The decision to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is an important one and although the license has the word “public” in the title, a CPA has vast opportunities to work in both the public and private sectors. And, if you’re a CPA, you’ll likely earn 10-15% more than a non-CPA.
However, if you want to become a CPA, you must first pass the CPA Exam. Passing the CPA Exam and obtaining the CPA credential demonstrates to future employees that you have the drive and commitment to work toward and successfully achieve a very challenging goal. This type of commitment showcases your responsibility and leadership qualities, which help you stand out to future employers.
According to the AICPA’s Start Here, Go Places site:
From the smallest start-ups to the biggest government agencies to the Paris Hiltons of the world, every moneymaking body requires the skills of a CPA. The CPA credential is highly respected and internationally recognized. To a potential employer, it means high ethical standards, valuable experience, a superior education and crazy good skills. And employers are willing to pay for that.
It's also important to note that the CPA license is required for many senior level positions in both the public and private sectors. And, the demand for CPAs is rising with a likely upwards trend.
CPA Career Paths in Corporate America
The good news is that with a CPA license, you can choose from numerous career paths. Kathleen Downs, a Vice President with Robert Half Finance & Accounting, emphasizes the important choice to be made between public accounting and private accounting. “It involves considerations about personality traits, long-term goals, salary aspirations, work environments and job outlooks.” She continues, ‘"If you want to work for an individual company in a specific industry, you should go into corporate — also called private or management — accounting," she says, touching on the basics. "If you want to work for a company that provides accounting services to others and gain experience working with a variety of businesses, that would be public accounting."’
Obtaining your CPA license can open a world of professional opportunities that extend beyond the typical accounting position. Career path choices include working in:
• Public Accounting
• Education & Academia
• Non-Profit Sector
• Federal Government
• Private Sector
Exciting career options as a CPA include:
• Forensic Accountant/FBI Agent
• Corporate Entertainment Accountant
• Sports Accountant
• Environmental Accountant
• IT Auditor
• Accounting Consultant
• International Accountant
• Accounting Professor
CPA Career Paths: Public vs. Private
Something else you’ll need to consider when looking at career paths as a CPA is whether you want to work in public or private accounting. The answer will depend on several factors including your career goals and preferred work environment. According to Robert Half, “Private, or corporate, accountants are employed by individual companies. Public accountants work for companies that provide accounting services to others. While public accountants gain experience working with a variety of businesses, corporate accountants become accounting experts in their specific companies and industries.”
There are many benefits of public accounting to consider when deciding between public and private. Things like compensation, structured feedback, autonomy and incredible career opportunities are all part of working in public accounting. Public accountants typically travel more often than private accountants and go through periods where they work more hours, i.e., busy season. And, public accountants are trusted to provide public value through the protection of public interest – they’re considered trusted advisors from day one.
The AICPA states that those who go into public accounting, “…can specialize in different practice areas, including tax, assurance, financial planning, and forensic and valuation services, just to name a few. Other options are available to further specialize in different industries: providing business valuations for health care companies, for instance, or offering financial planning services to high-net-worth individuals. Location can also play a role in specialization; some accountants may concentrate on helping clients in a specific region, state, or country.”
Private accounting allows for more regular hours of work in a more typical office environment. Rasmussen College’s article, “Public vs Private Accounting: Your Guide to Choosing a Side” states:
Private accountants…deal with the financial information of a single company they’re employed by, usually preparing or analyzing reports for an internal manager. Often the work of private accounting professionals is reviewed and audited by public accounting firms—this provides a sort of independent stamp of approval verifying that their private internal accounting practices meet reporting standards.
CPAs working in private accounting play a pivotal role in assisting their companies to act ethically and are usually in leadership in and management roles.
The Expanding Role of CPAs
CPAs play key roles in both public and private accounting. They help sustain value and growth in their organizations. The CPA credential allows accountants to become the leaders and managers in their chosen fields. Whether you choose to work in the public or private sector, with a CPA license, you’ll be almost guaranteed to experience a promising career.