Do you enjoy working with numbers? Do you keep your checkbook perfectly balanced? Are you meticulous in how you allocate your household finances? If so, a career in accounting and auditing may be just right for you.
Accountants and auditors work in a wide variety of professional settings. Many work for large corporations, government agencies, or small businesses, while others are self-employed and may even work out of a home office.
There are four major fields of accounting and auditing: public, management, government accounting, and internal auditing.
Public accountants provide a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting services for their clients, which may be governments, corporations, nonprofit organizations, or individuals.
Many public accountants are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and generally have their own businesses or work for public accounting firms. To become a CPA, an accountant must take and pass a series of tests administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Some public accountants focus on areas such as the design of accounting and data-processing systems, compensation, employee health care benefits, or the selection of controls to safeguard assets. Others audit their clients’ financial statements and inform authorities and investors that the statements are accurate. These accountants are also referred to as external auditors. And, of course, many accountants specialize in taxes, preparing individual income tax returns and advising companies about the tax ramifications of business decisions.
Management accountants – also called managerial, industrial, cost, corporate, or private accountants – record, analyze, and interpret the financial information that corporate executives need in order to make sound business decisions. Management accountants are often part of the upper-level executive team involved in strategic planning or the development of new products. Their responsibilities may include budgeting, cost management, performance evaluation, and asset management. They also prepare financial reports for stockholders, creditors, regulatory agencies, and tax authorities.
Government accountants and auditors work in the public sector. They maintain and examine the financial records of government agencies and audit individuals and private businesses whose activities are subject to government taxation or regulations. Accountants and auditors employed by the federal government may work for the Internal Revenue Service or in budget analysis and administration, financial management, or financial institution examination. Accountants employed by government agencies ensure that revenues are received, and expenditures are made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
Internal auditors oversee their organization’s internal controls and check for waste, mismanagement, or fraud. They review the company’s financial operations, and evaluate their efficiency and compliance with government regulations and corporate policies. Internal auditors may help management evaluate the effectiveness of their controls based on real-time data supplied by computers, and they may recommend and review controls for their organization’s computer systems to ensure the integrity of the data.
Computer technology is changing the nature of the work of many accountants and auditors. Special software packages allow accountants to summarize transactions in financial records and organize data in formats employed in financial analysis. These accounting programs alleviate the tedious work associated with recordkeeping and data management. A growing number of accountants and auditors now have computer skills that allow them to meet unique data management and analytical needs.
How about training? Graduates of junior colleges or business schools can sometimes obtain entry-level accounting positions and advance by improving their accounting skills on the job. Generally, accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some employers prefer that applicants have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting. Certification as a CPA or other designation provides a distinct advantage in the job market.
How are the job prospects? According to the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This occupation will have a very large number of new jobs arise, almost 279,400 over the projections decade.”
How can you get started? Career colleges closely track growing occupations, which is why you’ll find plenty of training opportunities at schools in your community. A good way is to start is to log onto a reputable online career college search engine and directory. You’ll be able to search for schools in your area that offer degrees in accounting and auditing. You’ll also be able to find online degree programs. You can compare programs and even learn about flexible schedules and financial aid. Then you can request free information from the schools that interest you, visit a few, and make your decision. In less time than you think, you could be ready for a rewarding career in accounting and auditing.