How to Become an Accountant: A Comprehensive Guide

by Peter Trebek


Accounting is a vital cog in the financial wheel of every business and organization. From chartered accountant roles in the UK to financial accountant positions in NYC, the demand for this profession is universal. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide for aspiring accountants, detailing the educational and professional pathways you can follow to secure accountant jobs, along with insights into accountant responsibilities and opportunities in this field.

The Role of an Accountant


The role of an accountant is multi-faceted and the responsibilities can range from general accounting duties to specialized tasks depending on the type of accountant you aspire to become. Here’s a more detailed look at the responsibilities:

  • Bookkeeping: This is the bread and butter of most accounting roles. You’ll be responsible for maintaining an accurate record of all financial transactions.
    • Accounts Payable and Receivable: Ensuring all bills are paid and money owed is collected.
    • Bank Reconciliations: Aligning bank statements with internal financial records.
  • Financial Analysis: As a financial accountant, you’ll be expected to not just record financial data, but also interpret it.
    • Budget Planning: Assisting in formulating the budget.
    • Investment Analysis: Recommending investment opportunities based on risk and return assessments.
  • Tax Preparation: This can range from filing individual tax returns for small businesses to complex corporate taxes.
    • Tax Planning: Advising on tax advantages and disadvantages of business decisions.
    • Tax Compliance: Ensuring that all financial practices meet legal standards.
  • Auditing: Particularly for those who choose to specialize as a chartered accountant, you’ll conduct internal and external audits to ensure financial accuracy.
    • Internal Audits: Checking for internal compliance and controls.
    • External Audits: Verifying financial statements for external use.
  • Management Advising: As an accountant manager, you’ll often be expected to give financial advice for decision-making.
    • Strategic Planning: Providing insights for long-term financial planning.
    • Operational Costs: Offering suggestions for cost-cutting and revenue-increasing strategies.

Accountant terms such as balance sheets, income statements, and cash flow statements are integral to all these responsibilities.

Skills Required

Being an accountant isn’t just about crunching numbers; it requires a diverse set of skills that are vital for various roles within the field. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Analytical Skills: Crucial for dissecting financial data, spotting trends, and making recommendations. This is especially key for jobs like financial analyst or accountant financial advisor.
  • Communication Skills: An often-overlooked skill, but vital in the modern workplace. This is especially important for accountant managers who need to relay financial data in understandable terms to non-accounting staff.
  • Attention to Detail: With the complexity and volume of data you’ll be dealing with, a single mistake could have significant implications.
  • Technological Proficiency: Familiarity with accountant programs and software is often required, as many tasks are now automated or streamlined through technology.
  • Ethical Considerations: Accountants are often the ethical backbone of an organization. Knowledge of laws and regulations is crucial, and in some roles, like lawyer accountant, it’s the primary job description.
  • Teamwork and Leadership: Depending on your role and the size of your organization, teamwork can be crucial. Leadership skills are particularly important for positions like group accountant or accountant manager, where overseeing a team is part of the job.

Understanding these responsibilities and skills is the first major step to deciding what kind of accountant you want to become and what kind of environment you want to work in—be it as an accountant for a small business, a chartered accountant in a big firm, or somewhere in between.

Educational Pathways

High School Preparation

High school courses in math and economics provide a good foundation. For those considering accountant courses in college, introductory accounting or business courses are a bonus.

Undergraduate Degree

Most jobs for accountants require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Consider accredited programs, as you’ll need this for accountant licensing later on.

Post-Graduate Opportunities

Further studies like a Master’s in Accounting can open doors to higher-paying jobs and specializations like a chartered accountant.

Certification and Licensing

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

A CPA license is a valuable credential, especially for those looking to become a financial accountant or accountant manager. The license requires passing a pre-employment assessment template from sources like or various aptitude tests.

Other Certifications

Besides the CPA, there are other certifications like Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), which offer specialized roles.

Work Experience

Gaining practical experience is essential for anyone looking to build a rewarding career in accounting. Whether you are a student or a recent graduate, work experience gives you the real-world skills that classes alone can’t offer. It also gives you the chance to apply theories and concepts learned in your accountant courses.


