Accounting

Accountants prepare, develop, analyze, evaluate, and verify financial documents. They disseminate information that their clients need to ensure that their businesses are run efficiently and that they comply with the terms of their contracts.  Accounting is a system by which financial information is identified, recorded, analyzed, summarized, and reported for the use of decision makers. Put simply, accounting is the language of business.

Core Functions of Accounting

Accounting

Overseeing and managing the financial records and operations of an organization to make sure they follow organization, industry, and government regulations.

Auditing

Providing assurance that internal controls in place are adequate to mitigate their organization’s financial risks, that governance processes are effective and efficient, and that organizational goals and objectives are met, as well as determining if an organization’s financial activities are reported accurately in its financial statements to regulators and investors.

Assurance

Defined by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants as “independent professional services that improve the quality of information, or its context for business or individual decision-makers.”

Tax

Preparing tax returns for corporations, other organizations, and individuals; developing strategies to reduce the amount of taxes paid; and examining the tax implications of various business practices

Job Roles

Many accountants are employed by the Big Four, which are defined as the four largest public accounting/professional services firms. They also work for public accounting firms of all sizes. Many others work in corporate accounting (from Fortune 500 companies to “mom-and-pop” shops), in government accounting, and for nonprofit organizations. Some own their own accounting firms.

Public Accounting: If you've obtained, or plan to obtain, a CPA certification, you are eligible to work at a public accounting firm. A public accounting firm generally provides auditing, tax, consulting, and accounting services for a number of clients across a range of sectors, including businesses, individuals, nonprofits, and governments. A job in public accounting will give you experience in many different facets of the accounting field, from the preparation and review of financial statements to analyzing budgets to tax work to consulting and advice on a range of financial issues.

Public accounting firms range in size from local (Martin Hood Friese; Sikich; Frost, Ruthenberg & Rothblatt) and regional firms (BDO, Crowe Horwath, Grant Thornton, RSM, Plante Moran) to large international firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC).

Private Accounting: Private accounting roles are typically with corporate offices, government agencies, or non-profit organizations

Tax Accountant: As the name suggests, a tax account focuses solely on tax-related accounting work, preparing quarterly and annual tax returns (local, state, and federal) for individuals and companies.

Forensic Accountant: Forensic accountants examine companies' financial statements and provide analysis for legal cases, investigating crimes such as embezzlement or fraud.

Financial Accountant: Financial accountants work for a single organization or business, preparing reports that assess fiscal performance (for example, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements) for stockholders, creditors, and taxing agencies - essentially, individuals external to the company.

Managerial Accountant: Managerial accountants perform similar work to financial accountants, but focus on internal stakeholders - they prepare reports for internal review, to help businesses plan, budget, and improve performance.

Financial Planner: Some accounting professionals choose to work for financial planning firms, or as independent financial consultants. Financial planners assist individuals with their finances, from budgeting to taxes to investing.

Internal Auditor: In large corporations, internal auditors ensure that resources are being used effectively, that the company is in compliance with all state and federal requirements, and funds are not being mismanaged.

Consulting: Many public accounting firms offer consulting services, helping clients review particular business needs; restructure their financial reporting, organizational hierarchy, expenses, risk, evaluation and analysis of information; make recommendations; and implement changes in any area of a business. Many accounting consultants specialize in a certain industry or clientele. Accounting consultants are quick problem solvers, creative thinkers, very fast learners, and have honed math and analytical skills.

If you’re considering a career in accounting ask yourself…

Whether you are just beginning to consider becoming an accountant, or already have a multi-point plan in place to launch your career, here are 5 questions you should ask yourself about becoming an accountant.

Do you like solving puzzles?

To solve a puzzle you need to think logically, be persistent, and enjoy the process of untangling a situation to get a final answer. Puzzles and accounting both require creativity and an appreciation for the rules of the game. The process of putting pieces together to see the big picture is reflected in the problem solving and mathematical problems accountants work on every day. Accounting work often requires a lot of “figuring out” and reverse engineering in order to make sense of the information you’ll have available. Being energized by solving this sometimes-twisted knot of information is a huge plus.

Do you enjoy planning ahead and strategizing?

