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What does a CPA do?

What is a CPA and what do they do? CPAs are many things. They are chief financial officers for ASX200 companies and advisors to small neighborhood businesses. They work for public accounting firms, both small and large. They are well-respected strategic business advisors and decision-makers. They act as consultants on many issues, including taxes and accounting.

A CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is a trusted financial advisor who helps individuals, businesses, and other organizations plan and reach their financial goals. Whatever those goals-saving for a new home, opening a new office, or planning a multi-billion dollar merger-CPAs can help.

Getting your CPA certification opens the kinds of doors that can fast-track you into influential jobs in every industry. What profession is often a stepping-stone to holding positions like Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO)? CPAs do.


What kinds of career opportunities are available to CPAs?

From the smallest start-up to the largest government agency, every business or organization requires the skills of a CPA. The CPA credential is highly regarded. To a potential employer it means high ethical standards as well as measurable experience, education, and skills.

CPAs work mainly in public accounting, business and industry (corporate accounting), government, not-for-profit, and education.


Are CPAs and accountants the same thing? Yes and no. All CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). The principal differences between accountants and CPAs are education, experience, and opportunity. Becoming a CPA is a challenging goal, but one very much within your reach.

In order to become a CPA, there are education and experience requirements you'll need to fulfill, and a Uniform CPA Exam that you must pass. Receiving your CPA certification distinguishes you from other business professionals – the benefits are increased trust, opportunity, and financial reward.


What types of skills will I need? To begin a successful career in accounting, you will need to develop a wide array of knowledge, skills and competencies, ranging from a strong understanding of accounting and business concepts to effective leadership and communication skills. You will also need to have a broad business perspective, which will enable you to "see the big picture" of the internal and external factors that impact how a business operates. Technology will also be a major enabler throughout your career, so it's critical to stay abreast of and utilize new computer applications and systems as necessary.

Playing an active role in your education, such as taking a hard look at the courses you enroll in and what extracurricular activities you get involved in, helps to position you for a long and successful career. It's important to recognize that the learning doesn't end in school; it's really just the beginning of your lifetime commitment to continual education and development. All of the skills and competencies listed below are considered important to success. A more comprehensive description of the competencies can be found within the Accounting Education Center.

Problem-solving, analytical and research skills - You should be able to analyze, compare and interpret facts and figures. The ability to identify and solve unstructured problems in an unfamiliar setting and provide insightful consulting advice is a valued quality. Creative thinking will help you face issues on a daily basis and generate innovative solutions. Also, it is essential to be able to effectively and efficiently research, organize and report on technical and/or industry specific issues utilizing print, electronic or human sources.

Personal skills - Accounting is a service activity, and you will have to work well in teams as well as in one-on-one situations. Critical to any organization's success is the ability to lead, motivate and empower teams to attain clear, concrete, timely and measurable results.

Strong communication skills including the ability to be a good listener- You will be called upon to persuasively present, discuss and defend your views both formally and informally, in writing and verbally. Clients and co-workers will present you with issues and questions you will need to interpret and respond to quickly. The ability to show empathy and sensitivity to their situations will position you in a favorable light and earn their respect and trust.

Understand emerging technologies- You need to keep current on emerging technologies like e-commerce, image processing and workflow technology, and understand how these impact business operations and the use of information for decision making. You should know how to use the Internet, e-mail and discussion boards, as well as be familiar with the latest spreadsheet, database, word processing, accounting, business and presentation software packages.

High Ethical Standards - Given the fiduciary nature of the work you perform, people will rely on the information you provide. Honesty and integrity are qualities which are highly valued.

Marketing/Client Focus - Individuals who are marketing and client-focused are better able to anticipate and meet the changing needs of clients, employers, customers and markets.

Project Management- Conflicting demands, unexpected requirements, coinciding deadlines and family obligations are but a few of the sources of stress and pressures you will face. To manage these pressures, you must be able to judge the situations, assign priorities and organize your tasks and obligations to meet the respective deadlines.

Broad Business Perspective- You need a keen business sense and an awareness of current events, both locally as well as globally. As a key business partner to clients and/or company management, you add value to the organization by making appropriate recommendations based on your understanding of company operations, policies, practices and competitive factors.

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