Internships are often the first taste of real-world accounting work for students or recent graduates. These temporary positions provide a variety of benefits:

  • Skill Application: Use the knowledge you’ve gained from your courses and textbooks in a real-world setting.
  • Networking: Meet professionals in the field, from entry-level colleagues to accountant managers, and establish valuable connections for future opportunities.
  • Resume Enhancement: Having an internship or two listed on your accountant resume significantly increases your employability.
  • Exploration: Use the opportunity to test out different accountant types and roles, be it financial accounting, managerial accounting, or even auditing, before you commit to a specialized path.
  • Mentorship: Internships often provide the chance to work under experienced accountants who can guide you and offer career advice.

Entry-Level Positions

After graduation, the next step typically involves landing an entry-level job. Positions like assistant accountant are common starting points for those who have recently completed their studies. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Accountant Entry-Level Salary: Compensation at this level may vary depending on your location, the industry, and the type of accounting work involved. For instance, the entry-level salary for an assistant accountant in London may differ from one in NYC.
  • Learning on the Job: These roles offer the chance for practical, hands-on experience where you will learn how to apply accounting software, complete tax returns, or even help in financial planning.
  • Additional Certifications: Many entry-level jobs allow you the time and even offer financial assistance to prepare for exams like the CPA or other certifications.

Career Advancement

Your journey doesn’t stop at landing an entry-level job; there are plenty of avenues for career advancement:

  • Accountant Manager: With a few years of experience, you could move into a managerial role, where you’ll oversee a team of other accountants and possibly even other departments.
  • Group Accountant: This role involves overseeing the accounts of different departments or even separate companies within a larger corporation.
  • Financial Advisor: With a strong understanding of finance and a knack for strategy, you can transition into a role that involves advising businesses or individuals on their financial strategy.
  • Specialized Roles: There are niche roles, like forensic accounting, international tax law, or even merging into a lawyer accountant role, that you can pursue as you advance in your career.

By consistently proving your skills and taking the initiative, you could move up from an assistant accountant to other more specialized roles, giving you not just a higher salary but also more responsibilities and challenges to grow professionally.

Finding a Job

The process of finding a job can often be a job in itself. It requires a strategic approach that involves several key steps, from building a compelling resume to mastering job interviews. Below is a more comprehensive look at each stage of the job-hunting process in the accounting field.

Resume Building

The first impression you make on a potential employer is through your resume, and as such, it’s crucial that this document is polished and professional. Here are some tips on what to include:

  • Objective Statement: Lead with a clear and concise objective that aligns with the accounting role you’re applying for.
  • Skills Summary: Highlight key skills that are pertinent to the job, such as analytical abilities, proficiency in accounting software, or managerial experience.
  • Work Experience: List your work history in reverse chronological order, with bullet points detailing responsibilities and achievements in each role.
  • Educational Background: Include your accountant degree and any relevant certifications like CPA, CMA, etc.
  • References: If possible, add references from previous jobs, internships, or educational experiences that can vouch for your skills and qualifications.

Using an accountant resume template can help ensure you don’t overlook any essential elements. It can also provide a clean, organized format that is easy for recruiters to read.

Job Search

In today’s digital age, there are various platforms and avenues where one can search for accounting jobs:

  • Online Job Portals: Websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor offer a plethora of opportunities, from entry-level to senior accountant positions.
  • Recruitment Agencies: Many agencies specialize in finance and accounting roles, doing the legwork to find positions that match your skill set and career goals.
  • Networking: Never underestimate the power of a strong professional network. Events, seminars, and even social media can be good platforms to connect with industry professionals.

For those based in the UK, London offers a wealth of opportunities given its status as a global financial hub. Roles like London accountant or financial accountant in big London-based firms can offer more specialized and high-paying opportunities.

Interview Preparation

Getting the interview is just the first hurdle; the next step is to excel in it.

  • Behavioral Questions: Prepare for questions that assess your interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, and cultural fit within the company.
  • Technical Questions: Given this is an accounting role, expect questions that test your technical knowledge. These might cover topics you’ve encountered in your accountant courses or specific accounting scenarios you may face on the job.
  • Mock Interviews: Consider conducting mock interviews with mentors, family, or friends to get comfortable with the interview setting.
  • Company Research: Understanding the company culture, their line of business, and role requirements can give you a significant edge.

