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Working Your Way Up the Ladder

It’s not always popular to talk about “paying your dues,” but the fact is most people start out their careers somewhere near the bottom and work their way up. A combination of hard work, skill, a good network, and even luck will move you up the rungs of your accounting career ladder. Let’s take a look at the steps you’ll take to get there.


Education and internships

The first step in an accounting career is education. Accounting majors may pursue an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree. An Associate’s degree may help you land a job. But a Bachelor’s degree will open up more doors in the long term.
While you’re working on your education, you may have the opportunity to intern in a corporate accounting department or a public accounting firm. Internships may be paid or unpaid, but they can expose you to many areas in the accounting field, help you begin to build a professional network and set you up for success after graduation.

Entry-level jobs

After you complete your education, it’s time to look for a job. You’ll have to choose whether you’d like to work in public, private, or governmental accounting. Public accountants prepare tax returns and financial statements for a variety of clients. Private accountants work internally for a company to handle financial transactions and reporting. Governmental accountants do the same for federal, state, or local government entities.
Whichever path you choose, there are usually lots of opportunities for entry-level accounting jobs. Common job titles include staff accountant, junior accountant, accounts payable or accounts receivable clerk and audit associate.
Any of these positions are a great first step in your accounting career. Once you’re in, you’ll start gaining experience and building the network that will help you advance in your accounting career path.

Mid-level accounting jobs

Once you’ve gained some professional experience, you can start working your way up the organizational ladder and moving into more advanced positions. With two to eight years of experience, you’re eligible to become an accounting manager, cost accountant, accounting analyst, finance controller or audit manager.
In a public accounting firm, this may be the point at which you start to specialize in either tax or audit. In private accounting, you might choose between corporate tax accounting, cost accounting or financial accounting. You’ll also likely start to take on a more supervisory role, where you oversee the work of staff accountants.

Senior-level accounting jobs

Once you’ve proven your technical skills and ability to manage others, you could be eligible for a senior-level role. Job titles at this level include senior accountant, accounting manager, audit director, and tax manager. Some accounting professionals spend most of their careers at this tier, often by choice, because they’ve found a specialty that allows them to grow professionally and have a very satisfying career.

Top-tier roles

If you’re striving for the top of the accounting profession, your future title will likely be Partner at a public accounting firm, or VP Finance, or Chief Financial Officer (CFO) if you work in private accounting. These top-tier positions carry a lot of responsibility but are usually well-compensated and highly coveted positions. Technical skills are, of course, a given. But these professionals must also demonstrate leadership qualities, build strong networks, and think strategically.
This overview should give you an idea of where your accounting career path can lead you. Still wondering what you should be getting paid in your current role? Interested in moving up but unsure what is a fair salary for a potential position? LHH can help you learn your worth. Contact us today!