How to Become an Accountant

Everything you need to know about educational and certification requirements, salary, and job-seeking resources.

How to Become an Accountant

Take these steps to become an accountant.

Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. One of these only happens once, but the latter is one of the many reoccurring financial challenges individuals and businesses face. This is one of many reasons why learning how to become an accountant will serve you well.

Accounting is everywhere and there is a constant demand for it. We see the need for highly skilled accountants in corporate offices, government agencies, law enforcement, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 61,700 new accounting jobs (4% growth) by the year 2029.

It’s important to know what to expect when applying for your first accounting job. Below, we offer a comprehensive guide on how to become an accountant, including the educational and certification requirements, average salary, and job-seeking resources.

What Is an Accountant?

An accountant is a professional who performs auditing and financial analysis for businesses and individuals. Accountants help clients manage the budgeting challenges that impact their financial wellbeing. That includes weighing financial risks and rewards and helping clients stay within compliance of the law.

What Is a CPA?

A certified public accountant (CPA) has a broader range of duties than non-certified accounts, such as representing clients during tax audits and writing official financial statements. While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants are CPAs.

To be eligible for certification, accountants must meet certain state and educational requirements, as well as pass CPA exams.

What Does an Accountant Do?

Accountants identify financial risks, suggest necessary budget cuts, and forecast future earnings for clients. Additionally, accountants analyze complex data, help clients make smart financial decisions, and put together written reports and presentations to explain their findings. To get a better idea of what employers look for when hiring accountants, have a look at Monster’s accountant job description sample.

There are different types of accounting, including:

  • Auditing is the process of examining clients’ financial records to ensure that they are accurate and in accordance with the law. Accountants also conduct audits to identify financial risks and help clients increase revenue while reducing costs.
  • Forensic accounting is a type of accounting that examines financial records for evidence of fraud or embezzlement. Forensic accountants typically work for law enforcement, law firms, or insurance companies.
  • Tax accounting involves preparing tax returns, determining how much clients owe in tax, and ensuring that clients pay taxes on time. Additionally, tax accountants help clients keep track of payroll and sales taxes.

Where do accountants work?

Accountants typically work full-time for corporations, government agencies, financial and insurance firms, and private businesses. In the accounting world, there's what's known as the “Big Four” firms:

So what makes the Big Four a big deal? Size. They're the four largest firms, reportedly auditing more than 80% of all public companies in the US. PwC also has the distinction of having helped tabulate votes for the Academy Awards since 1935.

Not all accountants work for firms; some are self-employed and offer their services to clients on a freelance basis. 

CPA Requirements

To learn how to become an accountant, you’ll need to hit the books. Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. You also have the option of pursuing an online accounting degree offered by an accredited college. To be eligible for your CPA license, you must obtain a master’s degree or a post-bachelor’s certificate.

Need some help paying for your degree? Check out these accounting scholarships that can help cover some of the cost of your education.

After all of your accounting classes are complete, you must then take the Uniform CPA Exam, which is offered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The exam consists of four parts that you must pass in order to be eligible for certification:

  • Audit
  • Business Environment and Concepts
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting
  • Regulation

Depending on which state you live in, you may not be required to pass all four parts at once; most states have an 18-month period during which you must complete and pass each part.

If your state requires you to obtain certification, then you will need to meet your state’s Board of Accountancy requirements before seeking an accounting job.

How long does it take to become an accountant?

It takes around four years to complete your accounting education and requirements. It could take longer, depending on whether you pursue an accounting degree full-time or part-time.

How Much Do Accountants Make?

According to Monster data, the median annual accountant salary is $55,899 per year. Your starting salary will depend on your level of experience, the type of firm you work for, and whether or not you are certified. For example, a CPA salary will generally be higher than someone who isn’t certified. You can look up the average salary for accountants in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Accounting Jobs

Before you begin your job search, it’s critical that you have a solid resume. See our accounting resume sample for tips. Using this as a guide can boost your chances of getting noticed.

Then it’s time to start your search. Have a look at all the available accounting jobs on Monster to find one that’s the right fit for you. No professional experience as an accountant? No need to worry. Plenty of employers hire accountants on an entry-level basis.

According to the BLS, the top five states with the highest employment levels in accounting are:

Top five areas:

Begin Searching for Accounting Jobs Today

So you know how to become an accountant. But that’s only half the battle. Upload your resume to Monster for free and we'll help you pitch your skills and qualifications to potential employers. We'll also send you free job alerts and get you on your way to your first accounting job interview.