Myths About Accounting Careers – What It’s Really Like to Work in Accounting
Accounting is a career field with some strong stereotypes. Mention Accounting or Accountant to someone and they will often picture an introverted individual sitting in a back office somewhere crunching numbers and calculating taxes all day on their big old desk calculator.
In reality, the stereotypes and myths about Accounting couldn’t be further from the truth. Accounting is actually an incredibly diverse career path suitable for both men and women and it offers a variety of exciting options to pursue. It’s also one of the best fields for career stability and overall opportunities.
Prior to becoming an Academic Advisor and Career Counselor, I spent several years working in Accounting and Finance. My Bachelor’s Degree is also in Accounting. I’ve been in the trenches of the Accounting workforce (both public and corporate roles) and the majority of students I advise are Accounting program majors. I wanted to take the opportunity today to share some information regarding what it’s really like to work in Accounting and to dispel some of the common myths about Accounting careers.
Debunking Common Myths About Accounting Careers
Myth 1: Accounting is a Good Fit for Me Because I Like Math and Numbers
I would be a rich man if I got a dollar every time someone interested in Accounting said this to me. It’s not a bad thing if you like numbers or math. It’s just not a good reason (by itself) to pursue an Accounting career.
The amount of math you’ll do in the vast majority of Accounting positions is actually very minimal. Most will be elementary. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Maybe you’ll get fancy every once in a blue moon and do something with a simple algebraic equation and some percentage/statistical calculations to spice things up. There are some specialized Accounting positions like Cost Accountants or Actuaries that will work a lot with numbers but this is not the case for most other positions.
A better question to ask yourself is, “Do I enjoy puzzles and problem-solving?”. This is what the majority of Accounting tasks will revolve around. You’ll spend the majority of your time trying to figure out where a missing $14 is that is causing your books to not balance, or wondering why you are missing inventory and how to record that. You’ll make many creative journal entries to get money to the right spots on the general ledger. You’ll also work directly with other departments to help them solve their operational problems since Accounting (aka, money) plays a role in all of Business.
Being an analytical individual, expert critical thinker, and great problem (puzzle) solver are the qualities that let you shine in your Accounting career. An interest in Math and numbers has little to do with success in Accounting.
Myth 2: Accounting is a Great Career If I Just Want to Work By Myself and Not Be Bothered
A lot of people picture Accounting as a very isolated role. Someone sitting in a back office somewhere working by themselves with little to no other human interaction. Some shyer individuals are even attracted to Accounting because of this belief.
The truth is that the vast majority of Accounting positions are actually very forward-facing. There is a lot of people interaction and communication! You’ll write tons of emails and reports, you’ll sit in many meetings, and you’ll work closely and collaborate with managers, clients, and other department teams on a frequent basis.
For example, an Accountant may work with a Business Operations team on managing the costs for repairs to a facility, or collaborate with Sales and Marketing for how promotions or discounts should be created and implemented. There will also be plenty of meetings with the company managers and leadership reporting on the financial health of the company. If you have clients, there will be plenty of meetings discussing the work you’re doing for them.
It doesn’t matter what role or industry you’re in either. If you work in Public Accounting or run your own business, you will work closely with clients and have to cater to them. In Corporate or Government Accounting, you’re working closely with other departments and management.
Accountants have to be great team players, have expert communication skills, and will most certainly be interacting with many other people. Those looking for an isolated career where they can work alone and not have to interact with others are going to be sorely disappointed.
Myth 3: Accounting is a Laid-Back and Leisurely Job
There’s nothing inherent about Accounting that makes it a laid-back or leisurely job. You may find cushy Accounting positions in some cases, but this often revolves around the company and their culture more than the actual position. It’s not the norm.
Typical Accounting roles are generally very fast-paced with lots to do. They require good multi-tasking skills and a solid work ethic (just like any professional career requires). They also have their fair share of stress. Checks have to go out on time, purchases need to be made correctly, processes must be completed within regulation and law. Many companies or individuals can even be fined or sued if Accounting work is not done properly or ethically.
Most Accounting positions also come with cyclical “busy” periods where you’re almost guaranteed to be working some very long (and stressful) hours. Private and Corporate Accountants will pull long hours during the different closing periods of the year (month, quarter, and year end) as they work to close the books and file any necessary documents. Public Accountants will have tight project deadlines to meet, and those that do Tax will be bogged down the entire Tax season. Long hours during these busy times are so common that some Accounting roles actually allow reduced hours during other parts of the year to offset the overtime.
That being said, I do feel it is reasonable to find positions that only require 40-45 hours of your time each week. It will be a busy 40 hours, though. You’ll need to carefully manage your workload and always be looking for ways to continue to do better in your role. You’ll need to find ways to work more efficiently and save time while achieving the same high-quality results. Some overtime here and there will still be needed. This is not a job you can show up to, tinker around the office most of the day, and then go home. There is always something that needs to be done!
Myth 4: My Only Career Options Will Be in Accounting If I Pursue the Field
This is a myth I am happy to bust! Accounting is a highly-valued profession and is often called the “language of business”. It plays an important role in most Business operations and expertise in the field is valued throughout the business world. Because of this, a background with Accounting can be used to transition into a variety of business careers. Sales, Marketing, Operations, Project Management, Human Resources, etc. Employers recognize the value your Accounting background can bring to their department’s processes. Many positions become opportunities for you!
There are many opportunities to explore within Accounting itself as well. Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Cost Accounting, Auditing, Taxation, Treasury, Accounting Analysis, Budgeting, Forensic Accounting, and much more. Finance is another gateway career that Accounting can transition into. You can also start your own business and provide whatever variety of Accounting services you like. There is a lot to explore within the Accounting career world.
Accounting is also a useful background for moving into Management and Senior Leadership. Many CEOs and CFOs have Accounting backgrounds. Many Lawyers earn their Bachelor’s degrees in Accounting before attending Law School. Entrepreneurs are well served by Accounting backgrounds which helps them tremendously in running and managing their growing businesses. Some folks may opt to start teaching Accounting as a professor or tutor. It is an extremely versatile degree that can open doors to many great career options.
Myth 5: I Need to Know How to Do Taxes If I’m an Accountant
This is a common misconception about Accounting. Most people draw a connection between Accounting and Taxes. However, only those that work in specialized Tax Preparation or Tax Accounting roles will actually deal significantly with taxes. The majority of other Accounting roles will rarely, if ever, deal with taxes.
That being said, having a general understanding of Tax law and how taxes are done is beneficial in most Accounting careers. It’s just not a requirement by any means. Most of the tax knowledge needed in the majority of Accounting roles can be quickly picked up on the job.
I hope that this article debunking the myths about Accounting has helped clarify for you what Accounting is really like. Positions do vary from company to company and industry to industry, but this post describes an honest perspective into the Accounting world.
At the end of the day, Accounting is a gainful career field with lots of upsides. There is lots of job stability, good growth opportunities, and respectable income earning potential. I hope this article helps you decide if Accounting is the right fit for you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Are there any myths about Accounting that I haven’t covered or would like to discuss more? Let me know in the comments below!
– Mr. Happy Work