If you are asking yourself these questions, you probably already plan ahead for your education and career. It’s critical for an accountant to plan ahead for the financial outcomes facing the individual, business or organization they serve.

Are you comfortable learning new technology?

Accountants today rely on software like QuickBooks and Quicken, programs which are regularly updating and evolving. A strong accountant is able to stay ahead of new technology and quickly adapt to processes that make accounting professionals more efficient and accurate.

Are you comfortable working with data?

Accounting is all about managing financial data. Working with data requires a strong attention to detail and comfort working with important information. Small errors can have large, real-world consequences. This makes the work of an accountant both incredibly valuable, and uniquely challenging.

In addition to an attention to detail, working with data and information requires accountants to understand what individual pieces of data mean and how that influences the overall picture. Accounting is known as the language of business, and accountants have to be able to communicate the implications of that language.

Are you interested in business?

Though accountants work for nonprofits and individuals as well as businesses, all accountants manage financial information in the broader field of business. Becoming an accountant gives individuals a deep and complex understanding of the business world.

Accounting definitely has the stigma of being one dimensional work. However, the actual work of accounting is vital, dynamic, and opens many doors to individuals who would like to grow into new opportunities down the road.

How to Land Your First Accounting Job

Follow these steps to prepare for the job search process!

Use Keywords

When using job search platforms, such as Handshake, utilize keywords to find appropriate positions the industries you are interested in.

Below are titles Gies Alumni have had:

  • Accountant/Financial Analyst
  • Accounting Associate
  • Advisory
  • Associate/Consultant
  • Analytics Consultant
  • Assurance Associate
  • Audit & Assurance
  • Audit Analyst/Analytics
  • Audit and Tax Associate
  • Broker Placement Specialist Associate
  • Business Analyst
  • Business Advisory Consultant
  • Business Systems Analyst
  • Business Technology Analyst
  • Business Valuation Analyst
  • Commercial Tax Associate
  • Consultant
  • Core Assurance Associate
  • Deal Advisory/Associate
  • External Auditor
  • Federal Tax Consultant
  • Finance Analyst
  • Financial Advisor
  • Financial Due Diligence Associate
  • Financial Management Program
  • Forensics Advisory Services Associate
  • Human Capital Business Analyst
  • Internal Audit & Financial Advisory Consultant
  • International Tax Associate
  • Investment Analyst
  • Legal Entity Accountant
  • Management Consultant
  • Private Equity Investment Professional
  • Risk Advisory Associate
  • Risk And Compliance Consultant
  • Staff accountant
  • Tax Accountant
  • Tax Analyst/Associate
  • Tax Consultant
  • Underwriting Analyst

For current job openings, view open jobs on Handshake.

Know How to Find These Opportunities

A simple way to get started is by learning more about the companies that hired Gies students in the past. Once you have identified your target companies, follow these companies on Handshake to be informed about opportunities and info sessions, in which you can network with recruiters and professionals.

Below are employers who have hired Gies students:

AIG

Accenture

Allstate Insurance Company

Anixter

Baker Tilly Virchow Krause

Baxter Healthcare

BDO

BMO Capital Markets

Brunswick Corporation

Caterpillar

Charles Schwab

Citigroup

CliftonLarsonAllen

CohnReznick

Crowe LLP

CVS Health

Deloitte

EY

FTI Consulting

General Electric

Grant Thornton

Jefferies

JPMorgan Chase

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

KPMG

McKinsey & Company

Miller Cooper

Morgan Stanley

Motorola Solutions

Mueller & Co.

Oberweis Asset Management

Plante Moran

PwC

Protiviti

Prudential Capital Group

Rödl & Partner

RSM

State Farm Insurance

Teach for America

True Partners Consulting

W.W. Grainger

Wells Fargo

West Monroe Partners

William Blair & Company

ZS Associates

Customize your Resume & Cover Letter

It’s important to customize your application documents for the industry/position you will be pursuing. Highlight your relevant experience by incorporating desired skills and qualifications into your application documents. How does your experience align with the skills the employer is seeking?