Interview preparation resources are abundant; many are found in online accountant courses, offering simulated interview questions and answers to practice.

By focusing on these crucial elements in your job search, you’ll be better equipped to land a job role that not only matches your skills but also serves as a stepping stone for long-term career growth in accounting.

Career Paths in Accounting

Accounting is a versatile field offering a multitude of career paths, from crunching numbers at a Fortune 500 company to overseeing the finances of a non-profit organization. Depending on your interests, skills, and career goals, you can choose from various sectors within accounting. Below are some of the most common paths with an emphasis on the roles you can expect to find in each.

Public Accounting

In public accounting, you could work for an accounting firm that provides a variety of accounting services to other businesses, government agencies, or individuals. Here are some roles you might consider:

  • Financial Accountant: Responsible for handling all manner of financial statements, balance sheets, and income reports for client companies.
    • Sub-specializations: You could further specialize in areas like international accounting, mergers and acquisitions, or even forensic accounting.
  • Chartered Accountant: Typically working in an auditing role, chartered accountants ensure the financial accuracy and compliance of a client’s accounts.
    • Certifications: The role often requires specialized certifications, like the ACA in the UK or the CPA in the US.
  • Tax Consultant: Specializing in tax preparation, planning, and advice, you’ll work closely with businesses to optimize their tax strategies.
  • Advisory Services: In this role, you could offer specialized advice in areas like risk management or corporate finance.

Private/Corporate Accounting

In private or corporate accounting, you’ll focus on the internal accounting needs of a specific organization.

  • Accountant Manager: Often part of a larger finance team, you would oversee a team of accountants responsible for budgeting, financial reporting, and possibly even strategic planning.
  • Financial Analyst: Specializing in data interpretation, financial analysts work closely with the executive team to guide business decisions based on financial data.
  • Controller: Serving as a senior financial manager, controllers oversee accounting activities, internal audits, and financial reporting within the organization.
  • Specialized Roles: You could work specifically with accountant programs or ERP systems to facilitate financial analysis and data management within the company.

Government and Non-Profit Accounting

Working in the public sector or for a non-profit organization offers a different kind of reward, often focused on public service.

  • Regulatory Roles: Accountants in governmental positions often work in regulatory oversight, ensuring financial compliance and transparency in both public and private entities.
  • Lawyer Accountant: This role is particularly specialized, requiring knowledge in both accounting and law. You could be involved in legalities surrounding tax, fraud, and other financial regulations.
  • Grant Management: In non-profits, accountants often specialize in grant management, overseeing the financial aspects of awarded grants to ensure they are used appropriately and reported correctly.
  • Budget Analyst: In both governmental and non-profit roles, you could work as a budget analyst, ensuring that the organization’s financial resources are allocated effectively.

Each career path has its unique challenges, responsibilities, and rewards. Whether it’s the fast-paced world of public accounting or the mission-driven focus of non-profits, there is a multitude of roles to suit various interests and skills in the accounting profession.

Pros and Cons of Becoming an Accountant

Becoming an accountant can be a rewarding career choice with a variety of opportunities across multiple sectors. However, like any profession, it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Knowing what to expect can help you make an informed decision about whether this career path is right for you.


  • Above-Average Salary: One of the most attractive benefits is the accountant average salary. Compensation is generally higher than many other fields, and as you climb the corporate ladder—say from an accountant assistant to an accountant manager—your earning potential significantly increases.
  • Job Security: Accounting skills are always in demand, making it a stable career choice. The skills you’ll learn are transferrable across various industries, from healthcare to technology.
  • Career Advancement: There are many pathways for career growth, from specializing as a chartered or financial accountant to taking on managerial roles. With additional certifications and continuous learning, the sky’s the limit.
  • Variety of Work: The breadth of accountant types means you can specialize in multiple areas like tax, audit, management, or even forensic accounting, keeping the work interesting and varied.
  • Global Opportunities: Accounting principles are globally recognized, so those looking to work internationally will find that their skills are easily transferable.
  • Networking: Being in a field that interacts with various parts of a business, you’ll build a broad professional network that can open doors for future opportunities.
  • Personal Skill Development: From analytical and problem-solving skills to mastering complex financial systems, you’ll continuously develop skills that are both professionally and personally enriching.


