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What is the best field in accounting to go into?

I want to be an accountant but I don't know what type of accountant I want to be. I plan on getting my CPA, but you have to have that for most accounting jobs. I like numbers and the order of things. accountant accounting

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Rachel’s Answer

I'm glad you're already planning on pursuing your CPA! That's a great decision, and the fact that you already know that shows that you've already given this some thought.

In Public Accounting there are essentially three different lines of service:

  1. Tax - preparing tax returns, advising on tax planning strategies, usually works in the office
  2. Audit/Assurance - reviewing/auditing financials, usually works at the client site
  3. Advisory - advising on anything the company needs help with, usually works at the client site

I work in tax because I like solving problems, stability (i.e. primarily coming into the office, not travelling to different client sites all the time), and routine. By the nature of the work the same forms are used for many different clients so my knowledge is pretty transferrable, which I appreciate. I also prefer doing the work over reviewing someone else's work. For instance, I work on some Audits to assist with the audit of the tax provision and I don't like figuring out how they got to their numbers as much as I like calculating the numbers myself. Also, because of materiality levels, you don't always fix the mistakes you find, and as a detail-oriented person, I don't like that much. Tax is more definitive and black-and-white while Audit has a lot of gray areas, and I enjoy the certainty that comes with that.

Outside of public accounting there are of course many other areas. For instance, if you work for a company in industry, then you'd be preparing the books etc. There's also other specialty positions like forensic accountants that work with law enforcement, including the FBI, and governmental accountants that work with state and local governments, etc.

There are a lot of different jobs you could do, and I hope this helps you understand some of the broad differences between them. If you think over what I suggest in the Next Steps below, it should help narrow your path. Also, it's usually not that difficult to switch Lines of Service or to switch from Public accounting to Private industry, etc. so you can always change your mind (when going for interview etc. though it's better if you have a preference and can explain why you want to work in a specific line of service).

Rachel recommends the following next steps:

Determine if you prefer routine over variety
Determine if you prefer doing the work over reviewing the work
Determine if you prefer black-and-white over gray areas
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Brady’s Answer

It depends on what you are looking for. Speaking from experience, if you are unsure what concentration within accounting interests you the most, Public Accounting (specifically within the client service space) is a great place to start, regardless if you are interested in Tax, or Financial Accounting because you are reviewing a Company's entire Accounting Process, which gives you exposure and experience that you would not get working in the Accounting Department at a regular company. Common Big Players (called the "Big 4") in the Public Accounting Space are PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and KPMG, but there are other regional and national firms that would provide a similar experience.

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Jordan’s Answer

Hi Isabelle,

Great question! I often wondered that same thing before I made the choice to go into public accounting.

To add on to Rachel's answer, I work in the audit/assurance side of public accounting. As far as the work I perform, it is focused on reviewing the work my clients have performed and ensuring it follows the appropriate accounting regulations. One of my favorite parts of being an auditor in public accounting includes auditing different businesses rather than just working on one business or one business area, which is generally the case outside of public accounting. I currently work on two main clients and I work on various sections of their financials, including cash, accounts payable, and property, plant, and equipment. Part of my job also includes working on the client's site and talking to the client's management. I enjoy talking to the client because I learn more about how their business runs, which helps me understand the details of the business and how that helps the overall business operate. For example, part of auditing inventory includes visiting the client's inventory warehouse and observing how they produce, store, and ship their products. I then follow that physical process to their workpapers, where inventory is reported on the financial statements and presented to the public.

So if you would enjoy working on different clients and learning about various business operations, I think auditing within public accounting would be a great choice!

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Bianca’s Answer

This really depends on what piques your interest as there are a lot of friends.

My personal experience is working with nonpublic companies. What you're essentially doing is closing the books, which means you are the one doing account reconciliations, booking journal entries, A/R (invoicing/billing/collecting cash from customers), and A/P (paying your company's bills). So if you enjoy finding differences and making numbers balance, this wouldn't be a bad field. In addition, depending on your industry, you can work with a lot with operations/sales/marketing in their spend.

With public companies, you're doing the same thing but you have to follow SOX compliance, so there's a lot more hard deadlines and possibly more specialized depts because the companies are usually bigger. For example, one team for A/P and another for A/R or payroll etc.

There's other fields that focus on auditing (reviewing books), tax, technical accounting. I would say these are more black and white, where you review work to make sure they are following rules. From this, you would want Big 4 firm experience so you get exposed to a lot of different client and industries.

Also one more thing to consider is if you like to work with bigger companies or not. Bigger companies are usually more established and processes more or so figured out/set. If you want to work for smaller companies, you could have a chance to explore and learn different things other than just debits/credits as the teams are a lot smaller (more of an all hands on deck kind of vibe)

Hope this helps!

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Kiana’s Answer

My best advice to you would be to definitely take the CPA exam. In terms of the different sectors like audit, tax and consulting, it is very subjective and based on personal preference. I would go with what area you see yourself learning the most and one you wish to grow in professionally. There is no right or wrong choice it is more of a personal preference.
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Julie’s Answer

Hi Isabelle -

As others have mentioned there are many different options to go into. Planning to get your CPA is a great step. If you plan to take any accounting courses in college that can help give you an idea if you like tax or audit better. The answers above have given great examples of both types. What I would recommend as many do in the start of their accounting career is starting at a large firm that can give you different options. For example you might start in the audit side of things but want to try tax or advisory and a large firm can give you that opportunity and flexibility. I wish you the best of luck in deciding where your accounting path will lead!