Most jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting
or a related field.
Overall job opportunities should be favorable; jobseekers
who obtain professional recognition through certification or
licensure, a master’s degree, proficiency in accounting and
auditing computer software, or specialized expertise will have
the best opportunities.
An increase in the number of businesses, changing financial
laws and regulations, and greater scrutiny of company finances
will drive faster-than-average growth of accountants and auditors.
Nature of the Work
Accountants and auditors help to ensure that the Nation’s firms
are run efficiently, its public records kept accurately, and its
taxes paid properly and on time. They perform these vital functions
by offering an increasingly wide array of business and accounting
services, including public, management, and government accounting,
as well as internal auditing, to their clients. Beyond carrying
out the fundamental tasks of the occupation—preparing, analyzing,
and verifying financial documents in order to provide information
to clients—many accountants now are required to possess a wide
range of knowledge and skills. Accountants and auditors are broadening
the services they offer to include budget analysis, financial
and investment planning, information technology consulting, and
limited legal services.
Specific job duties vary widely among the four major fields of
accounting: public, management, and government
accounting and internal auditing.
Public accountants perform a broad range of accounting,
auditing, tax, and consulting activities for their clients, which
may be corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations, or
individuals. For example, some public accountants concentrate
on tax matters, such as advising companies about the tax advantages
and disadvantages of certain business decisions and preparing
individual income tax returns. Others offer advice in areas such
as compensation or employee health care benefits, the design of
accounting and data-processing systems, and the selection of controls
to safeguard assets. Still others audit clients’ financial statements
and inform investors and authorities that the statements have
been correctly prepared and reported. Public accountants, many
of whom are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), generally have
their own businesses or work for public accounting firms.
Some public accountants specialize in forensic accounting—investigating
and interpreting white-collar crimes such as securities fraud
and embezzlement, bankruptcies and contract disputes, and other
complex and possibly criminal financial transactions, including
money laundering by organized criminals. Forensic accountants
combine their knowledge of accounting and finance with law and
investigative techniques in order to determine whether an activity
is illegal. Many forensic accountants work closely with law enforcement
personnel and lawyers during investigations and often appear as
expert witnesses during trials.
In response to recent accounting scandals, new Federal legislation
restricts the nonauditing services that public accountants can
provide to clients. If an accounting firm audits a client’s financial
statements, that same firm cannot provide advice on human resources,
technology, investment banking, or legal matters, although accountants
may still advise on tax issues, such as establishing a tax shelter.
Accountants may still advise other clients in these areas or may
provide advice within their own firm.
Management accountants—also called cost, managerial, industrial,
corporate, or private accountants—record and analyze the financial
information of the companies for which they work. Among their
other responsibilities are budgeting, performance evaluation,
cost management, and asset management. Usually, management accountants
are part of executive teams involved in strategic planning or
the development of new products. They analyze and interpret the
financial information that corporate executives need in order
to make sound business decisions. They also prepare financial
reports for other groups, including stockholders, creditors, regulatory
agencies, and tax authorities. Within accounting departments,
management accountants may work in various areas, including financial
analysis, planning and budgeting, and cost accounting.
Government accountants and auditors work in the public
sector, maintaining and examining the records of government agencies
and auditing private businesses and individuals whose activities
are subject to government regulations or taxation. Accountants
employed by Federal, State, and local governments guarantee that
revenues are received and expenditures are made in accordance
with laws and regulations. Those employed by the Federal Government
may work as Internal Revenue Service agents or in financial management,
financial institution examination, or budget analysis and administration.
Internal auditors verify the accuracy of their organization’s
internal records and check for mismanagement, waste, or fraud.
Internal auditing is an increasingly important area of accounting
and auditing. Internal auditors examine and evaluate their firms’
financial and information systems, management procedures, and
internal controls to ensure that records are accurate and controls
are adequate to protect against fraud and waste. They also review
company operations, evaluating their efficiency, effectiveness,
and compliance with corporate policies and procedures, laws, and
government regulations. There are many types of highly specialized
auditors, such as electronic data-processing, environmental, engineering,
legal, insurance premium, bank, and health care auditors. As computer
systems make information timelier, internal auditors help managers
to base their decisions on actual data, rather than personal observation.
