Few careers offer the rewards, variety and significance that accounting offers. Public accountants provide tax, auditing and consulting services to clients. Management accountants (also called private accountants, corporate accountants or controllers) help a company manage and analyze budgets, assets and financial information. Kathy Dominguez has worked in private accounting for retail, medical, real estate and grocery companies and currently works as controller for John Brooks Supermarts in Albuquerque.
"I have to be able to wear a variety of hats," says Dominguez. She also is the company's chief financial officer, runs its computer network and makes insurance and other decisions that affect the business.
The Routine: Not every accountant performs all of the duties Dominguez does. But it is typical for accountants to become involved in management decisions. Most accountants in private, public and government positions analyze budgets and financial information and offer financial and investment planning advice. Many also consult on information technology as Dominguez does. Public accountants usually prepare their clients' taxes and advise clients on tax and business decisions to help the companies' bottom lines. Some also serve as external auditors.
Training: Accountants need at least a bachelor's degree. Public accountants and many private and government accountants need to be a Certified Public Accountant, or CPA. In 2009, most states began requiring CPA candidates to complete 150 hours of college coursework.
"Most people now complete a five-year BS/MS program," says Ellen Labita a partner in Holtz Rubenstein Reminick, a regional accounting firm in Melville, N.Y.
The Uniform CPA Exam is the examination administered to people who wish to become Certified Public Accountants in the U.S. The exam is tough and many people fail to pass it on the first try. Most states also require continuing education to keep a CPA license.
Outlook: Companies need accountants even in bad economic times - and maybe especially in hard times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, growth for accountant and auditor jobs should be about 22 percent through 2018.
Tool Kit: Math and analytical skills help. Few accountants crunch numbers all day, however.
"You need very strong interpersonal skills," says Labita. "You must communicate very clearly verbally and in writing."
Ups and Downs: It's dealing with clients that Labita loves best about her job.
"I also enjoy the fact that I am not sitting at the same desk doing the same exact work day after day," she says.
The highly demanding and sometimes cyclical nature of accounting is a drawback for some. Public accountants have to be available for their clients nearly round the clock.
The Pay: The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported starting salary offers averaging nearly $49,000 in 2009 for bachelor-level graduates and slightly higher for master's trained grads. The BLS reported median annual salaries of just over $59,000 for all accountants and auditors in 2008.
The Way There: Take an accounting class while in high school or college to gauge your interest. Dominguez worked for a lot of companies before her current one. Even if she didn't like every job, she always learned something.
"There are so many different avenues in accounting, so try different jobs to see which one fits you."
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