Accountants and Job Security: Made For Each Other?

If you don’t want to sweat economic downturns, become an accountant. Despite challenging economic conditions, job prospects for accountants are growing—the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 18% increase in these jobs between 2006 and 2016, with approximately 226,000 new jobs created within that decade. Changing financial regulations for businesses and stakeholder protections are all driving growth in the need for certified professional accountants.

Why the U.S. Needs More Accountants

Accounting scandals at a number of large companies is projected to lead to increased scrutiny of company financial practices—and this spells opportunity for accountants. Companies will need help complying with government requirements for implementation of internal controls to make sure company financial accounts are accurate and reliable. Accountants are needed now and will be in the future to ensure Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and management of mergers, investments, taxes, and other key financial tasks and events. Auditors, forensic accountants, and corporate accountants are predicted to be in high demand in the coming years.

In addition, businesses are expanding overseas in greater numbers—and this calls for accountants with knowledge of accounting practices related to international mergers, acquisitions and ventures.

How to Get Started

Get a Bachelor’s degree—and consider a Master’s. Beginning accounting and auditing positions generally require at least a Bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or a related field. If you want to work for the Federal government, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree and at least 24 semester hours in accounting or auditing classes, or equivalent experience in the field. Some companies look for accountants who hold a Master’s degree in accounting or an MBA with a focus on accounting or auditing.

It’s becoming more common for colleges to offer accounting programs preparing students for highly specialized careers in subjects such as internal auditing or forensic accounting. Students with a concentration in a specialized field may have an edge over more general applicants.

Get relevant experience. If you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, it won’t necessarily keep you out of the profession. If you’ve been working as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk for a number of years, you may already meet some employers’ experience requirements.

Get certified. If you’re filling out reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, you are required to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Getting your certification involves passing the Uniform CPA Examination, a national exam, as well as meeting other requirements that vary by state. Most states require aspiring CPA’s to complete 150 semester hours of college courses in accounting beyond a four-year degree; some schools have adapted to this requirement by offering programs that will let students earn Master’s degrees as they meet this requirement. In most cases, you’ll need to hold a Bachelor’s degree—although a few states allow those without one to substitute a certain number of years of experience in public accounting. In almost every state, you’ll need to satisfy continuing education requirements in order to keep your CPA.

A CPA isn’t required for all accounting positions, but other certifications can give you a noticeable edge over other applicants. There are dozens of certifications available for a range of accounting specialties. Credentials available include the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), and Certified Financial Services Auditor (CFSA).

In most cases, these programs require applicants to have earned a Bachelor’s degree and to have some experience in the field—as much as five years in some cases.

Online Education for Accountants

Online degree programs are available in accounting, finance, and a wide range of related subjects. Be sure to choose a school certified by an accrediting agency approved by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

If the online program you’re considering offers CPA certification in a particular area of accounting in addition to or included in your degree program, bear in mind that different states have different requirements—and if your school is located in another state, this may be an issue. Be sure the program you’re considering meets the requirements for CPA licensure in your state .

Job prospects are currently strong for accountants—and they’re likely to stay that way for many years to come. Earn a degree and your certification in accounting, and you’ll be able to start a stable and challenging career.