How to Become an Accountant in 5 Comprehensive Steps

Successful accountant working with financial data in the office

In times like these, where trying economic conditions are the order of the day, it is crucial to account for every cent that you spend. Business and personal transactions alike now need careful documenting to determine whether they make financial sense.

Accountants are now in high demand than ever before because they assist clients to navigate the ever morecomplex fields of tax and finance.  Their previous label as “bean counters” has lost its bite because firms need them to enhance their financial prudence. Whereas businesses cannot do without the input of accountants, some have made the mistakeof hiring unethical professionals. They have thus suffered consequences that ranged from corporate scandals to outright bankruptcy.

The accounting field has a reputation of providing job security for its professionals even when the economy is going through arecession. In the prevailing conditions, for instance, there is an increased demand for skilled accountants as businesses strive to remain competitive. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms the trend. It indicates that firms will hire 18 percent more auditors and accountants between 2006 and 2016 – the highest average for any sector.

So if you are planning to pursue a career in accountancy, this is the ideal time. This article will explain in five points the skills that you need to perfect, the subject areas that you should look into, and the qualifications that you should attain.

#1: Appreciate that Accounting is All About Numbers

Accountants have to master various skills to succeed in the competitive fields of tax and finance. Even so, a high proficiency in mathematics is necessary because one has to deal with numbers in most of the assignments. So, to gauge whether accounting would be the right fit for you, answer these questions:

  • While in school, could you solve algebraic equations by figuring out solutions even before the teacher could finish writing the calculations on the board?
  • Do you find activities like balancing checkbooks enjoyable rather than demanding?
  • Are you good at figuring out tips when you eat out? Do the people whom you go out with assign you that task most of the times?

The fact that you can do complex mental calculations does not necessarily qualify you as an outstanding accountant. It is not essential, for instance, that you can work out the square root of a long number off yourhead. In the workplace, you will have computers and calculators at your disposal for numbers’ processing. Still, being comfortable with dealing with figures everyday would be a desirable attribute.

Numeracy aptitude would undoubtedly give you an edge when you train in accountancy. Still, other skills like critical thinking, and data analysis and synthesis are similarly valuable. You would also have to be willing to keep yourself updated with the latest laws.  If you are training to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), for example, one of the exams that you have to pass will be in ethics.

#2: Get a Post-secondary Education

You can pursue various training options if you are interested in becoming an accountant. Most of them would nonetheless require you to have at least a secondary education. Before determining the nature of qualification that you intend to attain, first ask yourself these two questions:

  • What accountancy level do you plan to enter into – is it an entry, mid, or executive position?
  • What interests you more – isit being a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or a CPA?

Start off with an associate’s degree or a certificate in accounting

If you want to break into the accounting field, then an associate’s degree or a certificate would be an excellent qualification for a start. It is affordable to attain them, and they teach you the skills that firms need in their entry-level accountants.

Pursuing either of the two would give you the opportunity to learn accounting fundamentals and the associated technology. After that, employers would be willing to hire you since you havethe necessaryexposure to work with accounting software.

Acquire a Bachelor’s degree in accounting

Attaining a Bachelor’s degree in accounting is a sure way of fast-tracking your career path in the industry. In addition to the units that most majors should fulfill, the BA in accounting exposes you to the elementary and advanced accounting procedures. With those qualifications, a degree holder can choose from the myriad of entry and mid-level positions that are available in accountancy. The BA in accounting also gets you ready to pursue a post-graduate degree in the field. In essence, it is the ideal qualification level because it opens up a variety of paths for one to choose. It is, however, worth noting that the BA in accounting only demands 120 semester hours while most states require 150 hours if one wishes to become a CPA.

Choose a Master’s degree

Accountants have two postgraduate degree options that they can pursue. They can choose either the masters in accounting (MAcc) degree or an MBA that has an accounting focus.

While usually,students who wish to sit for CMA or CPA exams opt for the masters in accounting, the MBA is suitable for those aiming to learn broader business concepts. It delves into how accounting procedures work with management techniques and business strategy. The postgraduate degree programs usually admit students who have a BA in accounting. Also, some accept students who do not have business-related certifications.

