According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a little over 1.2 million people are working in the field of accounting (as of 2019, the most recent year we have data from). 22,000 of them are in Tennessee, where our firm has several offices.
While the federal government doesn’t distinguish in their employment and wage statistics between accountants who are licensed CPAs and those who are not, it is estimated that 30-45% of accountants in the U.S. hold CPA credentials.
To set yourself up for the best opportunities, it is worth going the extra mile to become a CPA. You’ll earn higher wages and be a better candidate for more interesting positions.
As a college student (or a career switcher) who wants to become a CPA, you may be wondering “What jobs can a CPA do?”. In this post, we’ll explore several options, the demand for CPA jobs, how to study for the CPA exam (even while working a full-time job), as well as how to get a job at a CPA firm.
As you’ll see, it’s a career field with tons of openings for those who are willing to work hard and be persistent.
What Jobs Can a CPA Do?
Accounting is a career field that covers a wide range of jobs. Most people assume that accountants just do bookkeeping or file tax returns. But the opportunities go way beyond that.
As we mentioned in another recent post on how to become an accountant, several types of accountants do more than just taxes. Here are just a few areas accountants put their skills to work every day:
- Business staffs
The most well-known accounting designation, however, is probably that of CPA. A Certified Public Accountant is a licensed professional who has mastered advanced training beyond basic accounting skills learned in the course of an undergraduate college degree program.
There are so many jobs available to good CPAs! Indeed.com lists several. They include:
- Compliance Auditor
- Corporate Accountant
- Tax Accountant
- Financial Advisor
- Accounting Professor
- Budget Analyst
- Anti-Money Laundering Manager
- Finance Director
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Of course, being a CPA doesn’t just limit you to serving in the public sector and doing financial work for your entire career. According to an article at Surgent.com on “Alternative Career Paths for CPAs”, you can later transition into roles like:
- Corporate banking
- Investment management
- The FBI
- Financial Planning
Nearly every imaginable industry depends on the skills of good CPAs too:
- Law Enforcement
- Real Estate
…to name a few.
The possibilities are endless.
Are CPA Jobs In Demand?
While the types of jobs a CPA can do are plentiful, the real question is “Are those jobs in demand?” If no one is looking to hire CPAs in those roles, it doesn’t matter how interesting they are.
So let’s take a look at the future job prospects for those who hold CPA certifications.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
“Employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 4 percent from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 126,500 openings for accountants and auditors are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”
Another factor that may help college students and those looking to change careers is that there has been a slight drop in accounting college graduates in recent years. The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants reports in their 2023 Trends Report that nearly 8% fewer college students completed accounting degrees in 2021-22 than in previous years. It’s a downward trend that has been happening since 2016-17.
CFO.com additionally reports that there has been a similar decrease in people taking the CPA exam since 2016 when over 100,000 candidates sat for the exam. In 2022, it fell to a 6-year low of 67,355. There were signs of an upswing in 2023, but that may have more to do with people rushing to be certified ahead of new standards set to take effect in 2024. (Future CPAs will be required to demonstrate expertise in one of three core areas: information systems and controls, tax compliance and planning, or business analysis and reporting.)
What all of this tells us is that if there are going to be more interesting accounting positions opening up in years to come and fewer candidates looking to fill them, it is a good time to be a CPA competing for those roles.
(For additional information on earning potential, take a look at this CPA Salary Report put together by Gleim Exam Prep.)
How to Study For CPA Exam With a Full-time Job
One problem that frequently comes up for those wanting to become a CPA is how to study for the CPA exam while working a full-time job. It can be difficult because your time is limited, but it’s not impossible.
It’s a challenge that requires planning, perseverance, and discipline…the very same character traits that make a great CPA, by the way.
All of the best CPA exam prep guides will tell you to be strategic about carving out specific time to study. If you let your day plan itself, there will always be something else that comes up to steal that time away. Superfastcpa.com recommends doing a structured 2-hour study session first thing in the morning. (One sacrifice may be that you have to go to bed earlier the night before so you can wake up earlier than normal to fit it in!)
Then they say to study throughout the day during the times you would otherwise be glancing at your phone or scrolling through social media. (You’d be amazed at how many hours of the day the average person wastes that way!) Use your commute time to listen to exam-related podcasts or take advantage of being stuck in a long line to review some of your study notes too.
Surgent.com has a great list in a post they wrote: “7 CPA Exam Study Tips While Working Fulltime.”
- Find good software.
- Find time before your day begins.
- Create a study plan.
- Study in small increments.
- Take advantage of what you already know.
- Have a good support team.
- Reward yourself as you hit your study goals.
By doing a few simple things differently and rearranging your schedule a bit, you’ll find plenty of time to study and ace your CPA exam.
How to Get a Job at a CPA Firm
After passing your CPA exam and finally getting that license, the big challenge becomes finding a job. As we mentioned above, there are seemingly endless ways to put your CPA certification to work. However, many people start at an established CPA firm to get their “foot in the door” or gain additional experience before moving on to a different role.
Most accounting graduates with their CPA dream of working for one of the “Big 4” accounting firms (the ones that generate the most accounting revenue in the U.S.):
- Ernst & Young
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers
- Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler
A quick search of the Internet will deliver lots of results on “how to get hired at a Big 4 firm”. While one of those names may look impressive on your resume, working there may not be as glamorous as you expect.
- Long hours
- High pressure
- Restricted PTO
- Low pay
- Limited promotions
- High travel
- Lots of competition
- Corporate politics
By working with a smaller CPA firm closer to home instead, you can gain valuable experience in a much less stressful environment. You’ll build much deeper relationships and learn much more from the senior CPAs you work with (since their time isn’t limited by the demands of working for a large corporate firm either).
Getting connected with one of these types of firms is all about building relationships.
- As you work through your accounting degree and CPA certification, find ways to get to know the CPAs in your area.
- Look for internship opportunities and attend networking events.
- Offer to help part-time during busy seasons.
- Serve through an IRS program like Volunteer Tax Income Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly
With a little creativity, effort, and diligence (again…skills that make for a great CPA) you’ll land a rewarding job with a great group of fellow CPAs doing work that matters.
Start Your Career With Experienced Local Pros
At CRS CPAs, we’ve been helping clients succeed with their finances and accounting needs for over 40 years now. Our tax, accounting, and business experts understand what it takes to help them grow their businesses.
We love working with accounting students who graduate from schools all across West Tennessee and the Mid-South:
- Union University
- Ole Miss
- University of Memphis
- Christian Brothers University
- University of Tennesee at Martin
If you’re looking to start a new accounting career, schedule a call with one of our team. We’ve got what it takes to help you get started right!