How to Succeed as an Entry-Level Accountant

By Robert Half November 17, 2015 at 1:00pm

If you’re about to finish your accounting studies or just launching your career as an accountant, you know that it’s a great time to be starting out in the profession. The job market for people with your skills is strong, and there are many opportunities for even an entry-level accountant.

But it’s one thing to land that first accounting job. It’s another to really put yourself on a path to success. For some words of wisdom along those lines, we interviewed the four accounting students who won $10,000 AICPA/Accountemps scholarships this year – Stacy Bonds, Nicole Exnicios, Justin Korth and Laura Rudolph – and came up with these four tips every entry-level accountant should follow:

Tap into your passion

When asked why they chose to study accounting, all of the scholarship winners cited a love for the methodology and practice of the profession. But they had other reasons, as well. Tulane University student Exnicios, for example, wanted to follow the example set by members of her family who are CPAs. “I was inspired by their career success and ability to use their technical skills to serve the community,” she says.

To thrive as an entry-level accountant, remember the things that motivated you to enter the profession in the first place – especially during the hard times, like the long hours of tax season, or when you’re studying for the CPA exam.

Consider graduate school – and seek out scholarships

Studying for a master’s degree can help you as you start your accounting career. For instance, if you plan to get your CPA license, many states require 150 hours of education, so it only makes sense to head to a graduate program after you get your B.A. For many people, however, it’s simply too expensive. But consider this: Three of the scholarship recipients are using the award to pay tuition for graduate programs.

If you want to extend your education beyond a bachelor’s degree but feel like you can’t afford it, look for awards organizations and businesses give out to accounting students. Chances are, there are more available than you realize.

If you win one, it will not only fund your schooling. It will also allow you to focus on studying, rather than worrying about tuition. As Rudolph, currently studying at the University of Wisconsin, says, “This scholarship means a lot to me and will help lower my stress during this important academic year.”

Think beyond the Big 4

Three of the scholarship recipients plan to work for Big 4 accounting firms after graduation. But they all have career plans that go beyond that. North Carolina State student Bonds, for example, will start her first accounting job at PricewaterhouseCoopers. But, eventually, she’d like to become the chief financial officer of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. “I want to become the CFO so that I can assist my church in developing a revenue-generating system that will relieve the assessments that local churches have to pay, thus promoting more financial and economic growth in the local areas,” she says.

In other words, keep in mind that there are many career paths for accountants. Every industry and type of business needs an accountant – even sports teams, governmental agencies and law enforcement.

Shoot for the stars

It feels great to land your dream entry-level accountant job. But you can’t just rest on your laurels if you want to have a successful career in the long run – you also have to set career goals.

Korth, who is a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and will take his first accounting job in a CPA firm, has always wanted to “be a business adviser to clients and help them achieve their goals.” But that’s just the beginning, he says: “My ultimate career goal is to run for public office and use my accounting/business skills to affect monetary policy.”

If you know where you want to end up, you’ll be better able to develop the skills and experience you need to get there – and you’ll likely be more driven and focused, as well.

Looking for more advice on succeeding as an entry-level accountant? Check out our online career center.

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