What Is It Like to Be an Accountant?

Job Description

Tax Accountant
••• Steve Weinrebe / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

An accountant ensures the accuracy of individuals', companies', and organizations' financial statements. He or she sees to it that laws and procedures are followed, and taxes are correct and paid on time. An accountant prepares financial documentation and explains his or her findings to individuals or a company's or organization's management.

There are several types of accountants. Management accountants prepare financial information that is used internally by the companies that employ them. Public accountants who work for accounting firms or are self-employed prepare financial documentation and tax forms, and perform audits for clients. Government accountants work with government agencies' financial records. They also audit businesses, organizations, and individuals that are subject to government regulation and taxation.

Quick Facts

  • Accountants earn a  median annual salary of $69,350 (2017).
  • About 1.4 million people are employed as accountants (2016).
  • A quarter work for accounting firms. The Federal and state governments, finance and insurance companies, private companies, and other organizations employ the rest.
  • Most jobs in this field are full-time. Many jobs require overtime work particularly during tax season or around deadlines to file quarterly or annual financial statements.
  • The job outlook is excellent for accountants, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government agency predicts employment will grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    A Day in an Accountant's Life

    These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for accountants found on Indeed.com:

    • "Assist with preparation of operating budgets; coordinating insurance renewals with outside agencies"
    • "Enter cash transactions for loans and reconcile account balances"
    • "Prepare accurate work papers, schedules, and reconciliations for audit purposes"
    • "Send invoices to accounts"
    • "Enforce payment terms with accounts"
    • "Research state and local tax laws and assist in corporate registrations for new markets"
    • "Assist with the preparation of income and franchise estimated payments, and gather information for filing"
    • "Work with external auditors"
    • "Record payments and disbursements, and adjust entries in the loan accounting system verifying the accuracy of each posting" 

    Educational and Licensing Requirements

    To become an accountant, first earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field of study. You may want to continue your education since some employers prefer job candidates who have a Master's of Science Degree in Accounting or Taxation or an MBA with a concentration in Accounting.

    To be able to file documents with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, you will need to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Individual states grant licensure according to their own rules and regulations. After earning your college degree, you will have to pass the Uniform CPA Examination. To find out what the licensing requirements are in the state in which you want to practice, please see the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop.

    What Soft Skills Do Accountants Need?

    In addition to formal education and a license, one also needs specific soft skills—personal qualities with which you were born or acquired through experience—to succeed in this field.  Excellent listening, speaking, and writing skills allow accountants to communicate with clients. They also need good critical thinking and complex problem solving skills and must be well-organized and detail oriented.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some of the qualities, in addition to education, skills, and experience, employers look for when they hire workers. They are from job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Able to work independently as well as in a team environment"
    • "Ability to analyze and manage workflow and deadlines"
    • "Excellent customer service skills"
    • "Able to work in fast-paced environment and take pressure"
    • "Demonstrated proficiency in Microsoft Office (Word and Excel)"
    • "Proactive and able to make recommendations to improve department processes"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Do a self assessment to discover your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. This information will help you choose a career. Consider becoming an accountant if you have the following traits:

    Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

    Occupation Description Median Annual Wage (2017) Minimum Required Education/Training
    Assessor Appraises the values of multiple homes in a neighborhood


    Bachelor's Degree
    Real Estate Appraiser Estimates a single home's value $54,010 Bachelor's Degree
    Cost Estimator Calculates how much a project will cost $63,110

    Bachelor's Degree (preferred)

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited November 12, 2018).