Become A Certified Public Accountant: A Career in Public Accounting

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A public accountant is essentially a general accountant who either works for an accounting firm or has his or her own private practice. Though a career in public accounting includes traditionally working in an office setting, these accountants usually work with several clients at one time, and they encounter a wide variety of types of work and people, which keeps the job engaging and interesting.

Public accountants, who often become certified public accountants, perform a number of accounting services for their varied clients, either individuals or corporations:

  • Public accountants' daily tasks range widely, from auditing, tax and financial planning to consulting and providing advice about compensation and benefits.
  • Public accountants meet with clients, work with larger teams of accountants and eventually train other junior accountants.

Many public accountants end up rising to a high-level position within a firm or moving to a private corporation to become a controller or CFO. An accounting degree, however, is crucial to entering and succeeding in public accounting but if you desire to move into a controller or CFO role, you'll need to earn a master's degree.

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Career in Public Accounting Paths

Entry-Level

Types of Roles


  • Staff accountant, junior auditor, tax personnel at an accounting firm

Getting There


  • Bachelor degree in accounting or finance
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications

Description


  • Bachelor degree in accounting or finance
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications
  • Help prepare audit papers
  • Execute audits
  • Work on tax returns
  • Review and test data
  • Help senior accounting staff

Mid-Level

Types of Roles


  • Senior associate/accountant or manager for audit or tax in an accounting firm

Getting There


  • All entry-level requirements
  • CPA certification
  • An advanced degree like an MBA with a focus in accounting or MAcc is helpful

Description


  • Supervise project teams and accounting staff
  • Review and prepare audits and tax returns
  • Work with clients
  • Conduct research
  • Help with firm strategy and planning
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Senior-Level

Types of Roles


  • Partner/senior partner or director of a firm, CPA in private practice, corporate accounting executive, or CFO of a private company

Getting There


  • All mid-level requirements
  • An MBA or MAcc is recommended

Description


Executive in accounting firm:

  • Oversee audits, tax and consulting
  • Drive strategy and business development
  • Manage client relationships

CPA in private practice:

  • Work with client base on anything from tax issues to audits to budget analysis

CFO of a private company:

  • Senior-level management accountant responsibilities

* Depends on company size, specific job, and location
Sources: Robert Half International

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