Are you looking for a nontraditional accounting career path outside of a CPA firm or the corporate accounting world? A degree in accounting or finance opens the door to a more diverse range of job opportunities than most people might realize.
From information technology to fraud investigation, every accounting career path — and the added education or experience required — is worth exploring. Here are eight paths to consider:
1. Environmental accounting
Can numbers save the planet? Maybe not, but a nontraditional accounting career exists in green initiatives, as organizations in both public and private sectors are looking for environmental accountants, auditors or consultants. A degree in accounting combined with knowledge of environmental law will put you in high demand, allowing you to work with businesses that need to comply with environmental regulations. Auditors and consultants help companies save money and “do good” by investing in green processes, products and services.
2. International accounting
If you’re bilingual and willing to travel or relocate, this accounting career path may have a touch of international flavor. In our global economy, international accounting managers and international tax accountants are in demand to work with overseas contractors, coordinate audits and prepare tax returns. In addition to having a thorough knowledge of International Financial Reporting Standards, specializing in tax laws and practices of a specific region may give you an advantage in this field.
3. Entertainment accounting
Expertise in copyright law and royalties, combined with a background in accounting, may help you land a job with production companies, film studios, radio stations, television networks and other organizations in the entertainment industry. Another option is taking the self-employment route: offering your services to musicians, writers, actors and other entertainers whose careers often require special assistance with tax preparation, bookkeeping and investment.
Interested in one of these alternate career paths in accounting? See if there's a temporary job that strikes your fancy.
4. Accounting education and research
For an experienced CPA looking to return to academia, an adjunct faculty position at a university or college is a way to get a taste for a career as an accounting professor, as well as set you on the path to obtaining your Ph.D. in Business Administration. More education is also an ideal choice for accountants interested in pursuing independent or group research projects, as university funding may be available. Definitely a career worth exploring.
5. Internal auditing
A bachelor’s and/or master’s degree and one to two years of auditing experience qualifies you to apply for several types of certification from The Institute of Internal Auditors, including certificates in control self-assessment and risk management assurance. A career move to internal auditing can lead you to work at private and public companies, both large and small, that need advice on improving methods, forecasting growth and evaluating performances.
6. Forensic auditing
Some businesses don’t take the above precautions, which is why forensic accountants will always be in demand for those taking the nontraditional accounting career path. According to global business consulting and internal audit firm Protiviti, white-collar crime and financial disputes escalate during uncertain economic times. If you have strong analytical skills or experience in criminal justice or law enforcement, you can work for both private and public organizations. Examples include investigating insurance claims, embezzlement, money laundering and other types of fraud.
7. Healthcare finance
Given the increase in compliance mandates, regulatory and compliance expertise is in demand, particularly in specialized areas such as healthcare. Healthcare offers a dynamic career ladder for people to climb, according to Kevin Erickson, executive director of the Robert Half Healthcare Practice. In an interview, he said, "Within the revenue cycle, you might come in as a medical billing professional, work your way up to be a supervisor and then become a manager, director, even vice president of revenue cycle."
8. Technology, data and analytics
According to a Robert Half survey, finance leaders face significant shortages of accounting and finance professionals who possess the technical and nontechnical skills required for data analytics initiatives. You could take a job that focuses on IT, like information systems, technology auditing and software revenue management.
As a financial analyst, you can find a full-time job or offer independent consulting services to companies, guiding them in making investments, assessing stock performance, and studying and evaluating economic trends. Financial analyst jobs are available for those with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, though some employers require a master's degree in business administration or finance.
Accounting and finance professional can continuously increase their job skills with professional development. Consider asking if there are any management training opportunities available at your company, joining professional associations, attending conferences, networking and finding a mentor.
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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2013 and was updated recently to reflect current information.