As the decision of where I will attend college next year quickly approached, I decided to investigate the major I have chosen, Accounting. Because my goal is to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), I would like to know more of what it entails. Dealing with numbers, and recording and projecting the earnings of a company, accountants are placed with the responsibility of keeping track of the moneys of a business. God has blessed me with skills in the areas of mathematics and organization, which caused me to look for an occupation that utilizes both. Accounting seemed a logical choice since they largely work with numbers and organize their clients’ money. In order to become a CPA, one must receive a bachelor’s degree and work for a prescribed number of hours for a top accounting firm. Covering a wide spectrum of business related specialization, accountants and those who act as auditors must be able to determine whether or not a company is using their resources efficiently and if they are correctly recording the moneys they come in contact with. I am aware that accountants work with money and the documenting of it but would like to ascertain exactly what else the job of a CPA consists of.
Since the recent downturn of the American economy and job market, I began to ponder how easy it would be to attain a job as an accountant. According to Steve French, an accountant for the Calvary Satellite Network, it is easy to find an accounting job, regardless of the state of the economy, because every company needs an accountant. Also, in the opinion of Richard Schweppe, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of CorVel Corporation, the best thing about accounting is the option of working for any type of company an individual may find interesting. Because every business needs an accountant and many people use them for tax preparation, those with a degree in accounting can easily find a job after college. Furthermore, “with fewer students earning accounting degrees, organizations are devoting greater resources to attracting these candidates.” Having thus determined the ease and likelihood that I will be able to find an accounting job upon graduation from college, I decided to look into exactly what an accountant does, how they attain the title of CPA, and how much money they make.
While researching the job description of accountants, I discovered multiple types of accountants, performing jobs ranging from banking to auditing. First of all, one can become a public accountant and work for a public accounting firm. “They perform a broad range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting activities for their clients, who may be corporations, governments, nonprofit organizations, or individuals.” The majority of public accountants, however, work on taxes. With the constantly changing tax laws, many people hire accountants to prepare and file their income taxes. They execute tasks “such as preparing individual income tax returns and advising companies of the tax advantages and disadvantages of certain business decisions.” Tax accountants must be aware of the new tax laws and must be constantly learning and understanding all of the changes. Also, they have to face extremely hectic work schedules during the tax season.
Debra Schill, who owns a Triple Check business, explained, “During tax season (January through April), I work seven days a week, from 6 to 18 hours per day…[and] evenings and weekends are dedicated to filling out [clients’] tax returns, getting them processed and out the door.” In addition to accurately filling out tax returns, tax accountants must be familiar with the types of businesses they are working for. “A thorough understanding of the clients’ business, investment, and personal objectives is required, as well as a thorough understanding of the tax laws and their applications.” Besides taxes, public accountants likewise perform audits. First of all, an audit can be defined as “examining a client’s financial statements and reporting to investors and authorities that they have been prepared and reported correctly.” “According to Barron’s Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms, an audit is ‘professional examination and verification of a company’s accounting documents and supporting data for the purpose of rendering an opinion as to their fairness, consistency, and conformity with generally accepted accounting principles.'”
Although only about 15 percent of accountants actually perform them, auditing is the most widely known and the most important job of a CPA. Auditors must follow certain rules and report the facts without bias or other influences. Performing this necessary task is essential “because it ensures the integrity of the financial information on which our economic system depends.” As well as auditing, public accountants consult and offer advice to companies. “Consulting services provided by CPAs may range from brief discussions with clients in the form of consultations or may involve larger initiatives such as implementation, transaction, or support services.” Consulting allows accountants to move from company to company, giving them a wide array of knowledge regarding the running of different companies and how to handle certain situations. Public accountants can choose to specialize in taxes, auditing, consulting, or a plethora of other opportunities.
Another type of accounting that interested me was management accounting. Often referred to as industrial or private accountants, “management accountants analyze and interpret the financial information corporate executives need to make sound business decisions.” Although there are many different types of management accountants, the one that intrigued me the most was the internal auditor. “The internal auditor conducts an independent appraisal from within the organization by analyzing, criticizing, and recommending improvements to internal financial practices.”
Allowed to work for a specific company, he still performs audits as he would if working for a public accounting firm. Being the company’s in-house “authority,” the internal auditor may “assist outside CPAs in their examination and evaluation of the company’s financial statements.” An internal auditor can help a company ensure that they are successfully and correctly utilizing, recording, and reporting their financial state before they are officially audited.
As another alternative, an accountant can choose to work for the government. The largest employer of CPAs in the United States is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). “IRS agents examine and audit the accounting books and records of individuals, partnerships, fiduciaries, and corporations to determine their court federal tax liability.” Working for the government would prove to be an exciting job if one becomes an investigative accountant. For me personally, I am not particularly interested in working for the government.
When I am looking for a job in accounting, the skills I possess will determine my eligibility and appeal. Many abilities and skills are necessary in order to work in the accounting field. For example, I have found that accounting is not just about number crunching, but is also about helping a company run efficiently. Personal soft skills are needed in order to effectively work with others. As a recommendation, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) states that accounting professionals should “be able to work with others to accomplish objectives…[and] demonstrate an ability to work productively with individuals in a diversity of roles and with varying interests.” Because of the many sides of accounting, meetings are continuously attended relating to the different aspects of the business instrumental in the running of the company. Speech and communication skills are important to effectively inform, and “firms seek strong communicators who can explain complex financial information clearly and concisely to a diverse audience.” In addition, individuals must be able to deliver presentations and express information concisely and clearly, both in speech and writing.
