Should I Become a CPA?

iStock_000017869630_Small You may have read one of the recent US News & World Report job rankings that placed accountants in the Top 5 Best Business & STEM Jobs and in the Top 20 Best Jobs overall.

Why? Because accountants can earn good salaries with strong upward mobility and flexibility combined with a 13% projected job growth rate through 2022. The most sought-after accountants are CPAs (Certified Public Accountants), accountants who have gone a step further to obtain professional certification.

So you’re now sold on the great opportunity presented and wondering if being a CPA is a good fit for you.  It is good that you are asking that question because being a CPA is not for everyone. Successful CPAs have the following skills and aptitudes.

1) Ease With Numbers

CPAs often start by preparing and examining the financial records of an organization. They then move on to a much more interesting role of using those records to analyze and evaluate the company’s operations. As a result, CPAs need to feel comfortable using numbers to identify and solve problems. Facility with numbers requires a high level of detail orientation – it makes a difference if you use 500 instead of 5,000!

2) People Skills

Contrary to common stereotyping, CPAs are not geeky nerds who are happiest alone in their offices with calculators and computers. Today’s successful CPAs have the ability to work well one-on-one and in teams.

In public accounting, for example, CPAs need to be able to discuss issues with clients, obtain relevant information, and manage service teams. In industry, CPAs might be found on the factory floor discussing the recent increase in material costs for a product with the supervisor in order to determine the cause of the increase. The ongoing shift to computerized accounting has resulted in fewer record-keeping responsibilities while increasing the need for analysis and evaluation, which, in turn, means more talking to and interacting with people.

3)  Strategic Planning / “Big Picture” Thinking

Providing useful recommendations and solutions for the organization requires understanding the big picture – what and where is the company operating, what are the company’s practices and policies, who is the competition? It requires knowledge of local and international current events. This broad business perspective enables CPAs to provide meaningful input to strategic planning sessions and to avoid being viewed as merely a recorder of transactions rather than an active participant.

For example, a CPA will understand that setting up a new company in Vietnam requires 10 procedures that will take approximately 34 days compared to Malaysia with three procedures and five and half days ( World Bank 2014, Doing Business: Going Beyond Efficiency ). The organization’s plans for expansion are impacted as are any budgeted sales and expenses related to the expansion.

4) Communication Skills

CPAs’ responsibilities include the dissemination of information both within the organization and externally. Strong written and verbal communication skills are needed to present ideas, to persuade and convince others, and to motivate and lead. While it is true that analysis and evaluation might be performed solo, it is wasted effort unless the CPA has the ability to clearly explain what was done and why it leads to the recommended actions.

5)  Technological Expertise

Today, technology plays a strong and increasing role in most organizations. From computerized systems maintaining accounting and financial records to operational data collection to emerging technologies impacting processing flows, e.g., e-commerce and image processing. The successful CPA is able to use spreadsheet, database, word processing, accounting, presentation, and other business application software.  He/she also stays abreast of technology changes that may change the way the organization conducts its business operations.

6)  Learning and Challenges

The life of a CPA is one of change – whether the CPA is providing tax services or managing financial operations or auditing public and private organizations. The “rules” (accounting, auditing, tax, regulations) undergo fairly constant revision, technology changes the way business is conducted, and Internet connectivity has created a global market place.  Successful CPAs enjoy learning and staying up to date. They like challenges as they offer an opportunity to apply skills and knowledge to new areas and to expand expertise. They are creative thinkers who can come up with “out of the box” solutions to knotty problems.

If this sounds like you, becoming a CPA is an excellent idea! One that will lead to an interesting and rewarding career with different opportunities to not only apply but continually grow your skills and knowledge.

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