If you're pondering an accounting career, look no further. Whatever path you're interested in — such as freelancing as a bookkeeper or working for an accounting firm — we'll help you explore your options. From cash flow and job satisfaction to what it means to be a finance manager, financial analyst, or fraud examiner, we've compiled the knowledge, skills, and certifications you'll need to become an accounting professional.
Accounting and finance careers can set you up for a lucrative future. But whether you're interested in becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), an auditor, or a budget analyst, there are pros and cons for prospective accounting professionals to consider — including average salary, job satisfaction, and room for growth.
When choosing a career in any field, it helps to consider the type of work you'll enjoy doing balanced with how high a salary you want to earn. Some accounting jobs will earn you more than others, but they may also have their downsides.
Accounting and finance professionals don't just work with large numbers; they often earn them, too. Like most career paths, an entry-level finance job will pay less than a seasoned finance manager position. But overall, accountants make a median annual salary of around $77,000, with the highest-paid earning almost $100,000 per year.
However, the high pay can come with high stress. Based on their work environment and job complexity, accountants have generally reported an above-average stress level in their careers. Still, you can find fulfillment in an accounting career as accountants have also reported above-average upward mobility. And luckily, tools such as Skynova's templates can help with a variety of tasks, freeing up time and lowering stress.
Upward mobility (improving your economic standing through your career) can vary by job and workplace. But fortunately for those in the finance industry, accounting jobs are expected to increase by an average of 6% between 2021 and 2031. That's one percentage point higher than the national average (5%), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Each accountant, auditor, and examiner job title has different qualifications and accounting skill requirements. For example, to be certified in most of these roles, you'll need to pass an exam to prove your skills.
To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), you're required to pass the CPA exam. You'll need to score at least a 75 on a scoring scale of 0-99 on each of its four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environments and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).
Other qualifications vary by state, so check the local requirements to determine what you'll need to do to become a CPA based on your location.
You'll set yourself up to accept a broad range of potential job offers if you pursue a career as a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This title denotes an accounting professional who assesses the costs and benefits of common financial decisions that a business may have, such as budgeting and forecasting for certain projects. You'll need to complete a two-part CMA exam to become a CMA.
For an accounting career involving information systems, you might consider becoming a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). For this designation, you must have at least five years of industry experience, stay up-to-date with the latest technology and standards by undergoing 20 hours of training each year, and pass the CISA exam. To pass this four-hour exam and get certified, you must score at least 450.
If you want to be an accountant but not necessarily a CPA, an Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) certification can be a great option to pursue. To obtain this, you must complete The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation. However, it may not earn you official recognition as a public accountant. Depending on the state you live in, you may need to carefully designate yourself as an Accredited Business Advisor instead of Accountant. Before obtaining an ABA title, make sure you'll be allowed to practice the profession you're interested in based on your local laws.
Interested in investigating fraud? You may find fulfilling work as a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). This title is awarded by the most well-known and widely respected anti-fraud organization in the world: the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). As such, it requires that you have a minimum of two years experience in the industry, a passing score of 75% or higher on the CFE certification exam, and continue your education throughout your career by obtaining at least 20 CPE credits each year.
While requirements for the various professional accounting titles differ from state to state, so does their pay. Next, we'll see where accountants stand to earn the most (and the least) by state and where the most accounting jobs are nationwide.
Based on the average salaries in each U.S. state, these are the top five places where the highest-earning accountants do business:
The Northeast has been a lucrative place of business for accountants lately. All top five states where they've had the highest average salaries are in this region.
Likewise, we've compiled the bottom five states where accountants earn the lowest annual average salaries:
Hawaii's high cost of living combined with its low average income among accountants may have prospective accounting professionals looking to relocate, choose a different profession, or take on additional work.
A high annual salary doesn't mean much if you can't find a job in the industry. That's why we've determined the top 10 states projected to have the most accounting jobs by 2028 per capita.
Although they might make less income than they would in New York or New Jersey, recent graduates may have an easier time finding work in states that employ the most accountants. The states with the highest projected employment levels in accounting and auditing per capita include the following:
These are some of the best careers to consider if you have a broader interest in finance without a particular accounting focus. They typically require at least a bachelor's degree, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects most of these jobs to grow beyond the national average (5%). Here are the top five finance career options based on salary and projected job growth:
If financial planning is your forte and you have at least five years of work experience in accounting or finance, you might do well as a financial manager. In this role, you could work in banking, insurance, an investment firm, or other financial institution. If you're ready to work long weeks (sometimes more than 40 hours), you could earn a hefty overtime paycheck from time to time — especially since the median annual income is over $130,000. You'd likely have access to plenty of job opportunities within the next 10 years, with job growth projected to increase by 17% during that time.
