Accountant Job Description







bachelor’s degree in accounting or related field


Entry-level 0-2 yrs

Senior-level 5-7 yrs

Upward Mobility

Above average


CPA, CMA, CGAC (recommended)

Job Outlook

10% growth


Accountant: Understanding the job

What is an accountant?

An accountant advises clients and helps them to manage their finances, pay taxes, administer and audit accounts, evaluate their financial position and guide them through financial options. Clients can be just about anyone, including large corporations, public and governmental institutions, private individuals and charitable foundations.

The accountant job description differs based on the type of client, size of institution, and organizational need. Every accountant job description, however, demands forensic-level account examination, analysis of income, expenditures and assets, and advice on how to maximize financial position while meeting tax requirements.

All accountants are required to use a mix of technical and soft skills on a daily basis that include the following.

| numbers and spreadsheets software | communication | financial analysis | detail-oriented organization | time management | integrity and ethics |

Top accounting skills

What accountants do

As can be expected, all accounting jobs involve servicing accounts in some way for clients, specifically financial accounts. Accountants go through all the details in their clients’ financial accounts to both provide them with financial advice and to accurately prepare tax documents.

Accounting for a large business can be a big job, too big for one person, so large companies often hire multiple accountants and divide their responsibilities into specific areas of concentration. In corporations or large firms, some accounting jobs may focus on scrutinizing and preparing tax documents while other accounting jobs may focus on recording and analyzing payments and receivables to provide financial advice to senior managers executives.

Small businesses also need accountants for many of the same reasons. If you own a small business, you also may benefit from having an accountant look at your books to make sure the ledgers add up, help you prepare your business’s tax documents, and advise you on how to save money and invest resources more efficiently. Given the diminished volume of work compared to a large corporation, a small business almost always employs only one accountant to take care of all of its needs.

Individuals often also benefit from hiring an accountant to help them with financial advice and prepare their individual tax documents regarding savings, investments, assets such as properties, income, charitable donations and expenditures on dependents.

''The stereotype of someone sitting under fluorescent lighting behind mountains of papers punching numbers into a calculator is far from the reality of being an accountant today.''

The average accountant salary, responsibilities, employment status (self-employed, contracted, etc.) and work environment depend entirely on whether an accountant works for a large corporation, an accounting firm, a small business, or for individuals.

What great accountants do

1. Great accountants can specialize

Whether being a payroll accountant, a tax accountant, a corporate accountant, a real estate or property accountant, a personal accountant, or a public sector accountant, great accountants can find a niche to suits their skills and their clients’ needs.

2. Great accountants focus on client needs

It’s hard enough for clients to get a detailed look at their finances and accounts much less to use those details to make a plan for the year or quarter or for upcoming large expenditures. After inspecting accounts and making sure numbers are accurate, great accountants help each client build a strategy going forward based on their specific needs at that time, from paying down debt to financing a property acquisition to hiring new employees to buying a new car.

3. Great accountants can be trusted

Corporations, non-profit organizations and individual clients alike all have good reasons to want to keep their financial information and planning private. Great accountants form trustworthy relationships that let clients feel comfortable sharing the risks they are willing to take and the difficulties or successes they may be having to get the right advice.

Typical day as an accountant

What an accountant does every day depends on their level of experience, area of concentration, and type of employer. All accountants’ key responsibilities, however, fall into two main categories: 1) gathering, sorting, and verifying financial information and 2) analyzing financial information in order to advise clients on financial strategies and decisions.

A junior accountant working for a large accounting firm or a corporation may be assigned to collect financial information and prepare it for tax filings. Numbers-heavy, detail-oriented work like this is meticulous, but it also helps less experienced accountants know their clients’ or their organization’s interests inside and out, thus preparing them for analysis and advisory work further up the chain.

