CPA Career Paths and Jobs

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A career as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an excellent choice. Not only is the designation an extremely valuable credential for accountants looking to advance their careers, but it also opens up a wide range of career opportunities. Furthermore, the certification shows your future employer that you are qualified for the job and have the conviction to achieve difficult goals.

So, what would you do as a CPA? The overall job of a CPA consists of helping companies, private citizens, and organizations make sense of financial data. Specific job duties include:

  • Creating financial statements
  • Reducing tax obligations
  • Estate planning
  • Filing and preparing state, local, and federal tax returns
  • Identifying risks and issues with clients
  • Acting as an expert witness for legal cases

A CPA’s abilities go beyond those of standard accountants. CPAs have the authority to conduct special taxation and auditing services.

How To Choose The Best CPA Career Path For You?

The CPA license is considered the gold standard in accounting. The credential will not only broaden your professional relevance by allowing you to work in any organization or industry, but it will also offer substantial benefits such as higher pay, job security, and upward mobility.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an accountant with a bachelor's degree can earn more than $70,000 on average, but a CPA can earn around $119,000. If you are a university student studying accounting, you are probably thinking about pursuing a career as a CPA. Consider following the below factors to determine which CPA career options are best for you.

1. Understanding the difference between public and private sector

Accountants working in the private sector are considered private accountants. They may not need a CPA license to work for a private company. However, it is without a doubt that the CPA certification will boost your professional value and create opportunities for you, including a higher salary. In addition, if you’re looking for an accounting position that allows for more regular work hours in a more typical office environment, private accounting might be for you.

Similar to the private sector, having CPA licensure also increases your salary in the public sector. Consider that as a public accountant, you may work with a wide range of clients, have a faster-paced workday, and may have more opportunities to broaden your expertise than in the private sector. Other advantages of working in public accounting include structured feedback, autonomy, and fantastic career opportunities. Public accountants typically travel more frequently than private accountants and often work longer hours.

2. Take a review course to pass the CPA Exam

Passing the CPA Exam is an important step on your journey to landing a great CPA job. It is not easy to pass, and many students find that taking a CPA Review course is critical to preparing for the CPA Exam. Taking a CPA Review course will certainly help you study more efficiently, receive the most up-to-date CPA Exam information, and give you the confidence you need on exam day. Learn more about the CPA Exam and prepare yourself beforehand to achieve your goals.

3. Examine resources for your CPA career path

As you pursue your CPA career path, there are several early-career resources available to you. For instance, if you want to work in public accounting, check out the Young CPA Network, which can offer you professional development opportunities, awards, and mentorship. You can join many of these organizations whether you are a student, CPA candidate, or a newly licensed CPA.

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CPA Career Opportunities

Among the many CPA career paths to choose from, you may want to consider looking into areas of specialization. For example, internal auditors investigate and report on the operations and financial records of a company. In this role, you will also be in charge of risk management, control processes, and financial data. Another specialty is financial analysis, which involves analyzing financial data to help businesses grow. Expect to work with data, create reports, and help company executives make sound financial decisions.

If you are a tech enthusiast, you may find opportunities that will allow you to investigate a company's technological infrastructure, ensure system security, and verify that businesses adhere to the most recent industry regulations.

The Big 4

Many CPAs aspire to work for one of the Big 4, the world's four largest professional services firms, which are Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY), and KPMG. These four firms dominate the audit landscape and represent the Fortune 100.

As a CPA working for one of the world's largest accounting firms, you have the potential to fast track through the industry if you are a top performer. While the pay in these roles is generally higher than in smaller firms, the hours are longer, the pressure is greater, and the competition is fiercer. If you thrive in those circumstances, having one of the Big Four on your resume could be your ticket to a senior position or a specialized role at a smaller firm.

Smaller Firm

Working for one of the Big Four accounting firms isn’t for everyone. Regional accounting firms can also provide valuable experience for aspiring CPAs. These firms sometimes operate at a slower pace than the Big 4, allowing employees to learn the intricacies of the profession in a less competitive environment. This can result in lower pay, but CPAs at this level might also have better work-life balance and work fewer hours than Big 4 CPAs.