Enjoy working with and helping people? As a financial advisor, you can assist individuals in managing their assets and financial documents so they can plan for a healthy financial future. The BLS also expects this career to grow 15% between 2021 and 2031 — 10 percentage points above the national average — making financial advising a stable job to aspire to. It also boasts fairly high wages with an annual median of over $94,000 and requires no prior experience beyond a bachelor's degree.
If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the stock market, a job as a securities, commodities, and financial services sales agent might be the one for you. Just know that it can be stressful and less lucrative than the others on this list; the median pay is less than $63,000 annually.
Your days would most likely be spent facilitating the buying and selling of stocks in the financial market, which can be hectic considering the constant ups and downs of the stock market. However, this career requires only a bachelor's degree and no industry experience, and it's likely to see 10% job growth by 2031.
As a financial analyst, you'll provide investment guidance to people and businesses looking to use their money to turn a profit. It's a relatively high-paying role with a median salary of more than $95,000 per year, and an entry-level position requires only a bachelor's degree. This job is also expected to grow by 9% by 2031.
A loan officer is another role that's well-suited to prospective finance professionals who enjoy working with others on a daily basis. This career path entails evaluating loan applicants' eligibility to borrow funds from a financial institution. This job landed last among the other top five in this list because it doesn't tend to bring in as much income (just over $63,000 per year), and job growth is expected to be the lowest (4% by 2031). On top of that, it may require some industry experience to obtain an entry-level position.
Certain skills can't be learned in school. That's why, beyond a bachelor's degree, it helps to have some industry experience in order to climb the ranks and command the highest income as a finance or accounting professional. Now that we've reviewed some of the education and certification requirements for the most common and lucrative positions in the industry, we'll explain the skills needed to excel in these fields.
If this sounds like a very basic requirement for a job in accounting, that's because it is! For accounting managers to do their job ethically and correctly, they need accounting skills. In addition to the accounting principles and skills learned in school, such as math and acceptable accounting practices, these include attention to detail, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
Education can create a foundation for these skills, but industry experience will hone them and prepare you for a high-level job. That's why some roles, such as chief financial officer (CFO), require some years of lower-level work experience (like a tax accountant, who handles people's tax returns) in order to get a foot in the door.
Easily confused with critical thinking, analytical thinking is more like problem-solving. Rather than simply analyzing and evaluating information (critical thinking), analytical thinking requires the additional step of creating a solution. It's a central part of what most accountants and financial professionals are hired to do: Crunch the numbers of a client's or employer's financial information to create solutions for them.
As a finance professional, many people will turn to you for financial strategy and advice. You'll be helping them make important decisions regarding their finances. So, to garner trust and recommendations, you'll need to have solid decision-making skills.
Making decisions is one thing; enacting them is another. Some of the financial decisions you bring to your clients and employers will be up to them to act on, but other times, you may be entrusted with their finances on their behalf. That's why it's important to sharpen your management skills throughout your financial career — especially if you'd like to obtain a managerial accounting role.
Reporting skills aren't just for journalists. As a finance professional, you'll need to know how to report on financial statements. This is particularly important if you plan to work for an accounting firm or handle business operations for a client or employer. Using a tool like Skynova can save accounting and financial professionals time, helping them record and analyze financial information and communicate takeaways effectively to their clients or employers.
Every job requires communication skills on some level. But when you're relied upon for make-or-break financial advice, it's even more critical to your professional success. For example, if you're working with investments, you may need to explain risk management to a client. If you can do so concisely and confidently, you'll easily earn their trust. But, of course, it also helps if your investing advice ends up turning them a profit.
When it comes to the stock market, change is the only constant. You can't predict whether stock prices will rise or fall, but the more experience you have with investing, the more likely you are to be able to give sound advice on the subject. Likewise, that advice is more likely to result in financial gains.
After assessing the top job roles in the finance and accounting industry, you may wonder which path is right for you. Based on data collected from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), here's what it might look like for you.
As we've discussed, passing the CPA certification exam is where you'll typically start when pursuing a career in accounting. In most states, you'll need an accounting degree in order to take the test. Once you've successfully passed, your next step will be to find a job! You could find an entry-level position at an accounting firm while you decide whether to further your education with a master's degree (such as a Master of Accountancy) or pursue a specialty.
One way to take your accounting career a step further is to specialize in a finance-related niche. For example, if you're interested in criminal investigation, you might look into financial forensics — a field that focuses on criminal activities like money laundering and financial fraud. Similarly, forensic accounting typically involves investigations into the finances of people and businesses to detect or organize legal evidence of crimes.
No matter where your accounting career search takes you, Skynova has the business templates and software to help you. Whether you're invoicing a client, sending them a quote for your services, or creating a proposal, we've put the resources you need right at your fingertips so you can focus on the details that matter.
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