Internal auditors also may recommend controls for their organization’s
computer system, to ensure the reliability of the system and the
integrity of the data.
Computers are rapidly changing the nature of the work of most
accountants and auditors. With the aid of special software packages,
accountants summarize transactions in standard formats used by
financial records and organize data in special formats employed
in financial analysis. These accounting packages greatly reduce
the amount of tedious manual work associated with data management
and recordkeeping. Computers enable accountants and auditors to
be more mobile and to use their clients’ computer systems to extract
information from databases and the Internet. As a result, a growing
number of accountants and auditors with extensive computer skills
are specializing in correcting problems with software or in developing
software to meet unique data management and analytical needs.
Accountants also are beginning to perform more technical duties,
such as implementing, controlling, and auditing systems and networks,
developing technology plans, and analyzing and devising budgets.
Increasingly, accountants also are assuming the role of a personal
financial advisor. They not only provide clients with accounting
and tax help, but also help them develop personal budgets, manage
assets and investments, plan for retirement, and recognize and
reduce their exposure to risks. This role is a response to clients’
demands for a single trustworthy individual or firm to meet all
of their financial needs. However, accountants are restricted
from providing these services to clients whose financial statements
they also prepare.
Most accountants and auditors work in a typical office setting.
Self-employed accountants may be able to do part of their work
at home. Accountants and auditors employed by public accounting
firms and government agencies may travel frequently to perform
audits at branches of their firm, clients’ places of business,
or government facilities.
Most accountants and auditors generally work a standard 40-hour
week, but many work longer hours, particularly if they are self-employed
and have numerous clients. Tax specialists often work long hours
during the tax season.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor’s
degree in accounting or a related field. Beginning accounting
and auditing positions in the Federal Government, for example,
usually require 4 years of college (including 24 semester hours
in accounting or auditing) or an equivalent combination of education
and experience. Some employers prefer applicants with a master’s
degree in accounting, or with a master’s degree in business administration
with a concentration in accounting.
Previous experience in accounting or auditing can help an applicant
get a job. Many colleges offer students an opportunity to gain
experience through summer or part-time internship programs conducted
by public accounting or business firms. In addition, practical
knowledge of computers and their applications in accounting and
internal auditing is a great asset for jobseekers in the accounting
Professional recognition through certification or licensure provides
a distinct advantage in the job market. CPAs are licensed by a
State Board of Accountancy. The vast majority of States require
CPA candidates to be college graduates, but a few States substitute
a number of years of public accounting experience for a college
As of early 2005, on the basis of recommendations made by the
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), 42
States and the District of Columbia required CPA candidates to
complete 150 semester hours of college coursework—an additional
30 hours beyond the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree. Another five
States have adopted similar legislation that will become effective
between 2006 and 2009. Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, and
Vermont are the only States that do not require 150 semester hours.
In response to this trend, many schools have altered their curricula
accordingly, with most programs offering master’s degrees as part
of the 150 hours, so prospective accounting majors should carefully
research accounting curricula and the requirements of any States
in which they hope to become licensed.
All States use the four-part Uniform CPA Examination prepared
by the AICPA. The 2-day CPA examination is rigorous, and only
about one-quarter of those who take it each year pass every part
they attempt. Candidates are not required to pass all four parts
at once, but most States require candidates to pass at least two
parts for partial credit and to complete all four sections within
a certain period. The CPA exam is now computerized and is offered
quarterly at various testing centers throughout the United States.
Most States also require applicants for a CPA certificate to have
some accounting experience.
The AICPA also offers members with valid CPA certificates the
option to receive any or all of the Accredited in Business Valuation
(ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), or
Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designations. CPA’s with these
designations may claim a certain level of expertise in the nontraditional
areas in which accountants are practicing ever more frequently.
The ABV designation requires a written exam, as well as the completion
of a minimum of 10 business valuation projects that demonstrate
a candidate’s experience and competence. The CITP requires payment
of a fee, a written statement of intent, and the achievement of
a set number of points awarded for business experience and education.
