Career Options for Accounting Graduates

By Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, Lehman College – August 28, 2018
Career Options for Accounting Graduates

As you graduate from college and are considering the options open to you with your accounting education and degree, there is one facet that may have been overlooked. In the majority of cases,, there are two paths laid out for students: traditional CPA or non-traditional CPA. The traditional CPA route tends to focus on taking an exam preparation course, taking (and passing) the CPA exam and working at a public accounting firm — often in the attestation or tax area. Alternatively, a career path working in a non-traditional CPA track may be analyzed and discussed at certain points throughout the educational process but may only be examined as a secondary option to the traditional CPA route. But times are changing, and more graduates are pursuing non-traditional CPA career paths.

There are numerous career options available to accounting graduates entering the marketplace, and these different choices are amplified by the virtual tidal wave of technology disrupting the profession. Everyone’s career path will be different, and it is important to evaluate all options before deciding on the appropriate one for you, which includes doing research and consulting with your circle of advisors. Here are a few examples:

  • Working in tax and tax enforcement. Taxation may not seem like a particularly exciting or trendy career path, but there are several certifications and options in this field. Especially with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) and the uncertainty generated from the shifting tax landscape, opportunities for skilled professionals in this area will only continue to increase. Especially as technology leads to the increased internationalization of virtually every business, interpreting tax codes and laws will only become more important moving forward. The IRS, SEC and even the FBI are virtually always on the lookout for individuals with an accounting background to assist with investigations and enforcement
  • Fraud detection and prevention. Preventing and detecting fraudulent and other unethical activity is a top concern for accounting professionals and every organization, but one distinct change creates additional opportunities for individuals interested in working in this area. With the rise of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, both of which provide increased anonymity for users, uncovering and tracking down fraudulent behavior is both an important idea and an emerging area where accountants need to be proactive. More than 900 cryptocurrencies were launched in 2017 alone, but by the midpoint of 2018, over 50 percent of those newly launched cryptocurrencies had failed. As the crypto-economy continues to grow and mature, fraud and unethical activity will undoubtedly continue to be a part of it. CPAs and accounting professionals are well positioned to assist organizations dealing with these issues.
  • Technology specialists. There is a potentially untapped ocean of work and employment in areas and work processes aligned with technology. Cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and the implementation of artificial intelligence in the business landscape are game changers for accountants and the companies serviced by accounting professionals. No single person, firm or industry has a monopoly or entrenched advantage with these technologies, meaning everyone has an equal chance to establish a leadership position.
  • A career in industry. Many accounting professionals ultimately find themselves working in the corporate world, and many have a long and lucrative career working for different organizations without working for a public accounting firm. Working in private industry can enable you to gain experience working on a wide variety of interesting projects and opportunities. Technology, changing expectations and requirements of end users, and the ability to work in conjunction with different functional areas are just some benefits that can be achieved by working in industry. As tasks traditionally assigned to entry-level and early career professionals are augmented or automated by technology, getting additional exposure to the underlying business functions will only help with career development and growth.

Working at a public accounting firm is an excellent opportunity to learn from talented and hard-working practitioners while also gaining exposure to variety of different clients and industries. However, some of the facets of working in public accounting may not appeal to everyone, and that is perfectly okay. Equipped with your accounting education and CPA credential, there are many different ways to leverage those skills and competencies — it’s really just a matter of what you want to do. Change and disruption are inevitable, but by being flexible and open to new opportunities, your career can be interesting, lucrative and fun.


Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

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