How to Break into Accounting

Too many college graduates lack awareness of the vast career opportunities available to them.  

To help alleviate this problem, Home at 30 will ask people in various industries to share their experiences and insight. 


Want to know how to break into accounting? You’ve come to the right place!

Accounting is the practice of recording financial transactions and preparing and analyzing financial statements. Accountants are key players in keeping a business’s financial affairs organized.

career advice for accountingLet me start by saying this: I envy anyone who can dedicate so much of their time to accounting; it’s too dry for me – just not my cup of tea.

I got the chance to touch base with a classmate (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose work ethic I’ve always admired, and he was kind enough to share his experience in accounting with Home at 30.

Let’s take a sneak peek into the world of accounting through the words of an anonymous world-class citizen.

Breaking into Accounting

“I work as a tax accountant in the Financial Services Tax Group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. My job title is Senior Tax Associate.

After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Political Science, I decided to start my career in business. Believing that I needed more academic exposure to business, I enrolled in the MA (Master of Arts in Management) Program at Wake Forest University. There, I enjoyed the challenge of my accounting coursework and learning the language of business.

This prompted me to then enroll in the MS (Master of Science) in Accountancy Program at Wake Forest, where I focused my studies on the intersection of tax and finance. While in the program, I interned in the Financial Services Tax Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I enjoyed that experience! I was able to work on high-profile clients in the asset management and banking industries. The work was interesting and challenging, so I decided to pursue it full-time after graduating from Wake Forest University with my double Masters.”

What is Tax Accounting?

In the Financial Services division, tax accounting is focused on preparing current and forward-looking tax statements and reports within the guidelines of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

“In accounting, like all professional service industries, we offer our knowledge to businesses for a fee. It’s competitive, although the industry is largely dominated by 4 international firms (Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte, and PwC) and a few large regional firms.

These firms make money by hiring the best people, developing them, investing in new technology, winning new business through the competitive proposal process, and maintaining and strengthening relationships internally and externally.”

What Does a Senior Tax Associate Do?

“As a newly promoted Senior Tax Associate, my primary role is to help develop Associates at the firm by reviewing their work and providing constructive feedback that develops them.

advice to get a job in accountingThis past summer I had the opportunity to collaborate with a few colleagues on two Learning & Development projects. At PwC, we have a people-development framework that consists of five dimensions: whole leadership, business acumen, technical capabilities, global acumen, and relationships. My goal is to grow in these areas each and every day and to help others achieve similar developmental progress.”

What Is the Typical Entry-Level Role? What Are The Responsibilities?

“In the FS Tax Practice, Associates may find themselves working on Tax Compliance or Tax Provision Projects.

On the compliance side, an Associate is mostly responsible for preparing the Federal and State compliance package, which include federal and state tax returns, K-1s, and other required forms and returns. On the provision side, an Associate may find themselves tasked to fill the role of a tax specialist on an Assurance engagement.

On these projects they will primarily be tasked with auditing the internal control processes over the income-tax components of a client’s financial reports and disclosures. Also they will be responsible for auditing the substantive evidence that supports these disclosures. The Associate will work with a dedicated team of Seniors, Managers, and Directors from the tax side, with much interaction and collaboration with the Assurance members on the engagement.”

What Do Accounting Firms Look For in a Candidate?

“Accounting employers are mostly looking for individuals who have demonstrated potential in the areas that matter the most: leadership, business knowledge, and interpersonal interactions. They want individuals who are constantly looking for a challenge, are willing to learn from mistakes, and are able to function well within an environment where team-based, collaborative problem-solving is a must.

Additionally, these firms are actively seeking CPA candidates (for Audit and Tax roles). These are individuals with either a Bachelors or Masters in Accounting with the 150+ credit hours, which are required to sit for the CPA exams.”

What Are the Typical Career Paths?

“There are a number of career paths that someone who starts in accounting can take. They can stay the course and make partner within 13 to 15 years; however, this is a significant challenge and most will not make it for a variety of reasons.

accounting tipsMost individuals perceive accounting, especially in the “Big Four,” as a great starting point to their career. They enter with the expectation that it will be a short-term experience that will produce additional opportunities outside of the “Big Four.”

Some professionals may transition to Corporate Tax Analyst or Corporate Financial Analyst type roles with corporations. Some may decide to become tax analysts at a hedge fund or private equity fund. Some go on to business school or law school as a means of transitioning to the roles that are more consistent with their career interests and professional goals.”

Anything Else I Should Know?

“At PwC, and most other accounting firms, there is the expectation that Associates come in eager to learn, but also the recognition that a lot of on-the-job training will be necessary to get the Associates up to speed. At PwC, we have Tax Foundation Milestone trainings. These are practical, tax skills development courses that expose Associates through Managers with the industry and task specific trainings necessary for them to have strong foundations before completing related client work.

We also have technology specific training that helps tax professionals learn how to utilize the technology tools that we use to deliver the “PwC Experience” to our clients. Some of the training is regional, but some are also national. This presents opportunities for professionals to travel and build networks with other professionals throughout our national footprint.

Depending on the demands of a given project, I would say, there are often opportunities where professionals can work from home as long as they are completing their work in a timely fashion. Additionally, there are tons of socials and events where teams celebrate over dinner, drinks, and conversations.”

Hey Reader! Is Accounting Right for You?

As you can see, the accounting industry is diverse and has great cross-over potential to other industries as well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in accounting is expected to grow 11 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than average.

The median pay for an accounting associate, a typical entry-level role, is $43,905. This can vary depending on location and company, and if you’re a college graduate or just now enrolling, keep that salary in mind as you’re considering loans.

To give yourself the best shot at starting a career in the accounting industry, it’s extremely important to get the best grades possible, secure an internship, and network with people in the industry. Coursework in business, economics, accounting and finance will help set you up for success.

Are you ready to break into accounting? Would you like to learn more? Let me know if the comments.

Disclaimer:
All opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of Home at 30 and are in no way affiliated with any other organization or institution. The purpose of this blog is to give general education and information about investing, wealth, careers, and college; It is not intended to be professional advice.

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Author: Josh

After earning an undergraduate degree in Economics and a Master of Arts in Management at Wake Forest University, Josh has paid off over $80k in student loan debt in 3 years. Josh wants to help people make smarter decisions by sharing the lessons he’s learned about brand/career building, making the most of college, and pursuing financial independence.

How to Break into Accounting was last modified: October 16th, 2017 by Josh
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