10 Must-Know Pros and Cons of an Accounting Career
Like nearly everything in life, accounting careers have positives and negatives. But the truth is not that the career itself is good or bad, but rather that it’s the right fit for certain people and not for others.
Think of it like shopping for a new car—some people seek dependability and safety while others crave performance and speed. Neither option is inherently good or bad, but each vehicle is a better choice for different types of people.
What you’ll think of an accounting career depends on your personality, working style and life priorities. Once you understand the possible pros and cons of an accounting career, you can make an informed decision.
So is accounting a good major for you to pursue? Take a look at these pros and cons of accounting careers to steer yourself in the right direction.
Pros of an accounting career
There’s a lot to love about a career in accounting. Learn more about a few of the perks you can expect by pursuing this profession.
1. There is a clear career path
If you’re studying accounting, you’re learning practical skills about crunching numbers and analyzing costs that employers need. This gives you a much clearer career path compared to someone who chooses to study English or philosophy where the potential career outcomes are harder to define.
If you choose to pursue an accounting degree, you’ll have a pretty solid idea of where your career will take you. Though there are different types of accountants in the field, the duties you’ll have and skills you’ll use will be generally the same, meaning you know what you’re signing up for.
2. It’s a stable and growing job field
Accounting is not a profession that’s going away anytime soon. Virtually every business needs an accountant or an entire accounting team, and even the average person has reasons to hire an accountant from time to time.
The job prospects in accounting are projected to grow in the coming years. As long as people need help with taxes and as long as businesses exist, there will be a need for accountants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in the accounting field will grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is faster than the national average rate for all occupations.1
3. You’ll have the potential for professional growth
After graduation, you might begin as an entry-level associate, but the potential for growth can be great. Many accounting graduates will start as staff accountants, junior auditors in public accounting or assistants in the controller’s office in private accounting as they begin to plot their career paths.
After getting established and gaining experience, career advancement can be achieved through on-the-job performance and additional education or certifications, like becoming a Certified Professional Accountant (CPA).
Looking for more specifics? Check out Accounting Career Paths: The Number Cruncher’s Guide.
4. The earning potential is favorable
Like anyone, you want a career that allows you to provide for yourself and your family. So how does an accounting career stack up?
The median annual salary for an accountant in 2017 was $69,350, according to the BLS.1 In fact, the BLS reports that the top 10 percent of earners made upwards of $120,000. Against the national median salary of $37,040, that’s an impressive amount of upside.1
Additionally, many full-time accountants receive great benefits such as healthcare, vacation time, retirement plans and more. The BLS reports that most accountants work full-time, around or over 40 hours a week.
5. You can work where you want to work
Where would you like to live? West Coast, East Coast or somewhere in between? Big city or small town? In a mountain range or by the ocean?
With some career fields, you may need to uproot your life and move to an industry hub to find work. Accounting, however, tends to be everywhere. From farmers to government organizations to software development companies, seemingly everyone could use the services of an accountant. This gives accountants a fair amount of flexibility when it comes to choosing where they want to settle down.
6. There is entrepreneurial potential
Starting your own business is the same option in every profession. It’s highly unlikely that a pilot will ever launch their own airline, but accountants establish their own firms routinely. The dream of being your own boss is alive and well in the profession of accounting. If you have some of that entrepreneurial spirit, starting an accounting firm could be a great way to advance your career.
Starting an accounting firm, like starting any business, has its risks and may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely good to have this as an option.
Cons of an accounting career
Just like any industry, working in accounting does have its drawbacks. Get a taste of some of the less appealing factors so you can decide if it’s the right fit.
1. The education is ongoing
If you become an accountant, the learning doesn’t stop once you’ve earned your degree. To progress in your career, you’ll need to plan on continuing education—at least to keep up with changes in the industry and important certifications.
After getting started as an entry-level accountant, you should look at what type of certifications you might want to earn. There are different accounting credentials, including the CMA (Certified Management Accountant), CPA (Certified Professional Accountant) and CFA (Chartered Financial Accountant). These credentials will all take a significant amount of time and effort to obtain, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into ahead of time.
2. The work can seem dull
How many world-famous accountants do you know of? If you’re struggling to think of one, there’s a reason for that—accounting isn’t usually seen as a “glamorous” field. But recognition and glitz aren’t everything. The day-to-day work requires a lot of investigating and math, which can be boring to some but interesting to others.
This is one of those questions in which you’ll need to look within yourself and answer honestly about what works for you. Learning more about what accountants do on a daily basis will help you determine whether or not the work appeals to you. Check out “What Do Accountants Do? A Look at Life Behind the Ledger” for more additional perspective.
3. There is a busy season
Accounting is typically a standard 9-to-5 job, except for certain times of the year with impending deadlines. The most notable deadline is April 15 for tax accountants. For most tax accountants, the heavy lifting starts after New Year’s Day right up to April 15.
During the busy season, long days and weekend work become the norm as accountants work to get their clients’ finances in order. But the plus side is that things slow down significantly after that time period. In this way accounting careers offer some variety in the yearly schedule.
4. The work can be stressful
When you’re responsible for an organization’s finances, there is bound to be some pressure. It’s just part of the game. But that pressure and stress can have an impact on your overall mental health, and deserves consideration.
These negative experiences have a lot to do with where an accountant works and the specifics of their roles. It’s a safe bet to say, the more important your position is and the more money you work with, the more pressure you will face on the job. But whether that pressure results in negative levels of stress depends on your personality.
Try to honestly assess your attitude toward pressure and heavy workloads. If you don’t stress easy or don’t mind being a little high-strung, working as an accountant might not bother you. If you know you’re easily frazzled, it’s possible that an accounting career isn’t the ideal choice for you.
So, is accounting a good career choice for you?
Now that you’ve got a better grasp of the pros and cons of an accounting career, take the time to evaluate whether this is the field for you. If the pros are outweighing the cons, you might want to take a closer look at how to prepare yourself for a job in this field.
Are you still asking, should I become an accountant? It might help to know what kind of commitment is involved. Learn more about what it takes to launch this career in our article “Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become an Accountant.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed February 12, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2014. It has since been updated.