  • Long Working Hours: Accountant work can be time-consuming, especially during peak seasons like the end of the fiscal year or tax season. The workload can be intense, leading to long hours and potential burnout.
  • Stress Levels: Meeting deadlines, ensuring compliance, and managing large sets of data can be stressful and require meticulous attention to detail.
  • Continuing Education: To stay current and competitive, you’ll often need to invest in additional courses, certifications, and training, which can be both time-consuming and costly.
  • Lack of Creativity: Depending on your role, the work can sometimes become repetitive, leaving little room for creative thinking or out-of-the-box problem-solving.
  • Ethical Challenges: The field sometimes poses ethical dilemmas, such as discovering financial discrepancies or fraud, which can place accountants in morally complicated situations.
  • Cost of Entry: Qualifying as an accountant often requires a significant educational investment, including both the cost of an accountant degree and potential postgraduate qualifications like the CPA or CMA exams.
  • Work-Life Balance: Especially for those in higher-level roles like accountant manager or group accountant, the job can demand a lot, making it challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Technology Risks: Automation and AI technologies pose a risk to some accounting functions, although they are more likely to change the nature of work rather than replace it entirely.

Choosing to become an accountant is a significant decision that should be made with full awareness of both the benefits and challenges involved. Each individual’s experience will differ, but understanding the general pros and cons can help you better prepare for what lies ahead in an accounting career.


Whether you aim to become an accountant for a small business or ascend the corporate ladder in a multi-national firm, accounting is a field that offers vast opportunities. From acquiring an accountant assistant salary to scaling the heights of the industry, the journey starts with the right education and certification.

Additional Resources for Aspiring Accountants

Becoming a successful accountant involves a commitment to learning and professional development. Whether you’re starting out or looking to advance your career, a plethora of resources, from books and online courses to aptitude tests and professional organizations, can provide valuable support. Here’s a closer look at these resources:

Recommended Books

  • “Accounting Made Simple” by Mike Piper: A great starting point for anyone new to the field, this book explains basic accounting principles in an easy-to-understand manner.
  • “The Tax and Legal Playbook” by Mark J. Kohler: This book offers valuable insights into the complexities of tax laws, a crucial area for any accountant.
  • “The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations” by Jacob Soll: This book delves into the history and significance of accounting, offering a unique perspective on its importance in modern society.
  • “Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports” by Howard Schilit and Jeremy Perler: An essential read for anyone looking to specialize in forensic accounting.
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie: While not an accounting book, this classic is crucial for anyone looking to improve their communication and networking skills, both essential for career growth in accounting.

Online Courses

  • Introduction to Accounting: Various platforms offer beginner courses that cover the fundamentals of accounting, often mirroring what you’d find in an accountant course at a college.
  • Financial Accounting Specialization: Courses like these delve deeper into specialized topics like balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows.
  • CPA Exam Prep: If you’re looking to become a certified public accountant, there are specialized online accountant courses tailored to help you pass the CPA exam.
  • Business Ethics for Accountants: Ethics are a cornerstone of accounting, and courses like these can provide you with a solid foundation.
  • Advanced Excel for Accountants: Mastery of Excel is practically a must in the field, and specialized courses can give you the edge you need.

Aptitude Tests and Pre-Employment Assessment Templates

Before you dive into your job search, you might want to gauge your readiness and suitability for accounting roles. Websites like offer aptitude tests and pre-employment assessment templates that can give you an idea of what employers are looking for and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Professional Organizations

Accounting is a multifaceted career that demands a range of skills, from analytical thinking to a deep understanding of financial laws and ethical standards. Fortunately, the resources available for professional development in this field are abundant and varied, allowing for continuous learning and career growth. By leveraging these resources, you’re not just crunching numbers—you’re evolving into a versatile professional with a comprehensive understanding of business operations.

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