Those who do not meet the required number of points may substitute
a written exam. Candidates for the PFS designation also must achieve
a certain level of points, based on experience and education,
and must pass a written exam and submit references.
Nearly all States require CPAs and other public accountants to
complete a certain number of hours of continuing professional
education before their licenses can be renewed. The professional
associations representing accountants sponsor numerous courses,
seminars, group study programs, and other forms of continuing
Accountants and auditors also can seek to obtain other forms
of credentials from professional societies on a voluntary basis.
Voluntary certification can attest to professional competence
in a specialized field of accounting and auditing. It also can
certify that a recognized level of professional competence has
been achieved by accountants and auditors who have acquired some
skills on the job, without the formal education or public accounting
work experience needed to meet the rigorous standards required
to take the CPA examination.
The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) confers the Certified
Management Accountant (CMA) designation upon applicants who complete
a bachelor’s degree or who attain a minimum score or higher on
specified graduate school entrance exams. Applicants, who must
have worked at least 2 years in management accounting, also must
pass a four-part examination, agree to meet continuing education
requirements, and comply with standards of professional conduct.
The CMA exam provides an in-depth measure of competence in areas
such as financial statement analysis, working-capital policy,
capital structure, valuation issues, and risk management. The
CMA program is administered by the Institute of Certified Management
Accountants, an affiliate of the IMA.
Graduates from accredited colleges and universities who have
worked for 2 years as internal auditors and have passed a four-part
examination may earn the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation
from the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). The IIA recently
implemented three new specialty designations: Certification in
Control Self-Assessment (CCSA), Certified Government Auditing
Professional (CGAP), and Certified Financial Services Auditor
(CFSA). Requirements are similar to those of the CIA. The Information
Systems Audit and Control Association confers the Certified Information
Systems Auditor (CISA) designation upon candidates who pass an
examination and have 5 years of experience auditing information
systems. Auditing or data-processing experience and a college
education may be substituted for up to 2 years of work experience
in this program. Accountants and auditors may hold multiple designations.
For instance, an internal auditor might be a CPA, CIA, and CISA.
The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation, a satellite
organization of the National Society of Public Accountants, confers
four designations—Accredited Business Accountant (ABA), Accredited
Tax Advisor (ATA), Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP) and Elder Care
Specialist (ECS)—on accountants specializing in tax preparation
for small and medium-sized businesses. Candidates for the ABA
must pass an exam; candidates for the ATA, ATP, and ECS must complete
the required coursework and pass an exam. Often, a practitioner
will hold multiple licenses and designations.
The Association of Government Accountants grants the Certified
Government Financial Manager (CGFM) designation for accountants,
auditors, and other government financial personnel at the Federal,
State, and local levels. Candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor’s
degree, 24 hours of study in financial management, and 2 years’
experience in government and must pass a series of three exams.
The exams cover topics in governmental environment; governmental
accounting, financial reporting, and budgeting; and financial
management and control.
Persons planning a career in accounting should have an aptitude
for mathematics and be able to analyze, compare, and interpret
facts and figures quickly. They must be able to clearly communicate
the results of their work to clients and managers both verbally
and in writing. Accountants and auditors must be good at working
with people, as well as with business systems and computers. At
a minimum, accountants should be familiar with basic accounting
software packages. Because financial decisions are made on the
basis of their statements and services, accountants and auditors
should have high standards of integrity.
Capable accountants and auditors may advance rapidly; those having
inadequate academic preparation may be assigned routine jobs and
find promotion difficult. Many graduates of junior colleges or
business or correspondence schools, as well as bookkeepers and
accounting clerks who meet the education and experience requirements
set by their employers, can obtain junior accounting positions
and advance to positions with more responsibilities by demonstrating
their accounting skills on the job.
Beginning public accountants usually start by assisting with
work for several clients. They may advance to positions with more
responsibility in 1 or 2 years and to senior positions within
another few years. Those who excel may become supervisors, managers,
or partners; open their own public accounting firm; or transfer
to executive positions in management accounting or internal auditing
in private firms.