While working at a local firm can lead to a more balanced lifestyle, the professional ladder could take longer to climb. Employers may not immediately recognize your value if they are comparing you to other candidates with Big Four experience, even if your skill set is exactly what they're looking for.

Interest-Based

Accounting knowledge is required by almost every business or organization. This opens up a plethora of opportunities for CPAs with personal interests or in-depth knowledge of a subject or industry. If you want to travel, consider becoming an international accountant who specializes in the accounting standards of specific parts of the world.

If you care deeply about the preservation of our living world, a career as an environmental accountant would allow you to investigate environmentally friendly business practices. Pay and lifestyle vary by industry, but the possibilities are limitless.

Academia

CPAs can also become educators who help students or even develop new accounting practices, whether they are at a two-year college, four-year university, or graduate school. Professors at a two-year college earn a modest living but are rewarded when their students overcome obstacles and succeed. This is an excellent career path for CPAs who care about their communities and want to introduce the profession to a new generation of students.

Academia is a more rigorous educational path that often requires admission to a Ph.D. program. Assistant professors can apply for tenure after completing extensive research and teaching and advance to associate professors once their tenure is secured.

Non-Profit Organizations

Almost any non-profit organization requires an accountant. These organizations are subject to a number of rules and tax implications that influence how they conduct business. Non-profit organizations may also be supported by government grants. These grants have specific financial requirements that must be followed precisely. Accountants at non-profit organizations ensure that every dollar is properly accounted for and that the financials are in order. Although many of these administrative budgets are much smaller than those of a large corporation, a number of national non-profit organizations handle millions of dollars each year.

Government

Accounting and CPA professionals help the government manage its finances. They work in a variety of capacities at the local, state, and federal levels. These are high-paying positions, so recent CPA graduates eager to work hard and advance within the organization may choose this career path. These positions can be found at the Department of Defense, the Internal Revenue Service, and the General Accounting Office.

Additional CPA Job Options: Which One Is Best For You?

A CPA career path is both diverse and exciting, allowing for a wide range of experiences and exciting career options. For example:

1. FBI Agent/Forensic Accountant

If the thought of solving mysteries or being involved in legal investigations is appealing, becoming a forensic accountant may be the right path for you. Forensic accountants provide testimony in court, solve business crimes such as corporate fraud, and write reports for legal teams to use in court. Forensic accountants solve complex cases in challenging and exciting environments.

2. Corporate Entertainment Accountant

As a corporate entertainment accountant, you may work for a production company or studio, supervising the production costs of movies and television shows or managing entertainment budgets.

3. Sports Accountant

Accountants in sports can work for sports teams, organizations, sports broadcasting companies, or sports manufacturers. Some responsibilities may include working with monthly budgets for a sports team, handling expenses for high-profile sports celebrities, and managing an entire sports team's payroll. If you enjoy sports but prefer to keep a low profile, you could also consider working for a sports equipment manufacturing company.

4. Environmental Accountant

If you care deeply about the environment and are considering ways to contribute to making the world a better place to live, becoming an Environmental Accountant could be an option. In this position, you would typically work for a larger corporation and spend time finding new ways to save the company money by implementing environmentally-friendly changes to its business model.

5. Accounting Consultant

Many CPAs enjoy the idea of working as consultants from home and setting their own hours. Consultants carry out a variety of tasks that are specific to an individual or business client.

6. International Accountant

If you enjoy traveling, becoming an international accountant is the right CPA career path for you. This field is growing in tandem with the global economy. Knowledge of accounting standards for various countries, including International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), would be required.

7. Accounting Professor

If you enjoy teaching accounting, auditing, and taxation, becoming an accounting professor would be a great fit for you while still allowing you to work in academia. The demand for professors is at an all-time high right now.

CPA Career Outlook

The career outlook for CPAs remains favorable as demand for the position rises in tandem with the robust economy in the United States. CPAs are respected with greater authority than non-certified accountants. With a CPA, you are more likely to find an open position and also have access to wider opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPAs, on average, earn 25% more than non-certified accountants.

