shutterstock 1504887272There are pros and cons to getting very specific degrees. For some, specific degrees give much needed clarity about a job path post graduation. For others, a specific degree is needed to get to the next educational stepping-stone. But for some, a specific degree can leave one feeling like they’ve been pigeonholed, wondering if they’ll ever get out from under the ceiling they feel they work under.

Luckily, in many industries today, one’s educational degree choice does not have to pigeonhole them. Despite how it may seem, accounting is one of the degrees that offers one freedom to move around professionally, especially if one is creative with the way they present their skillsets and interview well.

What Does an Accountant Do?

When most people consider an accounting career, the word tax is not far from their minds. And while it is true that taxes are a large part of an accountant’s career, there are a variety of ways an accountant can add value to a firm or individual. 

Specializations

There are many different specializations that an accountant can choose from today’s educational options. It is not uncommon for a professional to choose one of these specializations when they achieve their MBA.

Forensic accountant: Many claim that forensic accounting is the most in-demand specialization. These professionals are in charge of company, government, and non-profit audits.

Financial analyst: Accountants with a love for the stock markets and investments make excellent financial analysts. These professionals determine the pros and cons of investment opportunities, as well as assist in buying and selling activities.

Environmental accountant: These professionals usually have a passion and foundation in accounting and environmental science, government, and public policy. They will analyze environmental impacts of business decisions, making appropriate recommendations based on their findings.

Personal financial advisor: Financial advisors are involved in the creation and maintenance of retirement plans and accounts (IRAs, educations funds, ETFs) for individuals and their families. They also work individuals through major life changes like divorces, new babies, or deaths.

Actuary: Actuaries are involved in the calculation of risk and rewards of different policies. Essentially, they make predictions based on their analyses of data and probable outcomes.

Anti-money laundering officer: Laundering officers are responsible for setting up procedures to find and deal with money laundering, as well as ensure the banks that they work for are following the Bank Secrecy Act regulations.

Management accountant: These leadership accountants are involved in financial analyses that will define business strategy, objectives. They often have a degree in both accounting and management.

Cost estimator: Cost estimators are accountants that work in engineering, public policy, and urban planning. They are involved in managing the costs of all elements of a project.

Where Can an Accountant Work?

As the variety of accounting specializations discussed prior indicates, an accountant is not locked up in an office crunching numbers for an accounting firm. Most, if not all, of the accounting specializations leave a lot of room for a professional to move around among industries. While one cannot deny that a specialization (which entails a specific strength around a set of skills) may cause one to feel pigeonholed, there are a variety of industries and fields, both public and private, which need all of the accounting specializations discussed.

Private Practice

Accounting jobs in private practice may be what one considers as a more “traditional” accounting job. Professionals who work in private practice work for an accounting firm, though clients for that firm can span all kinds of industries or sectors. The work accountants in private practice do will depend on both their specialization and/or the types of clients their company serves.

Public Sector

Government Agencies

Not surprisingly, government agencies require high-precision accounting to ensure that revenues, expenditures, and new projects stay on track and are accurately accounted for. Government institutions are often large and they exist at the local, state and federal level. Typically, these agencies have a lot of moving parts and one would be responsible for balancing the input and influence of a variety of initiatives and programs. Examples of government agencies include the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Defense, a local City Hall, or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Health Care Providers

Accountants who work in the healthcare industry may find work inside the hospital system, inside the larger corporate health system, or with insurance providers. As the healthcare marketplace continues to reimburse based on quality of care as opposed to quantity of care, these accounting positions will prove more and more valuable in the complicated effort to ensure that organizational revenues meet (or exceed) organizational expenses.

Educational Institutions

Educational institutions like colleges and universities, especially those that are public, have complex financial systems in place to ensure that they meet legislative requirements and deliver the appropriate education(s). Much like other fields, this industry requires strict attention to revenue, expenses, and obligations to students.

Financial Institutions

It is not surprising that there are plenty of jobs for an accountant in financial institutions. This may include work in central banks, retail and commercial banks, Internet banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, investment banks/companies, brokerage firms, insurance companies and mortgage companies. These companies exist to provide lending, deposit, and investment products and services to individuals and businesses. Some institutions only work with the general public, while others offer specialized services for specific individuals or groups.

Industry and Commerce

Retail

There is no question that the Internet (and the online marketplace) has revolutionized the retail and commerce industry. This industry’s high volume of transactions (both in the Internet marketplace and brick and mortar stores) requires consistent daily attention to expenses and revenues and other costs related to running a business.

Hospitality

Much like retail, hospitality services (restaurants, hotels, etc.) manage thousands of transactions every day. This volume of expenses demands that there are financial professionals in place to ensure financial obligations are being met.

 *Please note that these industry/practice lists are not all-inclusive.

Finding a New Accounting Position

While it is true that accountants have a very special set of skills, it is also true that those skills can be applied and utilized across a variety of industries. Accountants that want to make a career change may find that they want to jump across sectors and/or industries, but that is possible. As one seeks out new opportunities and begins interviewing, the must understand both the new industry and the new sector. While many of the needed skills will remain the same, one would want to present themselves as a professional who understands these differences and has skills to meet the new organization’s or individual’s needs.

DQ Staff

February 2020

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