Management accountants often start as cost accountants, junior
internal auditors, or trainees for other accounting positions.
As they rise through the organization, they may advance to accounting
manager, chief cost accountant, budget director, or manager of
internal auditing. Some become controllers, treasurers, financial
vice presidents, chief financial officers, or corporation presidents.
Many senior corporation executives have a background in accounting,
internal auditing, or finance.
In general, public accountants, management accountants, and internal
auditors have much occupational mobility. Practitioners often
shift into management accounting or internal auditing from public
accounting, or between internal auditing and management accounting.
It is less common for accountants and auditors to move from either
management accounting or internal auditing into public accounting.
Accountants and auditors held about 1.2 million jobs in 2004.
They worked throughout private industry and government, but 1
out of 4 wage and salary accountants worked for accounting, tax
preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services firms. Approximately
1 out of 10 accountants or auditors was self-employed.
Many accountants and auditors are unlicensed management accountants,
internal auditors, or government accountants and auditors; however,
a large number are licensed CPAs. Most accountants and auditors
work in urban areas, where public accounting firms and central
or regional offices of businesses are concentrated.
Some individuals with backgrounds in accounting and auditing
are full-time college and university faculty; others teach part
time while working as self-employed accountants or as accountants
for private industry or government.
Employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow faster
than average for all occupations through the year 2014. An increase
in the number of businesses, changing financial laws and regulations,
and increased scrutiny of company finances will drive growth.
In addition to openings resulting from growth, the need to replace
accountants and auditors who retire or transfer to other occupations
will produce numerous job openings in this large occupation.
As the economy grows, the number of business establishments will
increase, requiring more accountants and auditors to set up books,
prepare taxes, and provide management advice. As these businesses
grow, the volume and complexity of information developed by accountants
and auditors regarding costs, expenditures, and taxes will increase
as well. An increased need for accountants and auditors will arise
from changes in legislation related to taxes, financial reporting
standards, business investments, mergers, and other financial
events. The growth of international business also has led to more
demand for accounting expertise and services related to international
trade and accounting rules, as well as to international mergers
and acquisitions. These trends should create more jobs for accountants
As a result of accounting scandals at several large corporate
companies, Congress passed legislation in an effort to curb corporate
accounting fraud. This legislation requires public companies to
maintain well-functioning internal controls to ensure the accuracy
and reliability of their financial reporting. It also holds the
company’s chief executive personally responsible for falsely reporting
These changes should lead to increased scrutiny of company finances
and accounting procedures and should create opportunities for
accountants and auditors, particularly CPAs, to audit financial
records more thoroughly. In order to ensure that finances comply
with the law before public accountants conduct audits, management
accountants and internal auditors increasingly will be needed
to discover and eliminate fraud. Also, in an effort to make government
agencies more efficient and accountable, demand for government
accountants should increase.
Increased awareness of financial crimes such as embezzlement,
bribery, and securities fraud will increase the demand for forensic
accountants, to detect illegal financial activity by individuals,
companies, and organized crime rings. Computer technology has
made these crimes easier to commit, and they are on the rise.
At the same time, the development of new computer software and
electronic surveillance technology has made tracking down financial
criminals easier, thus increasing the ease with which, and likelihood
that, forensic accountants will discover their crimes. As success
rates of investigations grow, demand also will grow for forensic
The changing role of accountants and auditors also will spur
job growth, although this growth will be limited as a result of
financial scandals. In response to demand, some accountants were
offering more financial management and consulting services as
they assumed a greater advisory role and developed more sophisticated
accounting systems. Because Federal legislation now prohibits
accountants from providing nontraditional services to clients
whose books they audit, opportunities for accountants to offer
such services could be limited. However, accountants will still
be able to advise on other financial matters for clients that
are not publicly traded companies and for nonaudit clients, but
growth in these areas will be slower than in the past. Also, due
to the increasing popularity of tax preparation firms and computer
software, accountants will shift away from tax preparation. As
computer programs continue to simplify some accounting-related
tasks, clerical staff will increasingly handle many routine calculations.
