Are you considering an accounting education but confused by all the jargon? This is a quick guide to understanding the different specialties associated with accounting careers and the training you will need to be successful.
Business cannot function without people who monitor, evaluate, and synthesize productivity, financial, and resource data. Accounting, or accountancy, is the practice of collecting and measuring data in order to allocate resources. Most often accounting is specific to a business’s finances. Auditing is a related field whereby records are reviewed and a conclusion reached; resulting in a recommendation for action; geared to ensure efficiency and to improve performance and ensure adherence to standards and principles.
A simple example of the workplace relationship follows: An accountant would enter and keep track of payroll and company expenses. An auditor would review the records kept by the accountant to determine if money and time are being well spent.
When people think of auditors, the first thought is probably one of an IRS man in a suit with a stern expression coming to make sure you paid your taxes. While this type of auditor exists (not to be feared if you have been a good record keeper) auditors are usually individuals who are hired to evaluate the accuracy of accounts kept by a company. Their analyses help management determine effectiveness and efficiency.
Accounting professionals often deal with time to money ratios. In order to keep track of all these numbers, professionals must be well able to use computers; specifically spreadsheet applications (such as Microsoft Excel).
Accountants often specialize in one field. Jobs include bookkeeping, tax accounting, cost accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, time keeping and payroll.
o Accounts receivable refers to incoming payments.
o Accounts payable refers to debits and outgoing payments.
o Bookkeeping refers to recording transactions and calculations.
o Tax accounting in its simplest form refers to the specialty of preparing tax returns.
o Cost accounting refers to the specialty of accounting that deals with analyzing, tracking, and recording business costs. Cost may be measured not only in money, but in time.
o Time keeping and payroll clerks do just what it sounds like; they keep track of workers’ time sheets and payroll.
Training for accounting careers varies. For many jobs a bachelor’s degree in accounting is not necessary, though some education or experience is generally required. Accounting training programs often involve computer classes to familiarize students with the applications used in the workplace. Those in the accounting field must be comfortable using spreadsheets and other financial and accounting software (QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel) as well as word processing software such as Microsoft Word. Close attention to detail is essential, as is an aptitude for numbers and order. A high level of trustworthiness and discretion is also essential as much of the information processed is confidential. Office experience and communication skills are also essential in the workplace. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) must undergo a four-part, two-day exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and are required to complete a minimum of 150 college credit hours (this is 30 hours more than the usual needed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.) The exam is considered to be quite difficult, and many do not pass all four sections at one time. Partial credit is usually awarded as long as the candidate passes at least two sections.
As with any career, an interest in the subject matter is helpful. Someone who hates math should probably not consider an accounting career just as someone who hates English should steer clear of copywriting.
Remember, it never hurts to do a little research and ask questions about programs. School representatives are always happy to help prospective students find out more about their offerings. Accounting careers are diverse and abundant; why not change your future with an accounting education?