Some of the important skills you may want to highlight:

Learn More

  • Standards of accounting
  • Knowledge of regulatory standards
  • General business acumen
  • Data analysis--knowing how to turn Big Data into concise, decision-driving insights
  • Detail-oriented
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Prioritizing/Organization
  • Ethics
  • Strong written communication skills
  • Strong oral communication skills: the ability to convey pertinent financial information to executive teams and stakeholders.
  • Adaptability to changing procedures/regulations
  • Advanced Microsoft Excel Skills
  • Data presentation skills
  • Business Intelligence Software (Cagnos, Power BI, Tableau, SAS)
  • Cloud accounting
  • Enterprise resource planning systems
  • Ability to work with a team

General Interview Questions for Accounting Roles

General and Behavioral Questions

  • Why did you choose accounting as a career?
  • Which accounting platforms have you worked with?
  • Describe a past experience where you were faced with an incredibly tight deadline. What did you do to make sure you could hand over the deliverable on time?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to discuss a complex accounting concept with someone who wasn’t familiar with it. How did you make sure they understood?
  • Describe one of the biggest challenges in the accounting field and how you strive to overcome it.
  • Do you have prior experience with ERP systems? If so, which ones?
  • What impact do you think AI and automation will have on accounting?
  • Which skills do you think are essential for accountants?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with a particularly difficult client? How did you handle the situation?
  • Errors can be detrimental in accounting. How do you reduce the chance that you’ll make a mistake?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you made a mistake? What did you do once it was spotted?
  • Please describe your experience with Microsoft Excel.
  • What is the difference between public and private accounting?
  • When tax season arrives, are you open to working long hours?
  • Which accounting skill do you like using the most? What about the least?
  • What is the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable?
  • Do you have any certifications? Do you plan to get any in the near future?
  • Please define and describe the three kinds of financial statements and what they contain.
  • How do you handle challenging situations or difficult conversations with others?
  • Tell me about a time you were in a ethicial dilemna.
  • How do you organize and prioritize your day?

Good Questions to Ask at the End of an Accountant Interview

  • What separates your good accountants from your great ones?
  • What is the biggest accounting challenge this company faces? How can this role help solve that problem?
  • Is the company planning to implement any new accounting technologies in the near future?
  • Does the accounting team spend most of its time working collaboratively or independently?
  • Are professional development or continuing education opportunities available to employees?
  • What are the most important skills and attributes a candidate needs to be successful in this position?
  • What would a typical work day look like in this position?
  • What has been your favorite part of working at this company?
  • What's the next step in this interview process?

Professional and Career Development

Should you pursue a Master's Degree?

The Master of Accounting Science (MAS) program at Gies College of Business is a nine-month, STEM-designated program for students who already hold a bachelor of science in accountancy.

As an MAS student, you will design your own curriculum by choosing a core concentration in Financial Reporting & Assurance (FRA) or Tax and then applying to a graduate business concentration based on your interests and career goals. Regardless of your concentration, you will acquire the data analytics knowledge and capabilities that top firms demand.

Build on your undergraduate accountancy education through advanced study in the field as well as other business disciplines. MAS students engage in problem identification and information analysis to find solutions. Learn and use data analytic tools and techniques to address common business problems as well as apply best practices in data visualization. These lessons facilitate team-based analysis and communication.

The MAS curriculum emphasizes the emerging trend of data analytics in the practice of accounting. Our standard course plan leads to a graduate concentration in data analytics in accountancy as you fulfill the graduate electives. Students have the choice of remaining in the standard course plan or selecting from the following alternative graduate concentrations in:

  • Corporate Governance and International Business
  • Finance
  • Data Analytics
  • Information Technology and Control
  • Supply Chain Management

Should you become a CPA?

Becoming a CPA takes work and effort, but the benefits go far beyond job security and salary. You’re working to become an essential part of the business world.

10-15% higher salary than regular accountants

Becoming a CPA is an investment. CPAs have the potential to boost their earnings by $1 million of their lifetime compared to a non-CPA in the same position.

Job Outlook

Accountants and auditors who have earned professional recognition, especially as Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), should have the best prospects. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Career Growth

As a CPA, you’ll also have access to jobs with higher authority and responsibility — and you’ll enjoy greater career stability.

Accounting Resources and Articles