Accounting is one of the most important but misunderstood professions in today's job market. The stereotype of an accountant is a spectacled number-cruncher, hunched over a desk all day, obsessed with the smallest details. Most people would be surprised to see how multi-faceted this field is, and even more surprised that it isn’t all number-crunching. Courses at any good accounting school are part of a dynamic curriculum that meets the changing needs of businesses, governments, and individuals.
The basic purpose of accounting is to provide trusted, relevant information to management, investors, creditors, government, and sometimes the general public. This information is indispensible to running a business efficiently and honestly, and can be crucial to individuals with complex financial situations.
Management accountants participate in planning, analyzing, and steering the activities of the company for which they work. They interpret the financial information for company executives and shareholders. Along with strategic planning, management accountant responsibilities may include budgeting, performance evaluation, cost management, and asset management.
Public acountants perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting activities for external clients, which may include corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations, or individuals. These accountants may consult on everything from tax issues to compensation, health care benefits, and the design of accounting systems. Public accountants are often Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and are either self-employed or work for a public accounting firm.
Government accountants work in the public sector. They collect revenue and prepare statistics for government agencies. They may also audit private businesses or individuals whose activities are subject to government regulation.
Internal auditors verify that a firm's internal accounting controls and systems are working as they should. Internal auditors evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of a firm's financial and information systems, and ensure that they comply with company policies and relevant laws. They also check for mismanagement, waste, or fraud.
Accounting Degrees and Licenses
Most accountants need at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or business. A bachelor's degree is a required stepping stone to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Only CPAs are qualified to file a report for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and most public accountants are CPAs. Becoming a CPA involves taking a national exam and meeting state requirements.
Master's degrees in accounting or business administration are popular options for accounants looking to move forward in their careers, or to specialize in one area, such as in management accounting or taxation. Additional certifications or licensing are also helpful.
Those with associate degrees in accounting can obtain junior accounting positions and advance to accountant positions by demonstrating their accounting skills on the job.