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

Blowhorn with the word, "CPA"

We write a lot about CPA jobs, CPA salaries, CPA skills, CPA specializations and the CPA exam here, but just in time for the centennial of the Uniform CPA Examination and premier of its latest version on April 1, we've put together a roundup of all things certified public accountant for those of you interested in a range of topics related to CPA jobs.  

From startup ventures to nonprofits to multinational corporations, organizations depend on the skills of people who undergo strict licensing and educational requirements to earn their CPAs. As the business environment grows in complexity, so does the demand for these trusted advisers and their trusted credentials.

Today's CPAs make strategic business decisions and and have more career options than ever before.

In this post, we describe the steps to becoming a CPA, from taking the tests to choosing a specialty to moving into management, 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 CPA jobs, and as time goes on, we'll keep adding to it.  

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 is required, typically in accounting, finance or business. 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. Changes in the now-16-hour exam that launches in April 2017 will reflect a shift from memorization to an emphasis on critical thinking and analysis, in an effort to better reflect the demands faced by today’s new CPAs.

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.

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.

How to Become a CPA in 9 Months: Live Under a Rock Like I Did

Charlene Rhinehart shares her heartfelt and advice-filled story of how she used her grit and tenacity (and brains) to study for the CPA exam and pass the tests within nine months.

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 and Charlene.

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 3.7 percent in 2017. 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 2017 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.

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

Be sure to read: CPA Salaries Are Up: How to Get a Pay Raise in the Year Ahead, which tells CPAs just how to to ask for a raise. After all, public accountants well versed in tax and audit are especially in demand right now. For example, those with one to three years of experience in tax services can command a starting salary ranging from $57,250 to $90,000, depending on whether they are at small, midsize or large firms. That's an increase of 3.6 to 3.8 percent from 2016. Those with a similar amount of audit expertise can see a bump of up to 4.2 percent, with a starting salary range of $57,500 to $88,500, depending on company size.

 

Visit Our Salary Center

 

Job outlook for CPAs

There’s more good news with regard to CPA jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of accountants and auditors will grow 11 percent from 2014 to 2020. So far, a short supply of skilled talent has lowered unemployment rates for accounting and finance roles below the overall national rate of 4.7 percent, as of February.  

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.

As CPAs get experience under their belts — in public accounting, financial services and corporate accounting — many naturally want to take on more responsibilities and move up the career ladders. Find out more about those options by reading 8 Ways CPAs Can Make Their Way to Management Positions.

Of course, once you pass the CPA exam, you have to keep up your professional education. Check out the training options in CPE Requirements Offer Learning Opportunities for CPAs.

Wow. 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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Editor's note: This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated with more current information.