Work-life balance

Expectations like accountants working round the clock in order to get a promotion is no longer the norm. Younger generations understand the demands of the CPA profession but also value a flexible work schedule and greater autonomy. In fact, it has been found that these attributes can actually improve their overall performance. As you pursue your CPA career options, you may want to search for more companies that offer these perks as a way to attract the best and brightest employees.

Improved correlation among employees and employers

More frequent meetings between junior employees and their superiors are quickly replacing the old work culture. Younger generations value one-on-one feedback to better understand if they're on the right track. They seek employers who act as mentors, providing guidance along their professional journey.

Professional Growth Opportunities

Today’s youth value professional growth over higher salaries. And they are always seeking innovation and growth in their professional lives. Keeping this ideology in mind, most firms offer mentoring programs and budgets for new hires to attend conferences and industry events. As more new graduates join the workforce, the focus shifts to their professional growth and upward mobility.

What is the best career path for a CPA?

Becoming a CPA opens up a plethora of opportunities. Here are some career sector options you can choose from:

Sector/Industry Job Profiles
Public Accounting
  • Budget analyst
  • Tax examiner
  • Business systems analyst
Business, Government, and Not-for-Profits
  • Staff-Financial Accounting & Reporting
  • Staff-Tax Accounting
  • Staff-Internal Audit
  • Financial Advisor
Forensic Services
  • Forensic CPAs
Tax & Finance
  • Financial Advisor

Tips For Getting Hired As A CPA

Passing the CPA Exam is an accomplishment in itself, but it doesn’t guarantee you a job as a CPA. Getting hired as a CPA requires preparation, skill development, and research. If your next step is finding a job, these tips can help you get a leg up on the competition.

Put In the Required Time and Effort

In most states, a minimum of one or two years of relevant work experience is required to obtain CPA licensure. The more work experience you have, the more likely you are to be considered for a job. However, not all work experience is equal. Working as a full-time accountant is the most conventional and valuable experience you can obtain if you want to get hired as a CPA. Furthermore, displaying leadership qualities and volunteering your services will go a long way in determining your job prospects.

Build Your Network

Networking is one of the quintessential business buzzwords. Reaching out to your faculty, colleagues, seniors, and mentors is essential if you want to grow in your career. These professionals are often open to sharing their insights into the accounting world. Building connections with these professionals will help you secure an interview or even get a job.

Choose The Right Business

Every business or organization needs qualified accountants, and as a CPA, you are in high demand. As a result, you have many opportunities to find a position that matches your skills, expectations, and interests. Before applying for a new position, read the company’s profile in detail and make sure to visit the company's website, review its social profile, and learn about its work culture. That’s how you will find a company that excites you, and your chances of landing a job will increase.

Brush Up Interview Skills

You may be an excellent interviewer. However, CPA positions are subject to intense competition during the hiring process. Hence, polishing your interview skills is highly recommended. Prepare beforehand for the interview. Practice your pitch and strive for authenticity. When asked why you want the position, provide an honest response. Do not fear asking for the job. It may sound intimidating and necessitate a deft approach, but exhibiting confidence can go a long way. If you prefer an informal approach, you can always inquire about the next step in the hiring process.

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FAQs

Yes. CPA jobs are highly in demand at all levels. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of accountants and auditors will increase by 6% between now and 2028. Because of a scarcity of qualified candidates, accounting and finance unemployment rates have fallen below the national average.
Yes, the CPA profession provides employment opportunities in various public and private sectors, ranging from government to information technology. Certified public accountants are usually in high demand, and a high-performing CPA can earn a high five-figure or even six-figure salary.

Read More About the CPA Exam

Do you want to become a CPA? Here is all you need to know in order to become a CPA. Read on to find out!
Wondering how much you will earn when you become a CPA? Here is a detailed view of CPA salaries across various industries.
What is a CPA? Here you can find out all about CPAs including the requirements to become one.
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