It is entirely up to you to decide how you would wish to design your learning path. It is possible for some people, for example, to start with a certificate in accounting and eventually end up with masters. Other considerations such as career goals and experience may also determine the choices that you make when earning accounting qualifications. The good thing is that one could opt for either the classroom setting or the masters in accounting online program.

#3: Determine the Type of Accountant that You Would Want to be

Students can become any one of the four major accountant types that include government accountants, management accountants, public accountants, and internal auditors. Whatever the choice, there is an abundance of opportunities for people who love numbers or data analysis to exercise their skills.

  • Government accounting – accountants in this field work for governmental businesses or agencies. They are thus subject to the regulations that the government sets. Government accountants usually conduct forensic accounting on their agencies’ books. Their work is mainly to find out whether there is any wastage or subversion of public resources. Those that work for the Internal Revenue Service are a great example of these accountants.
  • Management accounting–professionals in this sector are mainly involved in the analysis of companies’ financial data. They thus play a crucial part in the way companies design and spend their budgets. Most of the work that management accountants do is usually for internal use by the senior management.
  • Public accounting–this field encompasses a variety of accounting roles. Since it is one of the broadest sectors in accounting, it hires a range of professionals such as auditors, bookkeepers, forensic accountants, and tax advisors – where most of them deal with criminal investigations related to embezzlement and fraud.
  • Internal auditing–it focuses on theanalysis of how businesses conduct their activities with the aim of detecting inefficient usage of resources or possible criminality. Internal audits suggest ways in which business owners can improve their operations or even flow of information.

If deciding which path is suited to you poses a challenge, you could test yourself to find the type of accountancy that closely fits your skills. For instance, a career as a public accountant could be right for you if you want to get the exposure that comes with working in a variety of situations and environments. In contrast, a position in internal auditing or management accounting would limit you to dealing with the only one firm. As a government accountant, you will get the chance to carry out forensic audits and analyze whether agencies conduct ethical business practices. Deciding which accounting career to pursue depends on the classes you found exciting or which units you cherished.

#4: Decide Whether – if, at All, You Would Want to Become a CPA or CMA

Accountants would want to maximize their earnings because after all, their assignments consist of handling finances for the better part of the day. The most straightforward way for an accountant to increase their earning potential is through by being certified. After deciding on the nature of accountancy that one would want to become an expert in, it becomes easier to choose between the CMA and CPA certifications. Whereas a career in CMA involves working in government and management accounting, CPA’s specialize in auditing and tax consultancy.

Know What Each Certification Requires

The requirements for earning a CPA are stricter than those for CMA. Most states now enforce stringent conditions for those wishing to become CPA’s. They demand either five years of undergraduate education or a Master’s degree in accounting. Others also check whether the applicant has work experience before allowing him or her to sit for the CPA exam. In contrast, students only need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field to take the CMA exam.

Students sit a CPA exam consisting of four parts. They could either take it in five or six days of the week for two months of each quarter. Passing the entire CPA exam requires one to pass each of the four parts. In the event of failing the exam, the taker must re-sit all the four sections, although not necessarily at the same time. If students pass in onepart, they must pass the other sections within 18 months.

Students who wish to sit for the CMA exam must first join IMA. Similar to the CPA exam; the CMA has four parts. The first three consist of multiple-choice questions and students have to sit for all the sections within 120 days. Takers have to answer essays in the last part, which takes place within a month.

#5: Master the computer

The accounting field has advanced to the point thatworkers who have only excellent typing and spreadsheet skills cannot cut it. Most of the accounting procedures have gone through significant automation, so it is vital for accountants to become familiar with the software in use.

The increased automation has however made basic accounting tasks such as bookkeeping redundant. If the trend continues, then entry-level accountants may find it increasingly difficult to secure jobs in the future. Advanced accounting remains the area that computing cannot replace entirely. Hence, skilled professionals continue to enjoy job security, as they are apt to have the capability of using the latest sophisticated software.