All You Need to Know About CPA Jobs — and Then Some

Blowhorn with the word, "CPA"

We write about CPA topics a lot on this blog, but this time we decided to put together a general roundup of all things certified public accountant. Here you will find information on CPA jobs, education, the CPA exam, CPA salary ranges and areas of specialization.

From startup ventures to nonprofits to multinational corporations, organizations depend on the skills of people in CPA jobs. As the business environment grows in complexity, so does the demand for these trusted advisers.

With their strict licensing and educational requirements, CPAs are key players in strategic business decisions, and they have more career options than ever before.

In this post, we describe the steps to becoming a CPA, all the way to choosing a specialty, with links to articles about the CPA that appear on this blog. Consider this your definitive guide to discover everything you need to know about the CPA — CPA jobs, CPA salary, CPA everything.  

Classroom of future CPAs

First steps to becoming a CPA

Most accountants earn a college degree, but for those who plan to pursue CPA jobs, at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business is required. But it doesn’t have to stop there. Many CPAs earn a master’s in business administration or pursue an accelerated five-year accounting program.

Every state is different, but most require 150 semester hours of instruction, which is 30 hours beyond a typical four-year bachelor’s degree. Some states also stipulate advanced coursework in subjects such as financial reporting, taxes, auditing and other non-accounting business areas. Regulations vary by state, so be sure to check the requirements for your jurisdiction.

Before you jump on the career path to CPA jobs, read these blog posts:

Private vs. Public: Choose Your Accounting Career Path

The demand is great for both types of accounting, with salaries on the rise. But as you’ll read in this post, there are differences, from the daily routine to job titles to salaries.

CPA or CMA? Which Finance Certifications Are Right for You?

It’s not a matter of which certification is better, but which one is better for you. Discover the differences in requirements, exams, perks and salaries in this side-by-side “CPA or CMA” summary.

3 E's to Excellence on the Career Path to CPA

Before you add those three letters to your name, learn about the three E’s that will guide you to a career as a CPA: Education, Exam, Experience.

Woman taking CPA exam

The rigors of the CPA exam

Aside from education, most states require CPA candidates to work for 1,800 hours under the supervision of a licensed CPA, which they can do before, during or after the exam process. CPA candidates also typically enroll in test preparation courses to get ready for the four parts of the Uniform CPA Examination: Audit and Attestation; Financial Accounting and Reporting; Regulation; and Business Environment and Concepts. A new version of the CPA exam will launch April 1, 2017.

The CPA exam is offered during the first two months of every quarter, over the course of several days. Candidates take the sections in any order they choose, but once they have passed one part, they must successfully complete the other three within 18 months.

The cost of the test plus application fees typically runs around $1,000 but varies from state to state.

Many state boards of accountancy require that CPAs maintain and improve their skills through continuing professional education (CPE) courses. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which develops and scores the CPA exam, requires an annual renewal fee and every-three-year recertification.

For details on the CPA exam, read these blog posts:

Don't Stress: Tips to Alleviate CPA Exam Anxiety  

Read this post to understand the CPA exam requirements and format, with tips for how to prepare for the big day and “think outside the library.”

Revised CPA Exam Expected to Reflect a New Era

As the CPA exam approaches its centennial year in 2017, it’s expected to undergo groundbreaking changes, all in the name of relevancy. This post is a Q&A with AICPA’s vice president of exams.

Need additional resources to prepare for the CPA exam? Explore Robert Half's continuing education resources, including test prep materials.

CPA working with calculator and pen

CPA jobs and specializations 

What do CPAs do? On the most basic level, they keep and inspect financial accounts for companies, governmental entities and clients. The CPA license isn’t required for corporate or private accountants, but it is for public accountants, who work for companies that provide accounting services to others.

The work of a public accountant covers a range positions, and many professionals choose specializations, such as these CPA jobs:

  • Financial analysis

The job of a financial analyst is to support business growth by analyzing financial data, preparing reports to illustrate technical information, interpreting data affecting investment programs and helping management make informed decisions.  

