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Accounting Offers More Career Opportunities: If You Know How to Find Them

Accounting careersUSA Today recently reported that service businesses are leading an uneven job recovery. In the service sector, accounting firms have regained 87% of the jobs they lost, in part because of the growth of start-up businesses, new financial rules and U.S. companies expanding globally.

Salaries of accounting graduates are continuing to rise. In an April 2012 report on the starting salaries of the college class of 2012, the National Association of Colleges and Employers said the median salary of accounting majors was $47,800, up 2.8% from the 2011 median salary. The overall average salary of new graduates was $42,569, up 4.5% from 2011.

Long term, employment of accountants and auditors is expected to increase 16% from 2010 to 2020, or about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over that ten-year period, accounting employment is forecasted to increase from 1.22 million to 1.41 million jobs.

These statistics point to continued growth in the job market for CPAs, but where will CPAs find job and career opportunities?

Even some experienced CPAs may not be fully aware of the many career possibilities in accounting. Here’s a brief overview.

Public Accounting

Among employers, public accounting firms are attracting the most interest from job seekers because they employ the largest number of CPAs and have the most job openings.

In addition to the traditional accounting, audit and tax services, public accounting firms provide a range of advisory services such as corporate finance, corporate governance, due diligence, financial advisory, forensic accounting and restructuring. Some also specialize in services to industries such as aerospace, commercial banking, media and entertainment, or real estate. Firms are continually expanding existing services or introducing new services, For example, firms are advising clients on meeting green standards for buildings, developing technologies to reduce energy consumption, or identifying and reducing environmental costs. What this means for CPAs is that they have opportunities to work in a variety of service lines and to develop specialized skills, for example, in forensic or environmental accounting. To learn more about career and job opportunities with public accounting firms, check out the firms’ websites and social media sites.

Public accounting is a large part, but not the only part, of the job market for CPAs. Whether they are recent graduates or experienced professionals, CPAs may find opportunities in other sectors of accounting. Some experienced CPAs might decide to start their own CPA firm, perhaps specializing in service lines such as financial planning.

Management Accounting

CPAs work for public and private companies in every industry and business line. Generally they are employed in one of five areas: management accounting, internal auditing, financial accounting, tax accounting, and information management and technology. While overall corporate hiring has slowed, CPAs may find jobs in industries that have relatively strong growth such as information technology, healthcare, life sciences or high-end manufacturing. If you are interested in career opportunities in corporate accounting, start by researching industries and companies in general, and then select particular companies to investigate further. Many companies provide information about career and job opportunities on their websites and social media platforms. 


While government hiring has slowed, some agencies do have job openings for accountants. Federal agencies that currently are recruiting accountants include the FBI, CIA and the Securities and Exchange Commission. For more information on federal jobs, check out USAJOBS, the federal government’s official jobs site. If you want to learn about a particular government department or agency, go to USA.gov, which includes an alphabetical listing of agencies with links to their websites. They include some agencies I’ve never heard of. Another source of information about federal jobs is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For information on accounting jobs with state and local governments, check out their websites, which you can access through a Google search or through portals such as State and Local Government on the net.


Not-for-profit organizations have slowed hiring or laid off workers in recent years. Hiring could pick up if the economy continues to improve and funding for not-for-profit organizations increases. If you are interested in career and job opportunities in this sector, there are many books, articles, websites etc. that can provide information. The Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics has a wealth of data. If you currently cannot find work with a not-for-profit, you might volunteer your services for an organization, and possibly take courses such as not-for-profit accounting to learn more about this sector. Taking these steps will make you better prepared when a job opportunity does come along.


CPAs could also find opportunities in teaching at community colleges or as adjunct faculty members at colleges and universities. Some of these are part-time, which may allow you to continue your full-time career as a CPA, while others are full-time positions. If you decide to get your Ph.D. in accounting, you open the doors to even greater opportunities and could even become a full-time research professor. If you thrive from working independently and setting your own agenda, then you should consider a career as an accounting professor.

The point is, there are more career opportunities in accounting today than ever before, and by knowing about these opportunities, you can make well-informed career choices.

Stan Ross, CPA, and James Carberry, Authors, The Inside Track to Careers in Accounting. Ross is retired Vice-Chairman, Real Estate Industry Services, Ernst & Young LLP. Carberry is the principal of Carberry Communications, a firm that provides business writing and editing services to clients.

Choose a job image via Shutterstock.


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