accounting and finance career path

Chart Your Course: Exploring Accounting and Finance Careers

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Introduction to Accounting and Finance Careers

Preparing for a career works much the same way. During the weeks and months that precede a career decision, you must assess a number of factors that affect your choice. Your goal is a challenging and rewarding position. The route to your goal is a complex and quickly changing career path that includes the subjects of accounting and finance.

Career planning is much like preparing for an extended, time-consuming trip. To make an extensive journey, you must utilize a variety of resources. You must research your chosen destination, your possible routes of travel, your potential means of transportation, and the most economical and efficient way to fund your trip. Most important of all, you need assistance from experienced people who have made this same journey successfully. Only with this help can you hope to avoid getting lost, having an accident, or arriving at a dead-end destination.

Educational Requirements and Skill Sets

Corporate organizations give favor to those who have completed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) examination, which includes both extensive written and problem-solving sections. The CPA examination is conducted under the professional responsibility of state boards of accountancy. To earn the CPA designation, a candidate must be a graduate of an accredited college or university, possess adequate practical accounting experience as authorized by a state board of accountancy, and reach a passing score on the two-day examination. New graduates often choose to join large public accounting firms for the accounting experience and technical competence necessary to pass the CPA examination. Additionally, passing the examination establishes a candidate’s initial reputation for achievement in an organization consisting of highly capable persons. Earning the CPA designation is often no small measure of an individual’s readiness for personal responsibility and leadership roles in a company’s accounting and finance functions.

Educational preparation and personal qualities and skills for success play roles in the lives of accountants and financial professionals. The trend toward increasing educational requirements for all professional positions is becoming increasingly aware in accounting and finance. Today, the minimum qualification for any accountant is at least a bachelor’s degree with a major in accounting from an established college or university program. In addition to formal educational programs, most large accounting firms and many large corporations have their own programs of continuing professional education for employees.

Degree Programs in Accounting and Finance

Finance courses are designed to prepare students for positions in private industry, financial management, and international business. Some degrees offer dual specializations in finance (corporate or international) and marketing, advertising, journalism, or engineering. Typical courses might include money and banking, corporate finance, risk management, economics, international business, management science, and investments. Some business colleges also place an emphasis on computer skills, management information systems, electronic data processing, or software. Upon completion of the coursework, a student might be qualified for a variety of positions, such as financial analyst, credit analyst, budget analyst, investor relations analyst, sales analyst, cash manager, insurance analyst, real estate appraisal analyst, collections officer, pension fund manager, international bank officer, estate planning officer, or management trainee.

Accounting courses are designed to prepare students for positions in public accounting, private industry, and government. Among the courses that typically make up an accounting degree program are principles of accounting, cost accounting, income tax accounting, government and not-for-profit accounting, accounting information systems, business finance, corporate studies, oil and gas accounting, managerial accounting, and auditing. Some accounting programs place an emphasis on computer skills, management information systems, electronic data processing, or parlance. Accountants are expected to have a reasonable knowledge of business functions related to their areas of expertise, such as finance and basic management.

Most colleges offer degree programs in accounting, and some also offer programs in finance. Increasingly, colleges are injecting basic business courses into all their degree programs, including accounting and finance, as employers look for broader-based employees. When choosing a program, you should evaluate specific courses offered, visit campus placement offices to see what kind of jobs are available, and talk with professors and students about career opportunities.

Key Skills and Competencies

Accounting and finance professionals bring different skills and competencies to their positions, depending on their level of experience, specialization, or job function. Employers hiring entry-level accounting graduates generally seek students to have a working understanding of key accounting, auditing, ethics, and financial statement analysis concepts and skills. According to the AICPA Core Competence Framework, a working understanding includes the “ability to comprehend, apply, analyze, and evaluate relevant information from a realistic context to organize and solve problems” in several specific accounting- and finance-related areas. Various professional organizations, including the IMA and IIA, share the view that entry-level accounting graduates should have a general understanding of managerial/cost accounting, risk assessment, decision-making models, and knowledge of transaction cycles to allow for the entry of transactions, production of accounting information, and preparation of financial statements.

As you prepare for your career in accounting or finance, what will you need to know and be able to do? This section provides a summary of key skills and competencies for accounting and finance professionals. These topics are widely recognized as relevant to today’s practitioners by professional associations, such as the AICPA, IMA, and employer groups through research reports, employer surveys, and advisory panels.

Career Options in Accounting and Finance

Broadly speaking, finance represents a sustainability of operations in the short term and focus on creating shareholder value in the long term. Successful businesses execute sound financial planning and management strategies by managing, controlling and developing information systems to ensure that the business is financially stable and sustainable in the long term. You can work in finance preparation, analysis, control or investment management. After you have earned your certificate or degree in accounting or finance, charting your course is only your first step. With your future before you, learn more about yourself. Research what’s out there. Then set goals, make a plan and go for it. With your ambitions, and all you’re developing now, you’ll achieve it.

