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What does an accountant do?

An accountant prepares financial documents and checks those documents for accuracy, and he or she may make recommendations based on an organization's or individual's financial status. People who work in the field provide an indispensable service by helping their clients, or company, ensure solvency and grow in prosperity.

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What Can You Expect from an Accounting Job?


An accountant's primary function is to organize financial data and make recommendations based on that data. However, it isn't really fair to make sweeping generalizations about what accountants do because there are several different types of accountants. While the bare bones of each accounting field might be the same, the specifics can vary widely.

Types of accountants:

  • Financial accountant
  • Management accountant
  • Tax accountant
  • Government accountant
  • Project accountant
  • Forensic accountant
  • Social accountant
  • Public accountant

Depending on an accountant's specialty field and position within a company, he or she may perform any of the following duties:

  • Scrutinize financial documents to make sure they are accurate and complete.
  • Prepare financial documents and reports.
  • Offer recommendations to help clients make wise financial decisions.
  • Work to comply with local, state, and federal laws. Stay up to date on these laws as they change from year to year.
  • Keep financial records organized and up to date.
  • Use sophisticated accounting software to make the most of provided data.
  • Help businesses and individuals be more efficient financially.
  • Look for discrepancies in financial data and correct errors.
  • Investigate any oddities in financial statements.
  • Conduct audits for businesses and individuals.
  • Work with fellow accountants to provide comprehensive reports for businesses.

Work Environment

Accountants typically work in offices. This may be in a corporate office, a government office, or a private office. Because many of the documents accountants prepare and submit are time sensitive, the work environment is often fast-paced. There may often be pressure to meet pressing deadlines. However, even when deadlines rear their ugly heads, it is important that accountants keep their cool so they do not sacrifice accuracy for speed.

Some accountants, particularly tax accountants, may choose to open their own consulting business. This allows for greater flexibility in the workplace. Independent accountants can choose how much to take on so the probability of making errors is greatly reduced.

Accountants may be able to find work in almost any city across the United States. After all, death and taxes are the two universal inevitabilities, right? However, accountants are most in-demand in large cities that have a significant corporate presence.

Boston, Massachusetts is one of the top cities for accountants. According to one estimate, there are 50,000 accountants and auditors in the city. New York City, however, leaves Boston in the dust; the Big Apple has an estimated 140,000 accountants, auditors, and bookkeepers. Other cities where qualified accountants have promising job prospects include Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

As you learn more about accounting jobs, you'll likely become familiar with top accounting talent networks across the country. You can research prominent accounting firms and discover what kind of reputations they have for their work environments. Maybe you'll find one that offers the total package — a good salary, a decent benefits package, and a friendly atmosphere.


What kind of schedule can you expect if you enter a career in accounting? Most accountants work at least 40 hours a week. Overtime isn't uncommon, especially for public accountants who help individuals with their income tax returns. During the annual tax season, public accountants may work between 60 and 80 hours per week. Other types of accountants may also have to work long hours when deadlines demand it.

If you don't mind working long hours, you may enjoy having an accountant's schedule. You may be able to find a job that offers nights and weekends off — more time for you to get out on the town! Telecommuting is an option for some accountants, so you might even be able to find a job that lets you work in your pajamas.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be an Accountant?


The education you'll need in order to become an accountant will depend on your specific career goals. You may be able to find a basic accounting job if you have a certificate in accounting. However, most employers require that job candidates have at least a bachelor's degree. CPAs, or certified public accountants, always need at least a bachelor's degree.

The sky's the limit when it comes to education for accountants. Some professionals in the field even have doctorate degrees. To be eligible for the most lucrative accounting positions, you should pursue an MBA in accounting or a Ph.D. in accounting.

There are a few different education tracks that could lead to an accounting job. While focusing on accounting during your education is the most obvious route to an accounting job, you may also choose to pursue an education in business administration and management or general finance.


The more experience you have as an accountant, the more valuable you will be to employers. A formal education will give you a base for succeeding in your chosen career field, but experience will teach you problem-solving skills and hone your number-crunching abilities.

According to data, almost 25 percent of accountants have between six and 10 years of experience. Only five percent of people in the field have two or fewer years of experience. However, accountants and auditors are among the fastest-growing careers in the field of sports, so it may not be long before fresh accounting graduates are in high demand for sports organizations.


There are some key skills that will serve you well as you embark on your accounting career:

Attention to detail. If you accidentally mix up numbers or misplace a decimal point, the consequences could be dire.
Organization. You should be able to prioritize your tasks and keep track of many documents.
Adaptability. You may be asked to work with a range of different people, and your schedule may fluctuate according to the deadlines for specific projects.
Communication. You'll have to understand your clients' circumstances, so you need to know how to ask the right questions. You should also be able to clearly convey your recommendations and explain the reasons behind them to people who are not as knowledgeable about accounting as you are.
Computer skills. You may have to use sophisticated accounting software.

Salary Expectations

If you're thinking about pursuing a career as an accountant, one of the first questions you're likely to ask is, "How much do accountants make?" The average national salary for accountants is $71,000. In San Francisco, the average pay is nearly $10,000 more at $75,000.

If you have a lower level of education, or if you choose to work only part-time, you can expect to make significantly less than other professionals in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the bottom 10 percent of earners in the accounting field make $41,400 or less per year. However, with the appropriate education and experience, you might be able to get a job that lands you in the top 10 percent of earners. People in this group make around $119,000 per year or more.

Salaries for Accountants

Job Outlook for Accountants

Projected Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for accountants and auditors will be well above the projected average job growth across all occupations. This projected growth is thanks to a shifting economy and ever-stricter financial laws.

Career Trajectory

When you first enter the world of accounting, you may be given routine tasks that don't offer much variety or excitement. However, as you grow in experience and education, you will be able to tackle more interesting and varied assignments. You may even be appointed to oversee a team of other accountants. Being a manager in an accounting office will offer increased pay, and it will help you hone your communication skills.

You may eventually earn a position as a controller. A controller is a key component in a business whose job it is to analyze data from different portions of a company and see how they interrelate. Controllers work closely with a company's chief financial officer (CFO). You may even be able to become a CFO yourself one day.

For those who have the personality for it, accounting is an exciting and rewarding field. If you have a love for numbers, have an eye for details, can communicate well, and don't mind pressure from deadlines, you could become a powerful force in the world of accounting.

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