How to Become an Accountant: A 6-Step Plan

By Robert Half April 29, 2019 at 3:00pm

Are you exploring a career transition and have a head for numbers? Or are you a student considering the accounting degree track? You might even be an accounts payable clerk looking to move up the corporate ladder. Though you may not yet know exactly how to become an accountant, breaking into the field is a very achievable goal.

Talented accountants are in high demand and can command lucrative salaries, according to the Robert Half Accounting & Finance Salary Guide. However, it’s important to understand that embarking on this career path takes significant time, experience and planning. If you’re wondering how to become an accountant, the following six steps can help you chart your course.

1. Identify your goals

There’s a multitude of doors to choose from when planning your accounting career. For example, you might want to work as a public accountant with your own practice, a staff accountant at a law firm or an internal auditor at a nonprofit organization. When weighing these options, take the time to think about your interests and passions, as well as your short- and long-term goals.

Use our Salary Guide to research the many different accounting jobs available and get an idea of which area you’d like to specialize in. Discuss your plans with a college career counselor, trusted colleagues or experienced financial professionals who can help point you in the right direction.

2. Earn a degree

Many employers seek candidates with an undergraduate degree in accounting or a related field. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and are looking to change careers, think about pursuing a post-graduate option such as a master’s degree in accounting or business administration.

Do note that if your career path leads you to the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) recommends pursuing graduate-level courses to obtain the 150 semester hours required to sit for the exam.

3. Choose between public and private accounting

Determining whether to work in the public or private sector is a fork in the career path of every aspiring accountant. If you’re interested in providing financial services to clients from an array of industries, the public route could be for you. On the other hand, those who want to work in the accounting department of a company that focuses on a single field may find more satisfaction down the corporate corridor.

Your talents are likely to be in high demand regardless of the direction you take. Likewise, both fields are well compensated, though public accountant salaries tend to be slightly higher. Visit our Salary Center to learn more about the going rates for specific roles in your region.

4. Develop skills and experience

Employers seek accounting professionals who are adaptable, collaborative and committed to continuous education. They’re also drawn to outstanding communicators with leadership qualities, so set yourself up for success by polishing all of these soft skills.

Accountants with technological savvy are also highly sought. Stand out from the pack by having strong knowledge of artificial intelligence, process automation, cloud-based systems, ERPs, and (of course) Excel and QuickBooks.

While it can be difficult to gain experience before landing your first entry-level accounting job, it’s not impossible. Students and recent graduates should reach out to professors and guidance counselors about internships. If you’re already in the workforce, ask your employer about opportunities for cross-training or job shadowing.

5. Get certified

Earning accounting certifications takes significant time and effort, which shows employers you’re determined and committed to your job. These designations can set you apart from the competition and help you fetch a higher salary.

Public accountants should look at becoming a CPA, which has long been seen as the gold standard.

Those working in the private sector can gain an edge in the job market with qualifications focused on their specialties. Here are several of the most desirable certifications:

  • Chartered financial analyst (CFA)
  • Certified financial planner (CFP)
  • Chartered global management accountant (CGMA)
  • Certified internal auditor (CIA)
  • Certified information systems auditor (CISA)
  • Certified management accountant (CMA)

6. Find your first job

Your initial accounting position can set the tone for the rest of your professional life. Before applying, review and update your goals, interests and the area in which you’d like to specialize to ensure your energies are targeted toward what will bring you the most career satisfaction — and success.

How to become an accountant?

As you can see, there’s more to becoming an accountant than there may be for other jobs. You need to choose your career path, become educated and certified, develop skills, gain experience and get hired. But the rewards will make it all worthwhile.

When it’s time to look for a job, work with an experienced staffing agent who can help you identify quality opportunities. Specialized recruiters can assist in locating roles that dovetail with your resume, and your aspirations and personality, too.

Think accounting is the field for you? Explore job openings in your city.

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