Overall, job opportunities for accountants and auditors should
be favorable. After most States instituted the 150-hour rule for
CPAs, enrollment in accounting programs declined; however, enrollment
is slowly beginning to grow again as more students become attracted
to the profession because of the attention from the accounting
scandals. Those who earn a CPA should have excellent job prospects.
However, many accounting graduates are instead pursuing other
certifications, such as the CMA and CIA, so job prospects may
not be as favorable in management accounting and internal auditing
as in public accounting. Regardless of specialty, accountants
and auditors who have earned professional recognition through
certification or licensure should have the best job prospects.
Applicants with a master’s degree in accounting, or a master’s
degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting,
also will have an advantage. In the aftermath of the accounting
scandals, professional certification is even more important in
order to ensure that accountants’ credentials and ethics are sound.
Proficiency in accounting and auditing computer software, or
expertise in specialized areas such as international business,
specific industries, or current legislation, may be helpful in
landing certain accounting and auditing jobs. In addition, employers
increasingly are seeking applicants with strong interpersonal
and communication skills. Because many accountants work on teams
with others from different backgrounds, they must be able to communicate
accounting and financial information clearly and concisely. Regardless
of one’s qualifications, however, competition will remain keen
for the most prestigious jobs in major accounting and business
Median annual wage and salary earnings of accountants and auditors
were $50,770 in May 2004. The middle half of the occupation earned
between $39,890 and $66,900. The top 10 percent of accountants
and auditors earned more than $88,610, and the bottom 10 percent
earned less than $32,320. In May 2004, median annual earnings
in the industries employing the largest numbers of accountants
and auditors were as follows:
Federal executive branch and United States
Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping
and payroll services
Management of companies and enterprises
According to a salary survey conducted by the National Association
of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in accounting
received starting offers averaging $43,269 a year in 2005; master’s
degree candidates in accounting were offered $46,251 initially.
According to a 2005 salary survey conducted by Robert Half International,
a staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance,
accountants and auditors with up to 1 year of experience earned
between $28,250 and $45,000 a year. Those with 1 to 3 years of
experience earned between $33,000 and $52,000. Senior accountants
and auditors earned between $40,750 and $69,750, managers between
$48,000 and $90,000, and directors of accounting and auditing
between $64,750 and $200,750. The variation in salaries reflects
differences in size of firm, location, level of education, and
In the Federal Government, the starting annual salary for junior
accountants and auditors was $24,677 in 2005. Candidates who had
a superior academic record might start at $30,567, while applicants
with a master’s degree or 2 years of professional experience usually
began at $37,390. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected
areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. Accountants
employed by the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory,
and managerial positions averaged $74,907 a year in 2005; auditors
Accountants and auditors design internal control systems and
analyze financial data. Others for whom training in accounting
is valuable include budget analysts; cost estimators; loan officers;
financial analysts and personal financial advisors; tax examiners,
collectors, and revenue agents; bill and account collectors; and
bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks. Recently, accountants
have assumed the role of management analysts and are involved
in the design, implementation, and maintenance of accounting software
systems. Others who perform similar work include computer programmers,
computer software engineers, and computer support specialists
and systems administrators. See the Careers
Database for more information on these careers.
Sources of Additional Information
Information on accredited accounting programs can be obtained
Information on careers in internal auditing and the CIA designation
may be obtained from:
The Institute of Internal Auditors, 247 Maitland Ave., Altamonte
Springs, FL 32701-4201. Internet: http://www.theiia.org/
Information on careers in information systems auditing and the
CISA designation may be obtained from:
Information Systems Audit and Control Association, 3701 Algonquin
Rd., Suite 1010, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008. Internet: http://www.isaca.org/
Information on careers in government accounting and the CGFM
designation may be obtained from:
Association of Government Accountants, 2208 Mount Vernon Ave.,
Alex.andria, VA 22301. Internet: http://www.agacgfm.org/
Information on obtaining positions as an accountant or auditor
with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel
Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official
employment information system. This resource for locating and
applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet
at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department
of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07