So you’re finally a CPA – congratulations! That wasn’t too hard, was it? That Bachelor’s degree, hundreds of hours spent studying for the exam, getting your work experience in…okay, maybe it was a little bit of a challenge, but you made it. Here you are: a newly licensed CPA!
So the question is, what’s next? Now that you finally have some time to evaluate where your career is headed, you may be trying to decide what your next step is. It’s a valid question; many people think of taxes and audits when they think of a CPA, but the reality is there are many more options out there for you.
Career Paths for a CPA
Getting a job at a CPA firm generally gives you the opportunity to focus in multiple areas and develop a range of skills. For example, CPA firms like Burkett, Burkett & Burkett in Columbia, South Carolina handle all kinds of tax situations from litigation and fraud examination to business valuation, estates and trusts. They provide services to Columbia, SC and surrounding areas, but some CPA firms are very large, with employees and clients spanning across the globe Whether you have a preference for a smaller, community-based firm or an international firm, working in public accounting can be a great place to move up or harness the skills you need to open your own private consulting company.
Being employed as a consultant gives you the freedom of being your own boss and only taking the jobs that you’re interested in taking. What your job entails depends on what clients you have at the time, and what kind of services they require of you. You’re expected to provide a fresh perspective on a business’ finances, and will have a chance to develop business and leadership skills.
If you’re using this type of job as a stepping stone for an executive position, it’s important to find ways to extend beyond the methodical, process-driven approach behind consulting and get well-rounded experience in management and operations.
Working for a non-profit company can be rewarding and challenging. The margin for error in finances is very slim; as these types of organizations have to be very strict about finances and budget. However, if you choose to work for a non-profit whose cause you support, you will have the opportunity to feel vested in the work you’re doing, whether is tax advising or compiling fund raising data. Non-profits can be good organizations to climb the ladder.
There is plenty of room for financial advising throughout the local, state, and federal government. This may mean having input on tax programs or assessing the efficiency of various government agencies. There is also a need for forensic accountants to investigate white-collar financial crimes, which may involve examining evidence in fraud and embezzlement cases, and preparing and presenting evidence in court.
And now for something a little bit different. Working in education can give you an opportunity to spread the wealth of knowledge that you’ve garnered through your own education. This may mean teaching high school students, being a college professor, or becoming the dean at the head of an accounting department. It could even end up leading to participation in research.
Sometimes CPAs spend the first part of their career at a firm or working in business and upon feeling burnt-out, end up at higher education institutions teaching students. It may be kind of cathartic in a way, helping the students to learn from your own experiences in the field.
Choosing a Direction
This is by no means a comprehensive list of paths that a CPA can take in his/her career, but it may help to give you an idea of the variety that is available to you. Once you’re officially licensed, it can be a good time to reflect a little bit on where you’d like to end up, and how you’re going to get there. However, nothing is certain, so don’t let a foggy view of the future keep you from moving on your career. When all else fails, just dive right in and see where it takes you!
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David Tooley is a freelance blogger who writes for blogs such as Financial Times Digest. He wishes he would have gotten his CPA license so he could spend more time getting paid to do taxes instead of paying others to do his.