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Accounting At A Glance

There is something to be said for entering a profession where your services will be in demand by virtually every business, institution and government in existence.

In the United States alone there are approximately 2 million bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks in the workforce, according the U.S. Department of Labor. They can be found in every industry, at all levels of government, and their duties can range from basic record keeping to providing top-level strategic advice on business, investing and technology implementation.

In Demand

What's more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for accountants and auditors is likely to keep pace with job growth in the larger economy in coming years as current employees move out of the profession, businesses expand and scrutiny of financial practices increases.

The basic requirement of the job is an ability to work with numbers. In fact at some small companies, the books may be "kept" by an employee with a good head for figures and a keen attention to details. More the norm, though, is a financial professional with a four-year business degree, who in a larger company might work in an accounting department and handle specific tasks, with a title reflective of their duties: accounts payable clerk accounts receivable clerk, etc.

Junior accountants might post details of transactions and monitor loans and other routine matters. More advanced accountants record higher-level entries assess the accuracy of work, check to make sure written and computer records are in agreement and prepare tax documents. Internal auditors carefully review the work of colleagues to make sure it is in compliance with the many rules that comprise the tax code and regulate the activities companies. External auditors, meanwhile, conduct many of the same reviews and report their findings on behalf of the stockholders of publicly traded corporations.

Educational Path

So what's the educational path that leads to a job of "Bean Counter," as these number crunchers were once known?

With the exception of small companies with relatively modest bookkeeping needs, it is likely that an accountant or auditor will be required to have a business degree, usually with a concentration in accounting. The larger the firm and more complex the job, the more likely it is you'll feel the pressure to have or obtain an MBA. And, you can expect this trend to continue. Throughout the industry, accountants and auditors are broadening the services they offer to include financial and investment planning, information technology consulting, strategic business counseling and even limited legal services.

"The successful entry-level accountant quickly learns that what was taught in school, the basic accounting theories and methodologies, is only a small part of the job, one audit supervisor at KPMG told Obviously, you need an accounting degree to have the basic principles, but most of the learning of how to be an auditor is acquired in the first three years on the job."

As technology has become increasingly pervasive in all businesses over the past few years, the nature of the accountant's and auditor's job has changed as well. Today, strong computer skills and a familiarity with powerful financial software products are basic requirements, along with critical thinking and strong communications skills.


While many accountants and auditor are unlicensed and work as either private or government accountants, a large number have opted to take the required 150 hours of course work and rigorous exam to become a Certified Public Accountant (known as a CPA). Licensed by the states, CPAs must pass a two-day, four-part exam. According to the Department of Labor, only about a quarter of those taking tests pass all four at once. Most states require that at least two of the parts be passed and then allow a certain amount of time to complete the remaining sections.

Unlike some professions that offer limited options, graduates with an accounting and business background can expect to choose from a wide range of career paths.

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