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How to get an entry-level job as an accountant

Published March 20, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Starting a career in accounting, especially at the entry level, often requires a blend of education, skills, and strategic planning. For aspiring accountants, the journey begins with a solid educational foundation, typically a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Beyond pursuing a college degree, obtaining relevant certifications to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) might enhance someone’s job prospects.

    It’s often equally important for aspiring accountants to gain practical experience, whether through internships or part-time positions.

    In this article, we’ll cover what accountants typically do, the range of opportunities that may be available to aspiring entry-level accountants, and some possible steps to take to get an entry-level job as an accountant.

    What does an accountant do?

    Accountants can have a range of varying responsibilities depending on where they work and their exact role. An accountant’s responsibilities may include:

    • Managing financial records
    • Preparing financial statements
    • Providing tax advice
    • Providing financial advice and strategy
    • Ensuring that taxes are paid on time

    Accountants might work for individuals or companies to assist with these matters. When working on behalf of a company or institution, accountants might analyze financial data to help companies make informed decisions, provide advice on financial matters, and ensure that companies comply with relevant laws and regulations. They may also assist in budgeting and forecasting, auditing financial statements, and providing financial analysis and reporting.

    When working for individuals, accountants often provide tax advice or help individuals file their taxes.

    Accountants have a few options regarding where they work, such as working with a smaller or mid-size accounting firm or a large organization with an internal accounting department. Accountants may also be able to begin their own accounting firm to offer accounting services.

    Specific entry-level jobs in accounting

    There are different specializations in accounting that those pursuing a career in accounting may want to consider. A few of those specializations include:

    • Tax accounting: Accountants in this specialization provide tax planning and tax return preparation services.
    • Cost accounting: Those in this specialization often evaluate operational costs for businesses to help them save money and increase profits.
    • Staff accounting: Accounting duties in this specialization might include maintaining records, processing payroll, and preparing financial statements.
    • Managerial accounting: Those in this specialization might analyze and interpret a company’s financial data to help shape the company’s financial strategy.

    There are also various roles that entry-level accountants might pursue. Some of those include:

    • Staff Accountant: Staff accountant duties may include budget oversight, preparation and review of financial statements, bookkeeping, and account reconciliation.
    • Accounting Assistant: This role may also be called an accounting clerk. Those in these roles often work directly under an accountant to help complete daily tasks. Responsibilities may include entering information about receipts or expenses into computer databases, checking financial records for accuracy, assisting with payments, preparing invoices, and maintaining and filing financial documents.
    • Finance Assistant: Those in this role often influence how a company makes its financial decisions. They do this by creating budgets, analyzing investments, and completing other accounting tasks contributing to a company’s strategy.

    What’s an entry-level accountant’s salary?

    Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2022 median pay for accountants and auditors was $78,000 annually. It’s important to remember that this figure is for all accountants, not just entry-level accountants. Still, it provides some context as to the kind of salaries to expect as an accountant. 

    How to secure an entry-level accounting job

    Education requirements

    Generally, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a bachelor’s degree in business administration to secure an accounting role. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most people in accounting roles have one of these degrees.

    Some accountants also choose to become CPAs. To become a CPA, you’ll need to pass a rigorous series of exams known as the Uniform CPA Examination®.

    Skills employers may look for

    Here’s a list of skills that employers may look for when hiring entry-level accountants. Remember that the skills employers look for will vary a lot depending on the role they’re filling.

    • Proficiency in accounting software: Familiarity with accounting software can be a big plus to employers. These tools can sometimes be essential for managing financial data and processes, and coming into a job with this proficiency may be considered useful.
    • Analytical skills: The ability to analyze financial data and understand how it affects a business is something employers may look for. This skill often involves the ability to scrutinize balance sheets, income statements, and other financial documents to make informed decisions.
    • Attention to detail: Precision can be vital in accounting. Having a keen eye for detail can help to ensure accuracy in financial reporting and record-keeping.
    • Basic understanding of tax laws: Knowledge of relevant tax laws and regulations can be important, as it can be helpful when it comes to accurate tax preparation and compliance.
    • Time management skills: The ability to manage time effectively, especially during busy periods like the end of the fiscal year or tax season, may be critical for meeting deadlines and managing multiple tasks.
    • Ethical judgment and professionalism: Accountants are often expected to adhere to a high standard of ethics and professionalism as they handle sensitive financial information.
    • Adaptability and willingness to learn: The accounting field is constantly evolving, so being adaptable and eager to stay up to date with new accounting practices and regulations can be highly valuable.

    Potential steps to take to secure an entry-level accounting job

    There’s no exact right path to secure an entry-level accounting role, but here are some potential steps to consider on your path to these roles.

    • Obtain the necessary education: Earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field like finance or business administration is a first step to consider. Most accounting positions require at least a four-year college degree.
    • Gain practical experience: Participate in internships or part-time positions related to accounting. This hands-on experience helps to make candidates more attractive to employers.
    • Pursue relevant certifications: Consider obtaining certifications like the CPA or Certified Management Accountant (CMA). While not always required for entry-level positions, these certifications can enhance job prospects and future career growth.
    • Develop a strong professional network: Attend industry networking events, join professional accounting organizations, and engage with accounting professionals via career-focused social media sites. Networking can lead to job referrals and information about job openings.
    • Create a targeted resume and cover letter: Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight educational achievements, relevant experience, and specific skills valuable in accounting. Focus on achievements and experiences that directly relate to the job requirements of the accounting roles that you’re pursuing.

    What to include on your resume if you’re applying for entry-level accounting jobs

    When applying for an entry-level accounting role, crafting a resume (or several!) that’s tailored to the accounting roles you’re applying for can be helpful. First and foremost, your educational qualifications should be prominently featured. Include your degree, major, and any relevant courses or specializations that you took that may be relevant to accounting roles. If you achieved a grade point average (GPA) you’re proud of or had high grades in accounting or business-related courses, you might consider mentioning it. Additionally, if you’re pursuing or planning to pursue certifications like a CPA or CMA, indicate this as well.

    Practical experience, even if not directly in an accounting role, is also critical to include. Include any internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer experiences that have equipped you with relevant skills for the roles you’re applying for. For instance, roles that involved financial responsibilities, data analysis, or working with financial software may be pertinent. Highlight specific responsibilities and achievements using numbers or metrics where possible.

    Lastly, your resume should showcase skills that are critical for accounting roles. Employers may look upon proficiency in accounting software, strong analytical abilities, and high attention to detail favorably, so find ways to weave those skills into your resume. Also include soft skills such as effective communication, teamwork, and problem-solving capabilities. Tailoring these skills to match the specific requirements listed in the job descriptions of the roles you’re applying for can make your resume more appealing to potential employers, too.

    Final thoughts

    If accounting is a career that you want to pursue, it may be beneficial to do whatever you can to grow your network, as this will help you when applying for jobs. For example, if your college is conducting a career fair, attending can be a good way to meet with recruiters in the world of accounting to introduce yourself. In addition, if you have family or friends who work for companies where they may be hiring accountants, let them know you’re looking for opportunities.

    This is often an overlooked aspect of setting yourself up for success when it comes to getting an entry-level job, but it can be the step that sets you apart from other candidates.