If you like working with numbers and understand the importance of accurate financial records for determining a company's status and future courses of action, a career in accounting is a good fit. All of the daily tasks of accountants funnel into the generation of reports used to assess a company's financial health, create budgets and identify problems or areas for expansion. Accounting is a stable career, and once you have the necessary skills you can work in nearly any industry.
A bachelor's degree is necessary for accounting positions such as cost accountant or manager, and to advance in your career. It's also a requirement to become a CPA. If you go the CPA route, you also need a state license to practice. Certification as an accountant isn't mandatory, but can give you a leg up on the competition, and allows you to show proof of specialization. For example, certification processes are available for management accountants and auditors.
To succeed in accounting, you need more advanced math skills. Calculating interest and depreciation rates takes basic algebra, and untangling errors in general ledger accounts often calls for advanced analytical skills. Accountants do more than just record numbers; they use them to create budgets and forecasts and audit them for accuracy. Mathematical reasoning skills, and the ability to see relationships and patterns, are all important. You should also know the math involved with statistics, economics and investing.
The days of dusty ledgers are gone, and the ability to use computer software is essential. Proficiency with basic accounting software, such as QuickBooks, is necessary, but you also need to demonstrate comfort with advanced programs, particularly if you want to work for a large company. Many accounting software programs are also linked with related systems, such as project management, human resources or database programs, which you may need for managing tasks or preparing reports.
Time-management skills are vital because accountants must often adhere to strict deadlines for closing books at month end, filing tax returns and generating financial statements. Excellent communication skills are essential for explaining reports, making financial recommendations and working in a team setting. CPAs need good customer service skills for dealing with clients. Seeing the big picture is important for advanced accounting positions, but you still need to monitor the tiniest details and where they fit in that picture.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 16 percent growth rate for accountants through 2020, and notes that CPAs and those with a master's degree will have an edge in the competition for jobs. Work experience matters in this field, so if you have managerial experience in any field combined with a degree in accounting, you'll have a better chance of advancing to a department lead or controller position.
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