As a result of continuously changing technology, accountants, and all business employees, must be able to advance with these many changes. Accountants will always be learning as technology and laws change. Furthermore, “given the fiduciary nature of the work [they] perform, people will rely on the information [they] provide. Honesty and integrity are qualities which are highly valued.” Because they work with money and are trusted to report the truth about a company and its financial state, I believe accountants should have a high degree of moral integrity. In addition, business sense and an awareness of events transpiring in the world are key assets when working for any company that may be affected by any shifts in the global economy.
According to the Robert Half and Accountemps 2002 Salary Guide, “Companies seek professionals who can manage a broad range of accounting responsibilities, including general ledger, cost control and financial reporting…Individuals proficient with spreadsheet applications and who possess excellent customer service skills are highly sought after.” A personable attitude and knowledge of technology can enhance one’s resume, as well as their odds for getting a job. When Robert Half International asked CFOs “Which of the following interpersonal skills is most valued in accounting candidates today,” they responded according to the chart below.
An endless amount of skills and abilities are highly recommended for accountants.
After learning what an accountant does and what skills are needed, I decided to research exactly how one becomes a CPA. Most of the requirements and information on becoming a CPA was provided on the website of the California Board of Accountancy provided me with. First of all, “a CPA is a certified public accountant and is licensed by the state. In California, to earn the prestige associated with the CPA license, individuals are required to demonstrate their knowledge and competence by passing an exam, meeting high educational standards and completing a specified amount of general accounting experience.” Becoming a CPA involves an approximately six year journey, including attending a college or university. Two pathways that may take to obtain the title of CPA have been created by the California Board of Accountancy. Pathway 1 is designed for those who will practice only in California. The education requirement is a bachelor’s degree, including twenty-four semester units in accounting-related subjects and twenty-four semester units in business related subjects. In addition to meeting the education requirements, one must pass the Uniform CPA Exam. Given over a two-day period twice a year, this exam consists of four parts: Business Law and Professional Responsibilities; Auditing; Accounting and Reporting-Taxation, Managerial, and Governmental and Not-for-Profit Organizations; and Financial Accounting and Reporting-Business Enterprises. “If all four parts are not passed on the first attempt, applicants may establish conditional credit by passing two sections with a grade of 75 or higher during a single sitting.
Once conditional credit is established, [one] may take [their] remaining unpassed exam sections individually.” Next, one must have two years of general accounting experience supervised by a licensed CPA. During this period, it is expected that one “[has] participated in planning audits…[;] has written comments, observations and conclusions resulting from the work performed…[; and] has participated in the preparation of, and reporting on, full disclosure financial statements.” I see the two years of supervised experience as a benefit to those aspiring to become CPAs. Certainly, all people who are in the process of becoming a CPA should take full advantage of this aid by learning all they can through real job experience.
Pathway 2 is similar to Pathway 1 and is recommended for those who may want to practice in another state. Differences include the requirement of only one year of general accounting experience supervised by a licensed CPA in addition to 150 semester units of education. Also, conditional credit on the CPA exam is only awarded to those who pass two or more sections with a grade of 75 percent or higher and earn a minimum grade of 50 percent on the remaining unpassed sections, and is valid for three years. Although it takes a long period of time to officially become a CPA, I anticipate the challenge.
This information has verified my desire to become a CPA. Consequently, I researched the salary of an accountant to see whether it provides a good income. According to the 1998-1999 Graduate Status Report of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, the median salary of the graduates was $3083 per month and ranged from $1833 to $4333. Of the 69 students who responded to the questionnaire, 67 were employed full-time within a year after their graduation. The Robert Half and Accountemps 2002 Salary Guide reports that novice general, audit, tax and cost accountants working in a large company ($250 million+ in sales) can earn $33,000 to $40,750, those working in a medium company ($25 to $250 million in sales) can earn $31,250 to $37,500, and those working in a small company (up to $25 million in sales) can earn $29,500 to $35.250 a year. These are only the starting salaries for those working up to one year, but those who become managers can earn anywhere from $47,500 to $79,000 a year. Bookkeeping, an area of accounting that was of some interest to me, has relatively low salaries. Depending on the title and experience, one can earn from $24,000 to $48,500 per year. I discovered that the title that earns the most money is that of CFO or Treasurer, which can rise to $360,250.
An accurate summary of the occupation of an accountant is that he “has the task of accumulating and dispensing needed financial information. Since his activities touch upon nearly every phase of business operation and financial information is communicated in accounting terms, accounting is said to be the ‘language of business.’ Anyone intending to engage in any type of business activity is well advised to learn this language.” After researching what accountants actually do, I discovered that they do much more than just crunch numbers all day. The variety and diversity of jobs available caused me to contemplate about what I would like to specialize in and what type of company I would like to work for. Moreover, interpersonal skills are important and accountants have interaction with a number of associates and clients frequently.
Previously, I had thought that accountants were mostly bookkeepers, but have discovered that only a small percentage of them are and that they make the least amount of money out of the various specializations. While there are accountants who are not CPAs, becoming one will help ensure a higher income and the prestige associated with becoming a CPA. The road to becoming a CPA is longer than I had expected, but I believe it is worth the training and experience required. Since tremendous amounts of time and effort are necessary, a strong desire to become a CPA must be present in all who seek to become one. Unquestionably, the wide base of business knowledge that one studying accounting amasses allows them to work anywhere in the business environment. Accounting is a great foundation for all business and is a great choice for anyone interested in numbers and working with people.
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