Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why wouldn't you want to become an accountant?

NUMBER CRUNCHERS: Some of my students and I
work on an accounting problem
As an Academic Program Manager for the Bachelor of Science in Accounting in The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University, I am often asked to talk to audiences about accounting as a career. During the process, I am usually amazed at the stereotypes and biases expressed by those in attendance. As a result, I would like to go ahead and debunk two of the most common myths about becoming an accounting major leading to employment as an accountant.

Accounting myth #1: You must be a math whiz to succeed in accounting. This couldn't be any further from the truth! To be successful in an accounting degree program, students only need a little knowledge of basic math and a little common sense.

Accounting myth #2: Accounting is boring and for geeks. Did you know that 15 percent of FBI agents are accountants? In fact, to become a Special Agent, you first must qualify under a Special Agent Entry Program -- one of which is accounting. These men and women carry guns and go after bad guys. They are definitely not geeks, and pocket protectors are not part of their required work attire. Also, accountants are paid well, and since when is making a lot of money boring and nerdy?

Once I dispel these myths, I can finally move on to the real issue at hand: Why be an accountant? In a nutshell, accounting can be a rewarding and lucrative career for several reasons. Here are six of them you should consider:

1. High salary. 2011 accounting graduates started their first job at an average salary of $50,500, according to the 2012 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey. This starting salary is higher than the national average for all graduates, which was $41,701. See, I told you accountants are paid well! Also, accounting grads are likely to have many opportunities for advancement (which means more money) over time. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage of accountants and auditors was $61,690 in May 2010. That's nearly double the median annual wage of all occupations in the U.S., which the BLS reported was $33,840 in 2010. To give you greater perspective on earning potential, the top 10 percent of accountants or auditors reported that they earned more than $106,880 in 2010, according to the BLS.

2. Job growth. The BLS projects employment of accountants and auditors to grow 15.7 percent from 2010 to 2020, making it one of the 30 fastest growing occupations in the U.S. This growth is largely fueled by a constant need for accounting, auditing, and tax services within organizations. In addition, the BLS cites how corporate laws and regulations have become stricter in recent years in terms of financial reporting, which has led to an increased focus on accounting as organizations must comply with new standards. With such a ubiquitous demand for accountants, you can gain greater flexibility in where you work. Who would turn this opportunity down?

3. Variety of career paths. Accountants can choose from a wide variety of career paths. The four main types are:
  • Public accountants, who provide a wide range of accounting, auditing, tax, and consulting services
  • Management accountants, who focus on recording and analyzing financial information
  • Government accountants, who maintain and examine government agency records
  • Internal auditors, who look for any mismanagement of organizational funds
Accountants work in all types of organizations, from large corporations to small businesses, and also privately on a one-on-one basis with individuals. They also work in a variety of sectors, such as government, health care, sports management, law enforcement, and many more.

4. Variety of work environments. Since there are a variety of career paths available for accountants, there are also a variety of work settings available. In addition to working within the U.S., accountants could have the opportunity to travel to different countries and consult internationally.

5. Flexible hours. Most accountants work full-time and average 40 hours a week. However, there are many accounting positions that are much more flexible and require fewer work hours per week. As a result, accountants can dedicate more time to raising a family or personal interests.

6. Respect. In many circles, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can have the status and prestige of a doctor or a lawyer. Rebecca Mahler, the Manager of Career Research and Student Organizational Partnerships at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, said that becoming certified is "an invaluable credential which typically leads to at least a 10 to 15 percent higher salary."

After reading this information, who wouldn't want to be an accountant? As someone who has been in the field of accounting for more than 30 years, I can personally say I enjoy my job and sharing my enthusiasm with prospective students. As I said earlier, you don't have to be a math genius, star athlete, or even a prom queen to succeed in accounting. If you like and understand the subject matter, then you, too, can enter a successful and rewarding career.