Accountants and auditors held about 1.4 million jobs in 2018. The largest employers of accountants and auditors were as follows:
|Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services||24%|
|Finance and insurance||8|
|Management of companies and enterprises||7|
Most accountants and auditors work in offices, but some work from home. Although they complete much of their work alone, they sometimes work in teams with other accountants and auditors. Accountants and auditors may travel to their clients’ places of business.
Most accountants and auditors work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Longer periods of work are typical at certain times of the year, such as at the end of the budget year or during tax season.
Most accountants and auditors need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Certification, including the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential, can improve job prospects.
Most accountant and auditor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some employers prefer to hire applicants who have a master’s degree, either in accounting or in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
A few universities and colleges offer specialized programs, such as a bachelor’s degree in internal auditing. In some cases, those with associate’s degrees, as well as bookkeepers and accounting clerks who meet the education and experience requirements set by their employers, get junior accounting positions and advance to accountant positions by showing their accounting skills on the job.
Many colleges help students gain practical experience through summer or part-time internships with public accounting or business firms.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Every accountant filing a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is required by law to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Many other accountants choose to become a CPA to enhance their job prospects or to gain clients. Many employers will pay the costs associated with the CPA exam.
CPAs are licensed by their state’s Board of Accountancy. Becoming a CPA requires passing a national exam and meeting other state requirements. Almost all states require CPA candidates to complete 150 semester hours of college coursework to be licensed, which is 30 hours more than the usual 4-year bachelor’s degree. Many schools offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree to meet the 150-hour requirement, but a master’s degree is not required.
A few states allow a number of years of public accounting experience to substitute for a college degree.
All states use the four-part Uniform CPA Examination from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Candidates do not have to pass all four parts at once, but most states require that candidates pass all four parts within 18 months of passing their first part.
Almost all states require CPAs to take continuing education to keep their license.
Certification provides an advantage in the job market because it shows professional competence in a specialized field of accounting and auditing. Accountants and auditors seek certifications from a variety of professional societies. Some of the most common certifications are listed below:
The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) to applicants who complete a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must have worked at least 2 years in management accounting, pass a two-part exam, agree to meet continuing education requirements, and comply with standards of professional conduct. The exam covers areas such as financial statement analysis, working-capital policy, capital structure, valuation issues, and risk management.
The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) offers the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) to graduates from accredited colleges and universities who have worked for 2 years as internal auditors and have passed a four-part exam. The IIA also offers the Certified in Control Self-Assessment (CCSA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA), and Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) to those who pass the exams and meet educational and experience requirements.
ISACA offers the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) to candidates who pass an exam and have 5 years of experience auditing information systems. Information systems experience, financial or operational auditing experience, or related college credit hours can be substituted for up to 3 years of experience in information systems auditing, control, or security.
For accountants with a CPA, the AICPA offers the option to receive any or all of the Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), or Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certifications. The ABV requires passing a written exam, completion of at least six business valuation projects, and 75 hours of continuing education. The CITP requires 1,000 hours of business technology experience and 75 hours of continuing education. Candidates for the PFS also must complete a certain amount of work experience and continuing education, and pass a written exam.
Entry-level public accountants can advance to senior positions with more responsibility. Those who excel may become supervisors, managers, or partners; open their own public accounting firm; or transfer to executive positions in management accounting or internal auditing in private firms.
Management accountants often start as cost accountants, junior internal auditors, or trainees for other accounting positions. As they rise through the organization, they may advance to accounting manager, chief cost accountant, budget director, or manager of internal auditing. Some become controllers, treasurers, financial vice presidents, chief financial officers, or corporation presidents.
Public accountants, management accountants, and internal auditors can move from one aspect of accounting and auditing to another. Public accountants often move into management accounting or internal auditing. Management accountants may become internal auditors, and internal auditors may become management accountants. However, it is less common for management accountants or internal auditors to move into public accounting.
Accountants and auditors typically have an interest in the Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an accountant and auditor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Accountants and auditors should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to identify issues in documentation and suggest solutions. For example, public accountants use analytical skills in their work to minimize tax liability, and internal auditors do so when identifying fraudulent use of funds.
Communication skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to listen carefully to facts and concerns from clients, managers, and others. They must also be able to discuss the results of their work in both meetings and written reports.
Detail oriented. Accountants and auditors must pay attention to detail when compiling and examining documentation.
Math skills. Accountants and auditors must be able to analyze, compare, and interpret facts and figures, although complex math skills are not necessary.
Organizational skills. Strong organizational skills are important for accountants and auditors who often work with a range of financial documents for a variety of clients.
The median annual wage for accountants and auditors was $71,550 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,450.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for accountants and auditors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Finance and insurance||$76,440|
|Management of companies and enterprises||74,060|
|Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping,
and payroll services
Most accountants and auditors work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Longer hours are typical at certain times of the year, such as at the end of the budget year or during tax season.
Employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Globalization, a growing economy, and a complex tax and regulatory environment are expected to continue to lead to strong demand for accountants and auditors.
In general, employment growth of accountants and auditors is expected to be closely tied to the health of the overall economy. As the economy grows, these workers will continue to be needed to prepare and examine financial records. In addition, as more companies go public, there will be greater need for public accountants to handle the legally required financial documentation.
The continued globalization of business may lead to increased demand for accounting expertise and services related to international trade and international mergers and acquisitions.
Technological change is expected to affect the role of accountants over the next 10 years. As platforms such as cloud computing become more widespread, some routine accounting tasks may become automated. Although this will allow accountants to become more efficient, this change is not expected to reduce the overall demand for accountants. Instead, with the automation of routine tasks, such as data entry, the advisory and analytical duties of accountants will become more prominent.
Demand for accountants may lead to good prospects for entry-level positions. However, competition will be stronger for jobs with the most prestigious accounting and business firms.
Accountants and auditors who have earned professional recognition, especially as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), should have the best prospects. Job applicants who have a master’s degree in accounting or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in accounting also may have an advantage.
For more information about accredited accounting programs, visit
For more information about the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, visit
For more information about management accounting and the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation, visit
For more information about internal auditing and the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) designation, visit
For more information about information systems auditing and the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) designation, visit
For more information about certifications in accounting, visit