Friday, December 30, 2016

Choosing a Career in Accounting

Accounting is a growing field with lots of opportunities, but the lifestyle is not for everyone.  Having a steady job is good, but there are trade-offs to making money.


When making a career choice, many young people with an affinity for numbers make a decision to enter accounting.  Business schools have bachelor programs for accountants, and there are openings in businesses, government and auditing firms.


Questionable business practices and the resulting government regulation have increased positions for accountants.  A Certified Public Accountant with expertise in Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is very valuable. 


The long hours, hard work and pressure situations make the accounting field inappropriate for everyone.  Even those with great mathematical skills may be ill-suited to the rigor and monotony of the life of accountant.


Positives of an Accounting Career


The primary reason many end up in accounting is that it is a specific career.  Courses taken in college provide specific training. Many students can walk out of college and apply the lessons immediately at a job.  


In contrast, a major in mathematics or economics does not train the student for a particular occupation.   There is more flexibility, but less security.


Accounting is an indoor job, not a lot of heavy lifting, other than briefcases.  Today, computers play a large role, and accountants need to be able to use spreadsheets and word processing software.


As a white collar occupation, the pay is good, with starting salaries above $50,000 in some markets.  Mobility is fairly easy, within a country.  Crossing borders is more difficult since rules vary by country. 


Accounting is not bookkeeping.  There is considerable challenge in identifying issues and solving mathematic problems.  There is often interaction with others, which may include clients, peers or subordinates.


There are many opportunities for advancement, to the highest financial position in the organization; partner, chief financial officer or treasurer, depending on the type of company. 


Negatives of an Accounting Career


Accounting is a rigorous profession.  Most accountants, especially at the beginning of their career, are expected to work long hours and weekends. 


Staff at auditing firms, particularly, work many hours in their first years, doing basic accounting reviews on the road, in firms that tolerate their presence at best. 


The expression used at these firms “three years, up or out” embodies the experience.  Staff either get used to the hours, or move to other companies or professions. 


The work can be tedious and become monotonous.  In a business, there is a regular month end closing process, and no vacations can be taken during this time, and weekends are expected.


There is a stigma of the bean counter, evidenced by people in other professions.  The role itself is a matter of monitoring and reporting on others, rather than creating business.  It is not a good fit for an entrepreneurial person, or someone needing a lot of human interaction.  


With the long hours and indoor work accomplished mostly by sitting, it is not a healthy occupation. 


Finding the Right Career


A student should carefully assess their strengths and desires before deciding on a career.  Accounting offers stability and financial rewards, but requires mathematical ability and a strong work ethic.


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