How To Become an Accountant: A Comprehensive Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 October 2022

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Accountants serve an important role in business transactions where they review, organise and analyse financial details to promote the wellbeing of an organisation. If you enjoy working with money and have strong mathematical skills, pursuing a job in the accounting field may provide you with a stable and fulfilling career. By learning how to become an accountant, you can start developing the qualifications to earn top positions at accounting firms or private businesses. In this article, we provide instructions on how to become an accountant, including the education you need and other requirements.

What is an accountant?

Understanding this role can help you learn how to become an accountant. An accountant is a finance professional who manages various documents related to monetary transactions and accounts. Accountants work with both private individuals and businesses to make recommendations about how to improve budgeting, make financial decisions and submit tax paperwork. They help companies comply with financial regulations and tax law, ensure that their clients manage their money wisely and identify trends in finance management. Some of the common duties of an accountant include:

  • Preparing and issuing invoices to a company's customers

  • Submitting tax reports to government entities on behalf of a company or individual

  • Reconciling bank statements and transactions

  • Analysing patterns in profits and losses

  • Maintaining and processing payroll

  • Creating and reviewing budgets and expenses

  • Developing and maintaining financial databases for individuals and companies

Related: 12 Commonly Used Accounting Principles

How to become an accountant

Use these instructions as a guideline to become a practising accountant:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree in accounting

Start by completing the minimum education requirement to become an accountant, which is a bachelor's degree in a major related to accounting. Consider earning a Bachelor of Commerce or Bachelor of Business in accounting, finance or a similar field where you can refine your math skills and learn how to manage money. When researching undergraduate programs, consider the types of courses the schools provide including both accounting fundamentals and electives. You may also decide to select a school that offers an honours program where you can pursue advanced accounting projects and independent studies with your professors.

2. Select an accreditation program

Decide on an accrediting institution where you want to earn your official accounting certification. The two main organisations are CPA Australia, which offers the Certified Practising Accountant credential, and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, where you can earn the Chartered Accountant (CA) title. Having either a CA or CPA certification is a common requirement for many accounting roles. Generally, CAs are more specialised while CPAs have broader knowledge, but both credentials are a great step towards a successful accounting career.

Becoming both a CA and a CPA involves taking classes on core subjects in accounting. These may include some of the same information you studied in your bachelor's degree, or introduce you to new fundamentals. The core subjects for the CA program are:

  • Ethics and business

  • Technology

  • Reporting and financial accounting

  • Tax

  • Auditing and risk

  • Business performance

  • Integrated accounting

The GPA graduate program has four core topics that cover some similar concepts as the CA curriculum:

  • Ethics and governance

  • Financial reporting

  • Strategic management accounting

  • Global strategy and leadership

Related: CPA vs. CA: Choosing an Accounting Career For You

3. Choose specialised accounting coursework

As you complete your core subjects for your accounting accreditation, you can select electives in the finance subjects that interest you. If you know what type of accountant you want to be, you can choose electives that emphasise that type of work. You can also explore electives in multiple areas if you want to explore different career paths within accounting. Here are some examples of the accounting elective courses you can take during your CA or CPA program:

  • Australian or New Zealand tax law

  • Financial data analytics

  • Internal auditing and quality assurance

  • Business strategy

  • Cyber security and digital finance

4. Apply for entry-level accounting roles

Search for beginning accountant jobs where you can fulfil the experience requirement for your CA or CPA credential. Both certifications require three years of relevant work experience in the accounting field. You can complete your work experience before, during or after the coursework portion of the program. Look for jobs where you can work with experienced accountants, gain practice working with common accounting tools and learn about common patterns and trends in modern accounting.

5. Find a certified mentor

The CA certification requires you to complete your three years of work experience alongside the supervision of an approved mentor. Typically, your mentor is your direct supervisor at your workplace, but you can also choose an external mentor to oversee your progress if there isn't a mentor available at your job. Mentors need to be experienced accountants with full CA accreditation or Global Accounting Alliance membership. You can find an official mentor through the CA program to provide you with resources, grow your accounting skills and give you additional practical projects to refine your experience.

Related: How To Become a Certified Management Accountant (Step Guide)

6. Complete final exams and applications

Once you finish your coursework and your practical experience, submit your program paperwork and complete your final exams to show your full knowledge as a practising accountant. Your exit tests for the CPA and CA certifications confirm your knowledge of business, economics, tax law and other accounting subjects. At this time, you also pay any additional fees required to earn your certificate.

7. Prepare application materials

Next, compile your resume and cover letter to apply for advanced accounting jobs. Update your application materials to include your practical experience from your postgraduate accounting certificate and mentorship experience. Describe information about your accounting specialty and the types of accounting projects you worked on while earning your certification. Carefully proofread your resume to show the attention to detail you can provide when working with financial documents for your clients.

Related: 13 Accounting Skills To Include in Your Resume

8. Search for certified accountant jobs

Look on job boards for CPA and CA jobs where you can practise independently as an accountant and take on more responsibility. Use keywords to search for roles in your ideal accounting specialty, such as corporate accounting or tax accounting. Consider applying for internal promotions at the same workplace where you gained your experience during your postgraduate accounting certification. You can also use your professional network from university to find roles at other companies.

Related: 30 Accountant Questions for Interview (With Examples)

9. Gain the appropriate accounting licenses

Consider signing up with different regulatory agencies to gain additional accolades and qualify for more accounting opportunities. There are several boards in Australia related to accounting that you can join depending on the type of work you want to do:

  • Institute of Public Accountants

  • Tax Practitioners Board

  • International Federation of Accountants

  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission

By registering with some or all of these organisations, you can qualify to provide a broader range of services to clients. If you ever want to operate independently or own an accounting business, these credentials can build trust with your clients and ensure that you meet regulatory standards.

10. Consider earning another degree

Many successful accountants choose to continue their education after receiving their degree and necessary certifications. Participating in continuing education is key to being the most successful accountant possible and staying connected to modern accounting trends. There are several opportunities for accountants to further their education, including additional certifications and master's degrees in accounting or business.

Accountant salaries

The average salary for an accountant is $71,991 per year. Salaries for accountants may depend on their level of education, years of relevant experience and professional certifications. Their employer and geographical location may also impact earnings. Your earning potential can also vary if you choose an accounting specialty. Here are some of the average salaries for different types of accountants:

  • Staff accountant: $58,290 per year

  • Forensic accountant: $84,432 per year

  • Tax accountant: $71,238 per year

  • Cost accountant: $81,559 per year

Tips for finding an accountant job

Once you earn all the necessary qualifications and begin your job search, try these strategies to find the right accounting role for you:

  • Attend professional events: Go to accounting conferences and finance seminars to network with other professionals in your field who may be looking for new accountants to hire. This is a great way to expand your knowledge and enrich your skill set while finding new job opportunities.

  • Practise before interviews: Before your accounting interviews, practise your mental math and prepare to answer specific questions about finance. Some interviews for accountant roles include practical tests that involve reviewing mock financial records, so it's important to have recent practice.

  • Apply at a variety of locations: Send applications to multiple types of employers, including finance firms, accounting departments at large businesses and multifaceted roles at small companies. By exploring multiple options you may find an employer the values your particular combination of education and experience.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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