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    Our Guide to Becoming an Accountant

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    how to become an accountant

    Are you thinking about pursuing a career in accounting? Businesses globally rely on accounting professionals to keep their operations running and on track for success. Accountants not only have job stability, but they also have a high earning potential.

    In this article, we outline the different qualifications, required steps to become an accountant, and various career paths accountants can take.

    How to begin your accounting career

    Becoming an account isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. There are actually several different educational requirements to achieve your professional goal. If you’re starting your educational journey, you won’t immediately need to know what specialization of accounting or where you want to work.

    However, you will need to decide the route you want to take to earn your accounting certification. Most people begin with an undergraduate degree in accounting after completing high school for an entry-level position. If you want to work beyond an entry-level position, you’ll need to pursue a Master’s Degree, or the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) certification. A four-year degree will provide you with a foundation of accounting principles and theories.

    To move beyond an entry-level position, individuals pursuing a career in accounting have a few options that will require additional education. The first option is to complete a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) to further specialize in a specific field of accounting. Individuals can choose financial accounting, forensic accounting, government accounting, internal auditing, management accounting, public accounting, or tax accounting.

    Becoming a chartered professional accountant

    Another option is to take the continuing education CPA certification program. To qualify for this certification, you’ll need to successfully complete an undergraduate degree program or have at least eight years of relevant experience in any of the CPA technical competency areas. These areas are audit and assurance, financial reporting or records, finance and taxation, management accounting, or strategy and governance.

    Without the undergraduate degree, you’ll also need to submit a comprehensive resume, financial records, letters of reference, official transcripts, and prove at least a Level 1 proficiency of the CPA Practical Experience Requirements.

    The CPA certification is a two-year accounting program that you can complete on a part-time basis while you work in the field. It’s also delivered provincially in Canada, but certified individuals can work in any province or territory.

    The program is made up of six different modules. The modules have to be completed before moving forward and taking the CPA exam. All CPA candidates must take two common core modules that focus your competencies and development in management and accounting finance.

    Related: Who is liable if an accountant makes a mistake?

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    You’ll also need to take two elective modules that focus your career interest in two areas. The four different electives you can choose from are assurance (mandatory for CPA candidates pursuing a career in public accounting), finance, performance management, and tax (mandatory if you’re pursuing public accounting).

    The last two modules in the program are an integrative capstone that develops leadership and professional skills and one exam preparation module. The exam preparation course prepares you for the Common Final Examination (CFE) that all CPA candidates must take.

    The CFE is a three-day examination that requires CPA candidates to demonstrate the depth of their competency development following the CPA Canada Competency Map. However, most candidates will enroll in a test preparation course as the CFE is known to be difficult due to the breadth of knowledge needed to pass. Once this is passed, individuals will officially be chartered professional accountants and can move forward in their careers.

    Other kinds of accounting certifications

    The CPA certification is not the only accounting program that can enhance your professional career. Below are four other programs you can take that will further your career in accounting depending on your interests.

    The Certified Management Accountant (CMA) program is great for individuals that want to hone both their managerial and financial skills. It allows you to pursue top roles like Chief Financial Officer and helps you build strategic management skills.

    A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification is a three-tiered exam that includes becoming a part of a local CFA chapter. This is great for candidates interested in the stock market as it trains you for investment management.

    Another option is the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification. This specialization is great if you want to work as an auditor and is less time-consuming than the CPA program.

    You could also complete an Enrolled Agent (EA) certification, which focuses on tax law. Many professionals choose this program as it requires less experience and education than a CPA.

    Regardless of whether you choose to pursue a CPA designation or another certification, you’ll be set up for a successful career as an accountant. The reward of pursuing a career in accounting, regardless of your certification, is a higher-than-average salary and room for growth.

    Consider: Liability insurance for accountants

    The Takeaway

    There are many paths individuals can take to become an accountant. The journey can be challenging as it requires effort and often intensive studying. Professional accountants learn to practice critical thinking, apply research to practice, learn the many facets of business management, and form strong communication skills to build working relationships.

    Depending on where you are in your educational journey, it could take anywhere from four to seven years to obtain your chartered status as an accountant in Canada. However, it’s a worthwhile pursuit if you’re passionate about accounting.

    Related: How to start a bookkeeping business

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    Originally published December 21, 2021, updated August 25, 2023

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