It is essential that you have a Bachelor's degree in accounting, business or a related field to get started in a career in accounting. Upon graduation, you should look for a position with an accounting firm so that you get started in your career and gain the experience you need to advance with certifications. There are many types of certifications available to accountants who want to specialize in the various areas of the accounting industry, but they all require initial experience working as a general accountant. The usual route is to take an entry-level position as a junior accountant performing routine tasks at first and then gradually taking on more challenging and complex responsibilities.
The first and most important certification that will advance your career in accounting is that of certified public accountant. In order to be licensed as an accountant in most states, you do need to have this certificate. However, the regulations for licensing vary from one state to another. Therefore, it is important that you check these regulations for the state in which you work to make sure you meet the requirements. In order to be able to file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, you do need a CPA designation. Most of the states require that you have at least two years of experience working as an accountant and take a further 150 semester hours of accounting and business courses. The exam is very comprehensive, consisting of four separate parts. Very few accountants pass this exam the first time they take it, which will give you an idea of how rigid it is.
Although you have many options open to you with a CPA certification, there are other certificates that will also broaden your options in the accounting job market. If you want to work in management or cost accounting, you can obtain the certified management accountant certificate from the Institute of Management Accountants. Again the eligibility requirements include work experience and a passing score on a four-part examination. The job of internal or external auditor is one that appeals to many accountants and requires certification as an auditor from the Institute of Internal Auditors. This too is a four-part exam and requires work experience in auditing. Other certificates you can obtain from this institute are the CCSA (Certified in Control Self-Assessment, the CGAP (Certified Government Auditing Professional, and the CFSA (Certified Financial Services Auditor).
If you excel in using information technology in your job as accountant, you can advance your career in accounting with the CISA (certified Information Systems Auditor). If you want to specialize as a tax accountant with certifications that will advance your career in accounting, you can do so with several certificates. The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation has four designations that you can apply for:
- ABA – Accredited Business Accountant
- ATA – Accredited Tax Advisor
- ATP – Accredited Tax Preparer
- ECS – Elder Care Specialist
With all of these certifications, you do need to engage in continuing education in order to renew the certificates every two or three years.