Out of all career paths, accounting is probably one of the most straightforward. It generally requires a 2-5 year time investment (depending on where you are in your education), and can lead to a very stable and rewarding career route. We’ve broken down the process into five basic steps that outline how to do it. Let’s get to it!
1. Get an education
An education takes the longest amount of time, but it is really a question of taking the right classes in the right order and getting a high enough grade to pass everything (well, you really want to get something higher than just passing, so shoot for excellence!).
The traditional route is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in accounting. This is typically a four year (120 credit hours) investment of time with the first two years largely being general education classes that you could opt to take at a community college to save some time or money.
The final two years of a bachelor’s degree are spent in core accounting classes and electives to give you the necessary accounting education to be successful in the business environment. If you’re doing your degree online, this process may take longer (or faster) depending on the pace of your schooling.
But what if you’ve already got a bachelor’s degree in something else and you’re really not that excited about the prospect of going back to school for another bachelor’s degree? This is where a master’s degree in accounting can help you get into the accounting game. There are many programs out there that don’t require a previous business or accounting background. What they do require is that you work HARD to catch up and learn as much as you can. This route usually takes about two years since there will be a number of classes you won’t be able to waive. The benefit of this route, however, is that you will have at least 150 credit hours and will be CPA ready.
2. Get an Internship as an Accountant
In the business world, companies are primarily concerned with what you can do. Yes, the academics and GPA may look great on paper, but if you can actually perform you’ll be ahead in the game. Getting an internship on your own may be difficult if you don’t have any connections (if you do have connections, use them!). This is where your school’s career services center may prove invaluable. It might take a lot of persistence, but they should be able to put you in contact with the right recruiters for an internship. Career services centers are a fantastic resource to make use of while you are attending school. They offer resume help, practice with interview skills, and free advice that could potentially change your life.
If you’re interested in public accounting, the Big 4 (KPMG, PWC, Deloitte, and E&Y are always recruiting) and other regional firms are good places to start looking for internships. They recruit on a seasonal basis, and they’re always seeking out the “best and brightest”. Depending on your school, these firms may even host recruiting events on campus. They’re worth attending because it’s a place to connect with people in the industry and find out what it means to be an accountant.
An internship can give you the proper experience that you can leverage into getting a full-time job. While an intern, learn everything you can from everyone you can. You never know when you’re going to use these skills in the future. Work hard and excel as an intern and odds are you’ll receive a job offer.
3. Get a Job as an Accountant
Yes, it is kind of obvious, but it’s the next logical step. The education and internship should give you practical experience and an edge in getting a job. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find something right away. Unlike other fields, accounting is always growing, and the business world ALWAYS needs good accountants. The key to getting a job is standing out from your peers. If you happen to have a different academic background, then this might be a way to leverage your differences and turn it into a strength.
The truth of the matter is that your grades do matter—to a certain extent. Good grades can help you get in the door at a prestigious firm right away. If you don’t have good grades, you may have to work at a few other firms before you can work your way up into a “better” firm. What matters more than good grades, is your ability to work hard and get the job done. Remember, experience matters in this industry.
There is no one right way to becoming an accountant. Everyone has a different journey, and your journey could be vastly different.
4. Get Certification
Depending on your field of accounting, you will probably require some kind of advanced certification. If finding a job is proving difficult, then certification will increase your hireability. If you already have a job, then certification may lead to a boost in your salary. For those of you looking to enter public accounting, the CPA is the gold standard for your field. There are a lot of other certifications available like the CMA, and CIA for more specific fields of study, but the CPA is always a perennial favorite in the business world.
Certification may take upwards of one year depending on how much time you are able to devote to it. A common strategy employed by many students is to study for their certification exams after they graduate from college (while the knowledge is still relatively fresh), but before they start their new job. Depending on your start date, you could have a window of valuable time that you can use to get this major hurdle out of the way.
If you already have a job and you’re wondering if the certification is worth it, trust us—it is. There are many firms that don’t promote employees beyond the senior associate level unless they have a CPA or other advanced certification. This means, without the extra credentials, you won’t ever be able to break into management.
Congratulations! You should be on a good path to a stable career by now. Enjoy life and take time to breathe in between busy seasons.