A more senior accountant within the same firm or corporation may be assigned only to receive the financial information that junior accountants prepare, analyze it, and advise clients or management on how to make key financial decisions to meet their needs or actualize their business plans. These accountants have more direct responsibility for a firm’s or a corporation’s financial success and are integral players at executive or senior management levels.

An accountant with her own practice or who works for a small firm may perform both those functions on a given day depending on client needs.

'' enjoy a high level of upward mobility''

Large organizations like government offices, non-profit institutions and large firms or businesses may demand their accountants to audit accounts, conduct financial investigations, or perform basic budgeting functions.

Meanwhile accountants who are self-employed or who work for smaller organizations have to do basic bookkeeping, file for tax compliance, financial analysis as well as advise clients or colleagues on making important financial decisions or planning.

Typical day as an accountant

These are essential responsibilities expected from managerial to executive accounting positions and on down the line. They can even be taught in accountant internships.

  • Bookkeeping, budgeting, and recording financial transactions
  • Compile financial information and justify accounts
  • Audit invoices, accounts and other financial documents
  • Prepare and file tax returns and other tax compliance documents
  • Report on accounts with 100% accuracy
  • Prepare payrolls and periodic balance sheets
  • Analyze financial information and conduct risk assessment
  • Advise clients or executives on business or financial planning
  • Supervise accounting staff
  • Contribute to business dealings and negotiations with partners and outside entities
  • Confidentiality and adherence to ethical standards

Becoming an accountant

Accountant job requirements

Accountant job requirements vary quite a bit, but all accounting positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. This is true even for those undertaking accounting internships at accounting firms or large businesses.

Entry level accounting positions, typical to public or government accountants, are more widely available. Public accountants’ clients may include businesses, individuals or even sections of some public agencies and involve a wide range of accounting duties while government accountants work directly for a governmental agency and tend to concentrate more on auditing individuals and organizations. These positions require basic accounting skills and may ask for some level of accounting experience either through accounting internships or accountant assistant work.

Senior level accounting positions in large firms, corporations, and other large businesses are quite competitive and are often filled internally. These positions require a lot of experience and often an accounting certification to attain. Accountants that make it to this position are either executives themselves or report directly to executives and upper management. They typically either manage a group of other accountants or run internal audits and serve as analysts in order to advise a business or organization on making financial decisions and business planning.

Accounting Certification

As we discussed just above, an accounting certification is not mandatory for all accounting positions but is vastly preferred for senior and executive level accounting positions of a managerial, analytical and advisory nature.  There are many types of certifications to cover the many specializations an accountant can enter. The University of Scranton breaks them down into three main accounting certification categories: public, corporate and government.

''U.S.News and World Report’s Money section identifies accountant as the 7th best business job out there...''

Public accounting certifications are the most widely desired by employers, and the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification is the gold standard among them. It is a notoriously difficult exam reserved for individuals holding a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.CPA courses are highly recommended to prepare. Other public accounting certifications are designed to complement the CPA and can only be attained by CPA holders.

The most widely accepted corporate accounting certification is the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) qualification offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). The CMA recognizes a highly skilled managerial accountant prepared to head a department or become an executive in an corporation or large business.

Government accounting certifications are very specialized. The most commonly known is the Certified Government Auditing Certificate (CGAC) created by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Government accountants do a lot of auditing, and the CGAC was created to recognize their auditing abilities towards a managerial or advisory status. Applicants must have at least 2-3 years experience as an auditor in a government agency to qualify.

Accounting skills

Employers hiring accountants look for the following baseline skills in any accounting cover letter or in answers to accounting interview questions: accounting math and numbers expertise, accurate reporting, detail-oriented auditing, confidentiality and ethical behavior, organization, time-management, and communication.

Ideal accounting resume

Entry-level accountant

The ideal accounting resume at the entry level will include a bachelor’s degree in accounting and 2-3 years experience in an accounting position within a field of specialty, forensic accounting or tax accounting for example. When writing an accounting cover letter or answering accounting interview questions at this level, the ideal candidate displays interest in the specialty required by the hiring entity and in obtaining certification that fits it.

