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Becoming a CPA Career Profile

Becoming a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) Job Profile

What is a CPA? These three letters mean that you have received a broad-based education. They mean you have passed all parts of a very difficult exam. They mean you have the knowledge, skills and abilities to be a trusted business adviser to your clients or employer. They mean you feel comfortable with the latest technology.

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They mean you are an ethical individual who can provide an independent analysis. CPA’s are many things. They are chief financial officers for Fortune 500 companies and advisors to small neighbourhood businesses. They work for large and small public accounting firms. They are well-respected strategic business advisors and decision-makers. They act as consultants on many issues, including taxes and accounting.

To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) you need to meet the requirements of the state or jurisdiction in which you wish to practice. These requirements, which vary from state to state, are established by law and administered by the state boards of accountancy. To qualify for certification, you must:

Have professional work experience in public accounting. The Uniform CPA Exam is a prerequisite for the CPA certificate because it is the primary way Boards of Accountancy measures the competence of CPA candidates.

Complete a program of study in accounting at a college/university. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recommends at least 150 semester hours to obtain the common body of knowledge for becoming a CPA.

Pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is developed and graded by the AICPA.

Boards of Accountancy also rely on additional means to ensure that a candidate has the necessary technical abilities and character attributes to become a CPA. These may include interviews, letters of reference, investigation of educational background, and affidavits of employment. In addition, some boards of accountancy administer an ethics examination to assess a candidate’s knowledge of the rules of professional conduct.

The Board of Examiners of the AICPA is responsible for preparing the Uniform CPA Examinations and for operating the Advisory Grading Service, both adopted by the boards of accountancy in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Examination is given twice each year, in May and November, and its duration is 15 ½ hours long. The exam is administered over a two-day period within the boundaries of the fifty-four jurisdictions that use the exam. It is given and graded in English only.

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The exam consists of four sections: Business Law & Professional Responsibilities; Auditing; Accounting & Reporting- Taxation, Managerial, and Governmental and Non-Profit Organizations; and Financial Accounting & Reporting-Business Enterprises. Once you have become a CPA, most states require you to take a specified amount of continuing education courses annually to retain your professional license to practice. As a CPA, there are no limits to the career opportunities available to you. CPAs work in public practices, business industries, government and education. In public accounting, the CPA serves many clients as an objective outsider or in an advisory position.

Currently, there are over 46,000 public accounting firms in the US ranging in size from small local accounting practice to large international CPA firms. To name a few, public accounting services include:

? Auditing- is one of the most important and best-known services provided by CPAs in public practice. To better protect consumers and investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires every publicly held company to issue an annual financial statement. Independent CPA’s examines these financial statements and the results are referred to as an “audit”. The CPA’s role as an auditor is to examine a company’s financial statements in order to assure stockholders and other financial statement users that a company’s financial position is reported fairly.

Assurance Services- is defined as services provided by a CPA that improve the quality of information, or its context, for decision-makers. Such information can be financial or non-financial, about past events or conditions or about on-going processes or systems.

? Environmental Accounting- CPAs get involved in everything form environmental compliance audits and systems and procedures audits to handling claims and disputes.

? Forensic Accounting- looks beyond the face value of accounting records to determine if fraud has been committed.

Also known as an investigative accountant or fraud auditor, the forensic accountant searches for evidence of criminal conduct or assist in the determination of claimed damages. Personal Financial Planning CPA’s provide assistance to individuals and companies in identifying financial objectives and counselling on risk, liquidity, management and tax characteristics of investments.

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CPAs in business and industry work for companies ranging from family-owned businesses to Fortune 500 companies. They are considered strategic business partners of their organizations and work in a variety of different areas, to name a few:

? Financial Management- CPAs are responsible for analyzing a company’s future financing needs.

? Financial Reporting- accumulates and verifies the data required for the preparation of financial statements. CPA’s are often in charge of the design, implementation, and maintenance of the computer system used in the preparation of financial statements.

? Internal Auditing- the CPA as an internal auditor is responsible for providing an objective review of the company’s financial and operating systems.

? Tax Planning- CPA responsibilities include, determining the company’s liability to various taxing authorities for income tax, licenses, sales tax, property tax, and payroll tax.

At the federal level, some examples of where a CPA would work include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, and the General Accounting Office. They may be involved with investigating white-collar crime, managing financial statement audits for government agencies, or performing research and analysis on financial management issues.

At the state and local levels, CPAs are involved in conducting financial, performance or compliance audits, which may include analyzing a school district’s ability to remain viable, the propriety of expenditures for constructing prisons, or the regulatory compliance of hazardous waste programs.

A career in accounting can provide a college graduate with a competitive entry-level salary and long-term growth potential. The following chart illustrates the salary ranges an entry-level professional can expect in public accounting and corporate accounting during the first years of employment (Robert Half and Accountemps Salary Guide 1999).

Employer 0-1 Year 1-3 Year

Experience Public accounting (large firm) $32,000 – $36,000 $35,000 – $41,000

Public accounting (medium firm) $28,000 – $32,000 $31,000 – $38,000

Public accounting (small firm) $26,000 – $30,000 $30,000 – $37,000

Corporate accounting (company w/more than $150 million in sales) $30,000 – $34,000 $34,000 – $45,000

Corporate accounting (company w/$15 million to $150 million in sales) $29,000 – $33,000 $32,000 – $41,000

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Corporate accounting (company w/less than $15 million in sales) $27,000 – $43,000 $31,000 – $37,000

Note: Add 10% to your salary outlined above if you have a graduate degree. Add 10% to your salary if you are a CPA. It’s important to note that factors such as geographic location, length of experience, level of education, CPA designation, and the size of the employer all play a role in determining salary.

As the economy grows the number of business establishments increases requiring more accountants and auditors to set up their financial, technological and internal control systems, provide tax preparation and planning assistance, as well as management consulting advice and other business advisory services. The volume and complexity of financial and non-financial information will continue to expand, requiring the knowledge of accountants and auditors to interpret and analyze the data and participate in the decision making process. Becoming proficient in the latest accounting and budgeting software packages and keeping abreast of new technologies is critical to the accounting professional’s success.


American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (2000). Available:

Blensly, D.L., and Plank, T.M. (1989). Accounting Desk Book, (9th ed.)

Meigs, W.B. and R.F. (1989), Accounting: The Basis for Business Decisions, (8th ed.)

Rink & Robinson’s CPA’s (1998). Certified Public Accountants & Consultants. Available:

Robert Half and Accountemps Salary Guide (1999). Available:

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