounting or Business Administration. Getting an internship while in your later years of studies will help you get a grasp on the field early on. For those interested in specialized job opportunities in order to qualify for better salary packages, higher education of a Master’s degree and/or specialized certifications like that of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) will be ideal.

An expanded list of the possible higher accredited certifications is listed further below. The list of certifications may differ for different countries across the globe, along with the requirements to qualify for those certifications. Even within the United States the CPA exam requirements differ from state to state and you need to do your research for the state or the country where you wish to practice.

To start with, you will need to research where to begin your studies.

Sites such as “U.S. News & World Report” update their annual lists of the best accounting programs in the country. You can tailor the results to find colleges to apply to that fit your location and budget. In the United States, most bachelor’s programs take four years and around 120 credits to complete. If you’re seeking a CPA certification, some colleges offer five-year programs that let you earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the same time.

Becoming a CPA is quite a challenge as the exam to pass is quite in depth and rigorous. You will have to meet the requirements of the state where you intend to work, and pass a national exam developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The passing rate of a CPA exam in the first try is very low and the applicants can retake the exam many times. Though there is no limit to how many times you can take the exam, there is a time span of 18 months (as checked last at this site for a New Jersey state CPA certification) during which the exam must be passed. The exam may change from year to year and this Forbes site shows the revised test for 2024, giving you an idea of a typical CPA exam.

Reviewing the applications and forms for the New Jersey state board of Accountancy and the Study Material for the New Jersey CPA exam will help you further understand the requirements.

You can also increase your job skills and job opportunities by acquiring other certifications. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Accredited Business Accountant (ABA)
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CIFA)
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Once fully accredited and working, you have to keep up with the changing accounting laws. Many states and professional organizations require ‘Continuing Professional Education (CPE)’ for accounts to maintain their licenses and certifications. Failure to do so could lead to fines, penalties, and even loss of licensure and certification.

What are the different types of accountants?

Accountants can choose from four major fields of practice, which are:

  • Government accountants, who are employed by local, state, and federal governments. In addition to their government bookkeeping, they audit businesses, individuals, and even government branches to make sure regulations are being followed and taxes are being paid. Examples of government accountant jobs include auditor, accounting clerk, financial accountant, cost accountant, and budget analyst.
  • Internal accountants, who are often called internal auditors. If you like detective stories, this is the field for you. You will investigate internal workings of a business and try to uncover or prevent fraud, mismanagement, and mistakes. Your types of work could include compliance audits, operational audits, financial audits, and information technology audits.
  • Management accountants, who usually work on a team for companies. They’re the “power behind the throne” for business executives, since management accountants provide those executives with the analysis and information to make decisions and prepare financial reports. Types of management accounting include cost accounting, accounts receivable, international accounting, and inventory accounting.
  • Public accountants, who provide multiple services (accounting, auditing, consulting, and taxes) for individual or corporate clients (businesses, governments, individuals, and nonprofit organizations).

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, more than 1.5 million people were employed as accountants and auditors in the United States as recently as 2022. Their average annual salary was $78,000. And the field is expected to grow 4 percent, or add 67,400 jobs, by 2032, as per the Handbook.

Tax laws and regulations are regularly updated, or new laws are written every so often. The best ways for accountants to stay abreast are to attend industry wide events and stay connected with professional groups. Such groups are a good source for current information and updates on accounting laws and standards, as well as offering training sessions, webinars, and workshops.

The AICPA’s website in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), as well as the Institute of Management Accountants’ website, are good resources for staying updated on accounting laws, regulations, and best practices.

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Patrick Jean

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