Senior-level accountant

The ideal accounting resume at the senior level boasts a bachelor’s degree or preferably a master’s degree in accounting´or an MBA with a concentration in accounting, 5-7 years experience, a certification such as CPA or CMA, and at least one area of specialization such as risk management or corporate finance.

''...U.S. News and World Report's Money section identifies accountant as the 7th best business job out there...''

An accounting cover letter accompanying such a resume will be short and simply written as the relevant experience and qualifications should speak for themselves. Anecdotes that highlight problem-solving and financial analysis skills can be elaborated upon when answering accounting interview questions.

Accounting salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) lists the median accountant salary in 2017 as $69,350 and notes a positive outlook for accountant job growth at 10% (faster than average) between 2016-2026. BLS also puts the average upper 10% of accountant salary at $122,220 and the average lower 10% at $43,020.

U.S.News and World Report’s Money section identifies accountant as the 7th best business job out there and puts it at #36 on their 100 best jobs list. One attribute of the profession they cite is that accountants enjoy a high level of upward mobility.

Is accounting the right job for me?

Accounting is a specialized career. There’s a lot of math and financial learning involved in any field of study required to become an accountant, so you’ve probably decided to go into accounting, financial services or accounts services while still in university. It’s like being a doctor or a pilot; you don’t just walk into it one day and try it out to see if it’s for you. Becoming an accountant takes dedicating years of your life to education and subsequent working experience.

Being an accountant is for people who like numbers, poring over details and producing accurate reports. It is also for people who enjoy forming relationships with clients, getting to know what is most important to them regarding their finances, and advising them on making important financial decisions or life or business plans.

Being an accountant is also for people who feel comfortable specializing in an area and either moving up the ladder to management or executive status or switching specialties to serve different clients, organizations or departments within an organization.

''Behind every good business is a great accountant.''

Being an accountant means taking analytical approaches to solving client problems and then communicating your solutions to clients tactfully enough to help them accept your expertise and trust that you understand them well enough to have their best interests in mind.

Being an accountant can also mean working long hours around tax season or at the end of fiscal control periods and continued study to obtain and keep up with certification, but it can also mean plenty of flexibility if working for a small accounting firm, small business or having your own practice.

The stereotype of someone sitting under fluorescent lighting behind mountains of papers punching numbers into a calculator is far from the reality of being an accountant today. Accountants work with so many different clients and analyze so many different types of businesses’ accounts that they are learning new things about the complexity of today’s business and financial landscape everyday. That includes how to form, run and grow a business or enterprise of almost any type, and how to balance increasing prosperity with fulfilling tax obligations and complying with regulations.

Being creative in advising clients, rigorous in precision and meeting standards, and savvy in financial planning are all a part of what it means to be an accountant. Maybe it’s for you!

Top accounting skills:

Math and numbers skills - calculating taxes owed, creating spreadsheets to calculate expenditures and receivables, making simple and complex calculations for current and projected account status

Analytical skills - looking carefully at accounts and financial documents to add money-saving efficiencies to business plans and client goals, creating financial and accounting solutions to reduce expenses while increasing profit, smart budgeting that takes advantage of current conditions and maximizes resources

Communication skills - making accounting and financial transaction language easily digestible for clients or management to help them make informed financial decisions, establishing trust with clients or executives

Organization and time management - meeting multiple client demands, presenting accounting reports to executives, creating accounting templates, filing tax documents, budgeting and bookkeeping all at the same time

Ethics and trustworthiness - documenting and analyzing confidential financial information for clients and businesses, filing accurate tax reports, reporting financial transactions accurately to regulatory compliance agencies

Similar or related job titles

  • Controller/Comptroller
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)
  • Financial planner
  • Tax attorney
  • Budget analyst
  • Accounting clerk
  • Accounting manager
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Compliance officer