Accountants and auditors are business professionals who keep and analyze financial records. They record, report and examine financial information. They are valued for their ability to translate complex financial information into useful business insights that can help a business stay strong financially. Aspiring accountants and auditors: Read on to learn about career information, accounting schools and licensing.
Day in the Life of an Accountant and Auditor
Auditors and accountants play a critical role in any organization, ensuring that sound financial accounting practices and regulatory compliance standards are met. Although much of the accountant's world is automated, workers still need to have a nuanced concept of tax laws, corporate accounting, business finance regulations and more. This profession offers a variety of specializations that may be carried out in many kinds of work environments.
Examples of accounting specialties include:
- Public Accounting: Work for corporations or individuals, which may include specialization in forensic accounting.
- Management Accounting: Work with companies on budgeting, cost management and accounting standards.
- Government Accounting: Work in the public sector, auditing businesses and monitoring government funds.
Examples of auditing specialties include:
- Government auditing: Examine the records of government agencies and of businesses and individuals subject to government regulation or taxation.
- Internal auditing: Audit an organization's financial information and data systems. The focus may be on the financial, information systems or policy audit.
The work environment for an accountant and auditor varies depending on specialty and the size of the company or agency. A staff accountant at a large accounting firm may spend most of his time at his firm's corporate office, with clients coming to him for appointments. An auditor may be based in a corporate office but routinely conduct audits at the offices of various clients, sometimes for weeks at a time. And a self-employed CPA may work from a private office, with clients coming to him for appointments. Some accounting work is seasonal, particularly for tax accountants who work long hours in the months leading up to "Tax Day," with a more manageable workflow and routine the rest of the year.
Important Characteristics for Accountants and Auditors
What traits and talents make a good accountant and auditor? Being adept at math is critical, as is the ability to understand and analyze financial statements, tax codes and other complex financial records. A commitment to ethical business practices, persistence and keen attention to detail are also necessary. When working with government regulations, tolerance for bureaucracy is required. Finally, the ability to communicate financial concepts in layman's terms is key when dealing with clients and business executives.
Typical Steps for Becoming an Accountant and Auditor
Accountant schools and colleges teach accounting fundamentals first, followed by an array of specialized accounting programs designed to help students discover their individual interests. The typical steps for becoming an accountant and auditor may include earning an accounting degree, licensure and other education and training as follows:
- Start early: Prepare in high school. Take high school courses in mathematics, computer and IT training, as well as business, if it is available.
- Earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field. Accounting programs provide a broad understanding of the industry as well as areas of specialization. This is also the time to take any extra coursework required to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) after graduation. Build your practical skills by pursuing a summer or part-time internship alongside your education.
- Get licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). This is required of all accountants and auditors who will be filing reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Licensing requirements vary by jurisdiction (state, territory, etc.). Contact the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy for CPA licensing information.
- Apply for auditing certification. Apply for professional certification in an auditing specialty. These certifications are not required but can enhance one's credentials. For example, as a government auditor, you can earn recognition as a Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP). As an environmental auditor, you have access to the Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA) or Certified Energy Auditor designation. There are many other specialty certifications to consider as well.
- Earn a graduate professional degree. To advance your career, consider completing a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) in accounting or auditing. Opportunities to earn professional accounting degrees and complete training programs are widely available online.
- Accountants and Auditors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
- Summary Report for Accountants and Auditors, O*Net OnLine,