It’s important for you to look at the range of options—and there are many—that are open to you once you have earned your certificate or degree in accounting or finance. Broadly speaking, the career path you pursue can be broken down between accounting and finance jobs. Accounting is the process of identifying, measuring and communicating economic information to permit informed judgments and decisions by the various users of the information. There are many kinds of jobs in accounting, including those with titles such as internal auditor, tax advisor, finance manager, financial accountant, management accountant and internal auditor.

Public Accounting

The vast majority of public accounting graduates work in audit to start their careers. The day-to-day responsibilities focus on evaluating the company’s balance sheet and income statement. They also look for evidence of management fraud and misappropriation of company assets. Depending on the size of the engagement, staff members might work on one or several parts of the financial statement. In most cases, interns are exposed to this only once as they start a few weeks before receiving a full-time position. The most exciting and interesting part of this job is the interaction with people. All firms are international in scope, so a significant amount of travel can be expected. The experience is excellent. Six or seven industries are staffed differently each time. The job offers a broad-based experience with minimal specialization.

Many accounting students seek a public accounting career, and it is the fastest growing sector with the greatest demand for graduates. Student involvement with Beta Alpha Psi is a good indicator of seeking an entry position with these firms. Firms are looking for students who have strong communication, leadership skills, and a willingness to work with others. Opportunities exist in consulting, tax planning, internal auditing, and public accounting. The larger firms have very sophisticated recruiting processes.

Wide range of positions

Corporate Finance

A corporate financial manager has to be able to lead top-quality teams of financial professionals. You can begin preparing for this career in high school. Stick with your math courses and develop work study or business courses that will help you become familiar with business technology, such as word processing and spreadsheets. You can also prepare for a career in this area by taking a computer course to become familiar with common financial software available today.

One of the most visible finance-related jobs in America is that of a financial manager in a corporation. Corporate finance, in essence, is concerned with future decision making and the financial operation of a business. From your accounting courses, you will learn the basics of corporate accounting. From your finance course, you will get some sense of how corporate finance works. But these fields are so specialized that it is usually best to leave their complexities to the experts.

Financial Planning and Analysis

These planning decisions normally involve commitments of additional money—both money you have already or plan on having. It’s also critical to every organization’s financial health that the activities being supported by these future capital and operating budgeting decisions be shown through the accounting and recording systems. Unless you provide such management-oriented accounting reports, everything you’ve done up to this point would have been a waste of time. Providing wrong, outdated, or inaccurate information also does more damage than good. It’s better in many people’s eyes to not take the organizational action at all, and to just keep the accounting and financial house in order. Don’t be proficient in just one area—know all that you can, in detail. Use that knowledge to help your customers (the people managing the organization) make better decisions.

Financial planning and analysis are the basic skills accounting and finance professionals learn, and you will apply these skills if you choose a career path in financial analysis, corporate finance, or other asset management roles. There are a lot of different jobs in financial analysis and each has its own set of skills and tools needed. From capital budgeting to estimating free cash flows to understanding financing or investing cash flows, you have a lot of new things to learn if you choose this career path. Don’t shy away from the opportunity, though, because you can prove to be an invaluable resource to your headquarters’ or agency management team helping to guide them in making sound investments. That’s really what good financial analysts do. Their work should all be done keeping in mind the need to help guide decision making.

Professional Certifications and Licenses

There are many professional designations in the fields of accounting and finance. Some certifications are more professional than others, which require a mix of education and work requirements. Other certifications can provide you opportunities to enhance your knowledge in niche areas of your job or employer’s industry. There are also several licenses available that allow you to work in specific areas of accounting and finance.

Throughout this text, we’ve provided our best advice on how to get started in a career in accounting and finance. Now let’s look at how to get ahead in these professions. We’ve long believed that education is a lifetime process – and that’s important as well in the career paths of accountants and finance professionals. In an ever-changing world of business, it’s important to stay up-to-date or even ahead in your career preparation so that you can provide the best support to your team and company. Earning professional certifications and licenses are ways to earn solid credentials.

Advancement Opportunities and Career Development

The BEd A&FA Department seeks to ensure that its graduates have the technical competencies needed to begin a career in accounting, finance, or other related areas. Employers tell us time and time again that our graduates arrive on the job ready to go to work. However, it is important for our graduates to also recognize that careers last a long time and the entry level job is just the beginning. As you gain knowledge and expertise, you may find yourself envious of those who have marketing, management, communication and interpersonal skills. These skills are as important as the technical skills, and can in many cases separate the successful professional from those who are not. A&FA students should begin to develop these skills as soon as possible. Additional education, certification, and networking will also be important if you wish to stay and grow in the professional. Each is discussed in the following pages.

While some accounting personnel are satisfied to remain in their existing positions, many see the potential for advancement as a powerful attraction. The future can be bright in this field for those who are hardworking and ambitious. The difficulty of the work, increased need for public disclosure by organizations and government agencies, and the complex problems facing all levels of government present excellent opportunities for advancement for those held in high esteem by their employers. Moreover, technology continues to change the workplace making it easier to build experience and knowledge. It is truly a field with a promising future.

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