Inside CPA Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"Expectation Of Overtime...
I was most surprised about the amount of overtime involved in both the auditing and corporate accounting fields, and the expectation to be "on-call". Personally, I found it hard to maintain an appropriate work/life balance, which is why I chose to work part-time." (Corporate Accountant; 2013)

Career: 17 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, female
School: Studied Accounting at Pennsylvania State University in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 1996

"Not So Much A Bean Counter...
Most people would be surprised to know that being a CPA is a very open career path. It's now all boring number crunching and green visors. In fact, there is very little math actually involved. The majority of my work revolves around giving advice to clients about business and regulatory matters." (Certified Public Accountant; 2014)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Georgia, male
School: Studied Accountancy at Georgia State University in Georgia; completed Master degree in 2012

"Actual Work Is So Different From School's...
I was surprised with the money figures involved in my job. It is just really big. I was also surprised how different is actual application from the theory I have learned in school." (Accountant; 2014)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in New York, female
School: Studied Accounting at Westchester Community College in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 2011

"Variety Of Opportunities...
There are a variety of places you can work and a variety of things you can do being an accountant. I even saw one ad for an accountant for an NFL team." (Accountant; 2014)

Career: 25 years of experience, currently based in Louisiana, male
School: Studied Accounting at Louisiana College in Louisiana; completed Bachelor degree in 1987

"Wide Variety Of Opportunities...
Most people are surprised by the wide variety of industries and occupations that an accounting career provides. Accounting opens doors to everything from public accounting, private accounting, consulting, international opportunities, even teaching at the college level. I think most people would be surprised by the huge variety of doors that are opened by an accounting major." (Accounting; 2014)

Career: 15 years of experience, currently based in North Dakota, male
School: Studied Accounting at University Of California, Santa Barbara in California; completed Bachelor degree in 1998

"Exceeding Salary Goals...
I was surprised by the compensation. This was years ago (1991), but my goal was to make $30,000 by the time I was 30. In reality my compensation surpassed the expected goal. Using an inflation calculator, this is about $52,000 in today's dollars." (Accountant; 2014)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in Wisconsin, female
School: Studied Finance at University Of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Wisconsin; completed Master degree in 1990

"Something Right And Fun...
My profession is the kind that is serious but at the same time fun and beautiful. Being an artist is very optimistic any where and anytime on the job because you'll see things such as a picture with just a drawing of a square. Some people think that might not be art but it is and things so simple would sell big time!" (Artist; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Georgia, female
School: Studied BFA at Georgia Southern University in Georgia; completed Bachelor degree in 2005

"CPA Is Expensive, But Very Well Worth It...
I was surprised at how much it was to become a CPA. The test costs several hundred dollars, but I'm extremely happy I took it and passed. I feel very fulfilled in my life now with a great raise because I am a CPA. It's tough, but worth it!" (Accountant; 2014)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, female
School: Studied Accounting at Rowan University in New Jersey; completed Bachelor degree in 2008

"I Never Realized How Many Different Aspects Of A Business I Would Get To Experience...
I was surprised about all the opportunities that have come from being involved in this field. I have had hands on experience with many different areas of business." (Certified Public Accountant; 2013)

Career: 6 years of experience, currently based in Maryland, male
School: Studied Accounting at Indiana University Of Pennsylvania in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2007

"Accountants Without CPA...
I am surprised by the number of people who receive an accounting degree and do not choose to become a CPA. There are far more people in the accounting field without this certification. I am also surprised by the different overtime requirements between private industry and public firms" (Payroll Accountant; 2013)

Career: 11 years of experience, currently based in Nevada, female
School: Studied Accounting at University Of Nevada Reno in Nevada; completed Master degree in 2009

"Chasm Between College And Real World Accounting...
I was surprised at how little the other accountants knew about accounting. Nobody really knows what they are doing, they are just kind of going through the motions. The difference between accounting education and accounting work is huge." (Accountant II; 2013)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Nevada, male
School: Studied Accounting at University Of Nevada, Las Vegas in Nevada; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Attention To Detail...
I was surprised at the amount of small details that a person in the accounting field have to pay attention to. Also, how a change in just one number can change the whole scenario in a budget." (Payroll Accountant; 2013)

Career: 10 years of experience, currently based in Arkansas, female
School: Studied Accounting at University Of Phoenix in Arizona; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"I was very surprised at how many hours of work are expected out of an accountant. There is an accepted expectation of working a lot more than the standard 40 to 45 hour work week. Work weeks often exceeded 55 hours. I was also surprised at how boring and tedious accounting at a CPA firm is. The career is much more rewarding in the private sector." (Accountant; 2013)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in Ohio, female
School: Studied Accounting at Xavier University in Ohio; completed Bachelor degree in 1985

"Not Solitary Work...
I thought accounting would be just me by myself working in an office. Instead, you have to deal with people on a one-on-one basis. You have to have good communication and people skills." (Cpa; 2012)

Career: 18 years of experience, currently based in Michigan, female
School: Studied Accounting at Davenport College in Michigan; completed Bachelor degree in 1991