  • Internal auditing

Internal auditors evaluate and contribute to their company’s operations by examining risk management issues, financial data and operations, and control processes.   

  • Information technology auditing

Combining the IT and accounting disciplines, IT auditors examine the technological infrastructure of companies, testing systems to ensure security, accuracy and compliance with regulations.

  • Tax accounting

Duties of a tax accountant range from maintaining tax records and completing tax returns to guiding companies in tax strategies, compliance, and tax laws and regulations.

  • Managerial accounting

Accounting managers prepare budgets and financial documents, evaluate and refine accounting procedures, and consult with management teams to help them make good business decisions.

Real stories about the CPA

Want some real examples from real people about their CPA jobs and journeys? We have a few to share from our blog.

Belicia Cespedes Tells Her Story: How I Became the Youngest CPA at 17

Belicia writes about how she started high school at 10 and college at 13, and was rewarded with trips to the Cheesecake Factory every time she sat for a section of the CPA exam. She tells an inspiring story.

5 Ways to Fail at the CPA Exam (Like I Did)

Ethan, a senior associate in the audit and assurance department of a regional public accounting firm, offers his candid warning about how NOT to approach the CPA exam, the way he did. He’s inspiring, too, in a different sort of way from Belicia.

The Top 7 CPA Skills — and How to Get Them

A study asked 450 staff-level finance and accounting professionals what they would like to add to their compilation of CPA skills in the next year, and this post discusses their top seven responses.

Outstretched hands with dollar signs

CPA salary information  

Of course, we’d be leaving out a big part of the CPA jobs story if we didn’t tell you about salaries. Salaries are on the increase for accounting and finance professionals, with base salaries anticipated to rise 4.7 percent in 2016. Not only is the CPA an in-demand credential, but those who have it can expect to increase their starting salaries by 5 to 15 percent, according to Robert Half's Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.

Use the Salary Calculator for information by city and find salary data for more than 400 positions.


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Job outlook for CPAs

There’s more good news with regard to CPA jobs. The BLS projects that employment of accountants and auditors will grow about 11 percent from 2014 to 2020. So far, a tight labor market in 2016 has lowered unemployment rates for accounting and finance roles below the overall national rate of 5.0 percent.  

As a result, CPA hiring has taken on a greater sense of urgency, with public accounting firms recruiting at all levels. Much of the activity is focused on adding professionals in audit and tax roles, but firms are also looking for expertise in risk, compliance, and mergers and acquisitions.

Becoming a licensed CPA is an important milestone, opening a world of career possibilities. Enjoy the journey!


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Don't stop reading! Here are more articles about accounting certifications and training for today’s jobs:

Congratulations, Accounting Graduate! Now Get Certified

Recent graduates are needed in the talent pipeline, but for most of the hot positions, your career path will require certification. Here are four credentials that can demonstrate your professional commitment and expertise while enhancing your income and future career.

Get Certified: Take Your Accounting Career to the Next Level

What certifications can make you a more attractive candidate and bring you a higher salary? Find out how the right credentials, including the CPA, can boost you to the most highly sought accounting jobs.

Want More Bang for Your Buck? 5 Finance Certifications to Consider

The CPA has long been one of the most desirable certifications to employers in finance and accounting, but it’s not the only one. Consider two other classic credentials and some specialty ones.

Don't miss these two articles from two other Robert Half blogs, Robert Half Management Resources and Accountemps:

What Does a CPA Do After Tax Season? Plenty  

A CPA’s job doesn’t end after April 15, of course. Companies have audits, strategic financial planning, bookkeeping and many other tasks for them to deal with throughout the year.

CPA Job Satisfaction: It’s Not Just About Money

A Robert Half report shows five factors beyond salary that play a big role in CPAs’ job satisfaction, including a supportive manager, friendly coworkers, flexible hours, attractive benefits and challenging assignments.

If you've made it this far, don't stop learning about the latest in accounting and finance careers! 


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