You've earned your accounting degree, and now you're ready to take the next step toward becoming an accountant. While your career path may seem straightforward, you'll need to consider several things before landing an entry-level accounting job.
Here's the good news: According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the future is bright for your field. The BLS estimates that between 2016 and 2026, the accounting field will experience 10 percent growth, faster than the average for all occupations. Despite projected growth, however, it's still a competitive field. Ask yourself these four questions to help you narrow down your interests, understand accountant job qualifications and make a solid plan for how to become an accountant:
1. What kind of accountant do you want to be?
You can choose to be a public accountant, or you can go a step further and become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant.) An accountant can perform limited accounting tasks, such as preparing financial statements, but only a CPA has the authority to review financial statements or conduct audits.
But how to become a CPA is up to you. You might choose to begin working toward your CPA right away or pursue an entry-level accounting job for a while before starting the process. Becoming a CPA requires time and money, but many companies prefer to hire CPAs because they are more versatile and well-trained. And, of course, CPAs have greater salary potential.
2. Which area of accounting most interests you?
The two main areas of accounting are public accounting and corporate or business accounting, although you may choose to work in a government or nonprofit role as well. You might have already narrowed down your area of focus during your college years, but if you haven't already considered government or nonprofit, now is the time.
You can also choose from several types of accounting jobs, including:
- Internal auditing
- Managerial accounting
- Forensic accounting
- Tax accounting
If you're just graduating from college and searching for an entry-level accounting position, you may want to keep your job search as general as possible unless you have an internship or previous work experience, both of which will make you a more competitive candidate.
3. What level of education or certification do you need?
While entry-level accounting jobs may not require any additional certification or education beyond your bachelor's degree, you may find that additional coursework or certifications could make you a more valuable candidate. Depending on your career goals, you may even consider pursuing your master's degree. Of course, you don't need to take these steps right after graduation. Sometimes working in the field for a year or two can help you clarify your goals for the future.
Many accounting graduates go on to pursue their CPA certification. As a CPA, you'll be able to perform a full range of accounting functions, including audits, financial statement reviews and representing clients before the IRS.
To become a CPA, you must meet a rigorous set of requirements. You will need to take — and pass — all four sections of the CPA exam as well as an additional ethics exam. After that, you will need to fulfill a minimum number of hours working under the supervision of a licensed CPA. The work requirement can take anywhere from six months to two years, depending on which state you live in.
4. A little experience goes a long way
An Accountemps survey of more than 1,100 CFOs at major companies across the United States reported that prior work experience while in college was the factor they valued most in prospective candidates. More than 60 percent indicated that it was "very important."
If you are lucky enough to have gained internship experience in the financial field, then you can consider yourself a highly competitive candidate. However, any work experience at all could be enough to help you stand out from other entry-level accounting candidates. Be sure to highlight any prior work experience, even if it doesn't seem relevant to the jobs you're applying for. You can also note unpaid positions, such as leadership roles in student organizations or the semester you served as a TA for your accounting professor.
If you feel like you've been applying but just aren't getting any traction, you might want to consider finding a part-time retail or service-related job. You'll show prospective employers that you're dependable and employable.
Putting it all together
With your research and preparation complete, you're ready to begin applying for entry-level accounting jobs. Now is the time to tailor your resume and cover letter to let employers that you're a valuable candidate who knows what they want and is ready to contribute to an organization and learn on the job. Once you are invited for an interview, expect to face questions about the kind of accounting you're interested in, as well as your short- and long-term career goals.
Make sure your resume and cover letter stand out in a competitive candidate pool by taking advantage of LiveCareer's easy-to-use Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder. You can also choose to work directly from LiveCareer's Accountant Resume Example and Accountant Cover Letter Examples.