"What has surprised me most was the different career paths for people who worked with large public accounting firms. I found that almost every company looked for qualified accountants who have public accountant experience. The pay scales and opportunity to advance to management positions are numerous." (Accountant; 2012)

Career: 30 years of experience, currently based in Colorado, male
School: Studied Business Accounting at University Of Denver in Colorado; completed Bachelor degree in 1974

"While accounting principles are set, the application of these principles are varied depending on the type of accounting you practices, i.e. corporate, governmental, oil & gas. While accounting has a cycle that is repeated the obstacles that one encounters can be vastly varied from day to day." (Financial Reporting Accountant; 2012)

Career: 22 years of experience, currently based in Oklahoma, female
School: Studied Accounting at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma; completed Master degree in 2006

Best & Worst Things About This Career

CPA: "The best part of my job is that I get to work with very intelligent people who challenge me on a daily basis. The people I work with come from different backgrounds so I have learned a lot about different cultures. Our associates are right out of college too so when you first start with the firm, there are a lot of people your age. The worst part of my job is that we often work late hours." (2011)

Association Vice President: "The thing I enjoy the most is trying to come up with creative ideas to sell our services. Whether it be in our letters, magazine or website. The job is also very task-oriented, so there's a beginning and an end and you get to feel sense of accomplishment at having finished something. The worst part is dealing with angry people. In peer review in particular the firms have to pay extra to have this done and they also don't like the CPA questioning how they do things." (2010)

Certified Public Accountant: "One of the best parts of my job is that I am always learning something new since the tax laws change each year and no year is the same since different transactions occur each year. This can also be one of the worst parts of my job since it is such a challenge to learn different rules every year for the same types of transactions. Just keeping up with the changes, without delving deeper, can be a challenge. But reading many of the industry magazines and weekly news letters and alerts helps keep me updated." (2010)

Career Background


  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Video

Career Tips

"Becoming A Successful Accountant...
If you want to be a successful accountant, make sure are detail oriented, take your time and study hard. If you aren't detailed and move too fast, you won't have time to learn or you'll learn it all wrong." (Accountant; 2014)

"Dedication To Education...
If possible, complete your accounting studies before having children. Accounting education is intense and is best completed with total dedication. Supplement your bachelors degree with the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and CMA (Certified Management Accountant) exams. Consider completion of an MBA as well." (Accountant; 2014)

"Network, Network, Network...
They key to being successful as a CPA is to network with professionals in a wide variety of fields. Building relationships will help you build your client base and construct a profitable practice." (Certified Public Accountant; 2014)

"Key To Career Success...
The key to job success is simply befriending the job. Not only befriending your job, but as well as the people around no matter how nasty their ways are." (Accountant; 2014)

"Gain Knowledge, Keep Current...
Stay up to date with technology. It is important to acquire and maintain the skills needed for your profession. If possible, work under a CPA to gain the public accounting experience." (Accountant; 2014)

"Finding A Niche Will Enhance Your Earnings/Advancement...
To be successful in accounting you should explore a number of different opportunities available to you, and then find a specific niche. You niche could be anything from taxation, industry specific (e.g. biotechnology, manufacturing), to accounting in a public company. Finding a niche will prove to maximize your earning potential and enhance job security." (Accounting; 2014)

"Advice For College Students On Entering The Business World...
I would join as many extracurricular activities as you can while maintaining a good GPA. This looks good on your resume coming out of college. It shows companies you can multitask." (Certified Public Accountant; 2013)

"Part Time/Flexible Arrangements...
There is a great demand for accountants in all areas of the profession. This demand can lead to many part-time opportunities as you enter different phases in your life, such as a parent raising young children, or an employee looking to partially retire. The part-time status can be very flexible." (Corporate Accountant; 2013)

"Best Things In Live Are Free...
The best thing in being an artist is that you are free to do whatever comes to your mind and draw or paint it on a sheet of paper to watch your thoughts come to live. Live is about being yourself and how you make the best out of it so its always better to choose something that makes you happy." (Artist; 2013)

"Consider Community Service Projects...
The accounting classes are important, but communication skills are also an important skill to have in our field so take classes that also focus on writing and presenting to an audience. An internship at an accounting firm can help you determine if you would like to work in this field. Most firms look at how well rounded an applicant is and community service involvement is important." (CPA; 2011)

"Involve Yourself In An Association Or Trade Group...
There are associations for everything. They are divided into professional (accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc) or trade associations (manufacturers, college bookstores, golf courses, etc). If you have a passion for something there's probably an association for it. I don't believe you can get a degree in association management but many associations hire communications, marketing or business majors. Meeting/event planning is also very big for associations so seek out colleges that would offer that as a major or minor." (Association Vice President; 2010)

"Prepping For The CPA Exam...
In order to obtain your CPA license, it is a good idea to take classes in college related to the different parts of the exam. Once you're in the workplace, finding time to study for the exam is a much bigger challenge. It may also be helpful to work interim jobs while attending college to learn to apply the knowledge. A big part of the exam is applying the knowledge or theory learned in a book." (Certified Public Accountant; 2010)