Accounting Careers FAQ

Accounting Careers FAQ

Over the years, Monster members have posted thousands of questions to our Finance Careers message board. But some questions pop up all the time, so we thought we’d answer the most commonly asked queries about accounting careers here.  

Can I advance as an accountant without a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation?

Plenty of accountants work without a CPA. However, all else being equal, employers tend to prefer a CPA to a non-CPA candidate. Hudson Financial estimates that CPAs command a 5 percent premium over non-CPA accountants. A survey by the Institute of Management Accountants says the average salary for accountants with some kind of certification was $114,980 versus $95,823 for noncredentialed accountants.

I just graduated with a BA in accounting. Should I work for a private or public firm?

The answer depends in part upon where you want to work. If you’re in a state that requires public accounting experience of its CPAs, then you may want to collect that experience now, because it can be hard to make the switch from private to public later. If you’re in a state that doesn’t require public accounting experience, or you will never, ever desire that CPA, then private accounting can be a great choice. Other options include government  or nonprofit work.

What jobs can I get with an accounting degree and no experience?

In public accounting, entry-level jobs include staff accountant or junior auditor. On the private side, you might start by doing monthly reports or internal audits, or working in the budget department doing forecasts or mergers-and-acquisitions analysis. The accounting career ladder for state and federal workers begins with preparing and analyzing financial reports, or reviewing and recording revenues and expenses. Even before you graduate, you may be able to find work as an accounting assistant or accounting clerk, if you can work during business hours. At the end of your sophomore year, you should have no problem landing a summer accounting internship.

How do I list the fact that I plan to sit for the CPA exam on my resume?

Candidate for CPA exam or CPA exam candidate.

How hard is the CPA exam?

Really hard. So hard that fewer than half of those taking the test in 2010 passed three out of four of the exam's sections. The best passing rate was for the regulation section: 50.66 percent. Passing rates can be much higher for recent graduates. Graduate and undergraduate students from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, posted a total passing rate of 73 percent in 2009. Not to worry, though, plenty of study options are available.

What do I have to do to become a CPA?

The answer depends upon where you want to practice, since each state sets its own rules for CPAs. Most require 150 hours of education and at least a year of accounting experience. They differ on whether that experience has to be public accounting or gained under the supervision of a CPA and on how long you must work before you’re eligible to be licensed. Some states have two-level systems that create a designation other than CPA, such as Oregon’s Public Accountant license. You can check the licensing requirements for your state with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

How do I make a mid-career switch into accounting?

If you already have an undergraduate degree, you’d seek a master of accounting (MAcc) degree; otherwise, you’d go for a bachelor’s in accounting. While you’re in school, take advantage of on-campus networking opportunities. Join the accounting club and the financial information honorary society, Beta Alpha Psi. Stop by the co-op office the first week of school to ask about summer internships. Ask the career center how to find out about campus visits from recruiters. Get to know your professors by visiting them during office hours.

Your off-campus networking should include joining the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Institute of Management Accountants; both offer discount student memberships.

What can I do if I have 20 years’ experience in accounting, but no degree?

While it’s possible to work your way up from an entry-level clerk job into an accounting position, it’s extremely difficult to then move to a new company without the degree. The solution is two-fold. First, get the degree. Look for a school that will award credit based on life experience, which will give you a jump-start. Take online classes if your home life prevents you from attending classes on campus. Second, build a large network of industry contacts who can vouch for your accounting skills. Networking is doubly important if you don’t possess the proper credentials.

Will poor credit keep me from getting hired in accounting?

It’s fairly likely that potential employers will check credit. If yours is poor, it could very well cause an employer to turn to the next candidate. How bad your credit is and why it’s bad do make a difference. If you have poor credit, especially a bankruptcy, judgment or foreclosure in your past, be ready with a short, contrite explanation. Then, change the subject back to the job and why you’re the best candidate. If your credit problems are hampering your job search, stick to smaller firms, which are sometimes less likely to pull your credit.

Learn more about accounting careers.