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Accountants play a key role in managing, controlling and organizing the financial elements of any business entity. Accountants maintain, analyze and verify financial records. If they are chartered accountants they will also ensure that client taxes are paid when due.

Qualifications to Become an Accountant

Accountants employed by government agencies, corporations and individuals are qualified as Certified Public Accountants. This means they have completed the CPA examinations held by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Practicing CPAs must be licensed by the Board of Accountancy in the states in which they are working.



Accountants can also choose to earn the title of Certified Management Accountant (CMA). This is given by the Institute of Management Accountants. Other titles that can be held by Accountants upon completion of specified requirements are:
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) or Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP) both of which are conferred by the Institute of Internal Auditors.
  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) which is conferred by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association.
  • Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) is offered by the Association of Government Accountants and can help candidates land a job as a government auditor.
Accountants can undertake other certifications to assist them in specializing for particular jobs. These include Accredited Business Accountants (ABA), Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA), and Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP).

An entry-level accounting position in any government agency--local, state or federal--will require a four-year college degree with a major in accounting and strong emphasis in auditing. Post-graduate business studies specializing in accounting tend to be equally acceptable.

Different Accounting Jobs

Accounting duties vary depending on the specialization and the role; however, most accountants are involved in financial planning, budgeting, and advising management or clients.

The job functions of an accountant will depend on the type of job he or she has chosen, including that of a:
  • Public Accountant
Public accountants work for government organizations, corporations, and individuals and consequently their duties can vary quite substantially. Some public accountants specialize in taxation, while others work as consultants in specialized areas such as forensic accounting.
  • Government Accountant
Government accountants are employed by all levels of government to ensure that government funding and spending comply with governmental regulations and laws as well as internal departmental policies. Generally, their activities will include the maintenance of government agency records as well as the analysis of such records and reporting on the results of such activities. Many government accountants are also involved with the auditing of citizens to assess compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Internal Auditor
Internal auditors are extremely important to larger business entities because they ensure that the organization is complying with governmental rules and regulations as well as with company policies. They also monitor activities within a business to protect against mismanagement, waste and fraud.
  • Management Accountant
Management accountants maintain and analyze a business’s financial records. They work for public and private corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and individual clients. They play a central role in strategic business decisions within an organization and their role often includes cost accounting, asset management, financial planning, budgeting and even employee performance evaluation.

Employment Outlook for Accountants

Accounting employment is one of the brighter spots in an otherwise gloomy job market. Accountants are always needed and even more so as businesses and government need help in better managing their cash flow and resources. Demand for qualified CPAs and CMAs looks likely to increase substantially in the future. Graduates with an accounting specialty are also likely to be in solid demand whether or not they have chosen to earn professional titles. Employment prospects will be improved by relevant experience as well as professional appearance, attitude and high-level communication skills. Accountants and auditors will always be needed to help businesses conform to government regulations and requirements in addition to helping companies improve their financial position.

Salaries

Salaries for accountants vary greatly depending upon whether they work for the private or public sector and their responsibilities within these environments. For example, the average salary for government accountants is somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000, while the average for management accountants is $55,000. The income earned by public accountants ranged between $55,000 and $100,000. Internal auditors had the widest range of salaries--from $45,000 up to $200,000, depending on their experience and qualifications. These salary ranges are only estimates as many accountants in high-level positions earn substantially more than the average.

How to Make the Most of an Accounting Career

If you wish to establish a successful career as an accountant, it is important to obtain professional certification beyond your degree. This means you must become a CPA, CIA or CMA. You will further increase your earning potential by becoming an expert in a particular niche such as forensic accounting. The competition for specialist accounting positions is less intense because there are fewer people qualified for them.

Accounting is a very rewarding profession with excellent employment and income opportunities. If you undertake the appropriate training and look for jobs that increase your skill levels as well as your experience, you will gradually move up to high-earning positions.
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