6 things to know before you start an accounting career 
Accounting careers have long been considered a safe choice for the mathematically minded. But it’s not the dusty profession it once was. Today, accountants work with everything from managing businesses to block-chain data analysis.
Job Outlook predicts strong growth for accountants over the next five years.
It’s a dynamic profession needed by businesses of all sizes. Accountants provide financial information on business performance, financial positions and cash flow that business leaders need to make good decisions. As such, it plays a central role in solving complex business problems.
The field of accounting encompasses many different career paths, including:
- Financial accounting
- Public accounting
- Forensic accounting
- Tax accounting
Accountants can also branch off into related fields such as auditing, data and information systems as well as business.
Accountant salaries in Australia
Most accounting graduates start at $57,000 and the sky is the limit for earning potential.
Mid-level accountants can make $100,000 to $150,000 within 10 years as they move into managerial roles.
How far your accounting salary rises depends on variables such as seniority, the number of hours you work and whether you’re in government, business or private practice.
What is accounting?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, accountants:
- Offer services relating to financial reporting, taxation, auditing, insolvency, accounting information systems, budgeting, cost management, planning and decision-making.
- Provide advice on compliance and performance requirements to ensure statutory and strategic governance.
While each role will have a different focus, all accountants need a strong understanding of how businesses work, from auditing to payroll, taxes and profit and loss.
Training required for accounting jobs
A Diploma of Accounting is the first level of accounting qualifications. But you need a Certificate IV in bookkeeping and/or accounting to gain entry into the Diploma. Plus, you’ll need some experience to get a job.
These entry-level accounting roles require a Diploma:
- Tax agent
- Payroll officer
Many roles require a Bachelor’s degree; if you want to progress to higher-level roles, you’ll need a Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma or Master’s degree.
Most higher-level management roles require a Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA), Chartered Accountant (CA) or Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) accreditation.
One of the biggest attractions in gaining CPA or CA status is that they are increasingly internationally recognised. This makes it easy to have your skills and employment recognised if you want to travel and work overseas.
Practical experience helps
Getting your dream accounting job requires much more than just a qualification though. Employers value hands-on experience. Plus, having a diverse range of experiences lets you test out different roles and see which one suits you best.
Start out in junior roles while you study — as an accounting clerk, payroll officer or even administration in a finance department.
This is a great way to build your skills, learn how businesses work from the ground up and build your resume.
The traits of a good accountant
Good accountants not only understand numbers, but they also have:
- Strong business and financial sense.
- The ability to analyse risks and inform business strategies that help companies grow.
- A good understanding of economics, computer systems and the English language.
While not essential, having the communication skills to build strong business relationships, work collaboratively and express complex mathematical ideas in simple terms would help you succeed too.
Choose from a wide variety of settings
Accountants work across all industries, and in both regional and city areas, so there’s no need to limit yourself. If you love horses and you love numbers, you could work for a horse racing company or a veterinary hospital even.
Like fashion? Work for a major fashion house or department store as part of their in-house finance team.
If you prefer working one-on-one with clients, you might choose to work as a personal accountant. Personal accountants help individuals or small businesses with their bookkeeping, taxes and personal finances.
What about work-life balance?
Although most (80%+) accountants work full-time, it is becoming an increasingly family-friendly profession.
Huge companies like Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young lead the way with gender equality and family-friendly workplace policies. Smaller companies are also starting to follow suit.
The option to work from home
Accounting is a profession that is relatively easy to conduct as a home-based business. Set your office up in a spare room or your garage, meeting with clients via programs such as Skype or Zoom. You never have to worry about commuting again!
The way you run your accounting business plays a large role in how successful it will be.
Try these tips to stay focused, comfortable and productive.
- Find a quiet space away from distractions. Sitting at the kitchen table, staring at your fridge is going to reduce your concentration (and make you snack more). Remove items such as TVs and hobby items from your workspace so you don’t feel tempted to play instead of work. Having them in a separate room gives you the perfect excuse to get up from your desk at break times too.
- Dress the part. Choose clothes you feel comfortable but confident in. Spending all day in your pyjamas tells your body it’s bedtime and makes it hard to switch your brain on.
- Turn up on time. You need to be disciplined when working for yourself. Clients won’t appreciate it if you turn up late to meetings or send documents through later than expected. Starting your day at the same time is an easy way to create structure in your day and set the habit of being organised.
- Give your eyes a break. Sometimes we get so absorbed in what we’re doing, that we don’t realise that we’ve spent two hours staring at the screen. Try blinking regularly and looking out the window for quick relief of eye strain. And make sure you take longer breaks at regular intervals.
- Consider ergonomics. Spending hours cramped in an awkward position leads to neck, shoulder and back problems. Hard chairs can lead to pelvic and back troubles too. Make sure your desk is the right height, screens aren’t too far away or too high and your chair supports your spine.
- Get those papers sorted. Despite living in a mostly digital world, filing still tends to accumulate. Dedicate an hour a week on a set day to decluttering your workspace and keeping on top of paperwork.
- Stick to a list. Being your own boss means you get to pick and choose what you do and when. It’s the best part and the worst part. Because if you don’t focus on the must-do tasks, you’ll end up scrambling at 1 am and getting burnt out. Start every day with a short list of the tasks that you absolutely must do and get them done first. Reward yourself with the more fun tasks afterwards.
- Sort out your IT department. When it comes to tech management in a home business, you’re it. Setting yourself up with a few basic apps right from the start makes it easier to streamline your processes and become familiar with the software. Try Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail and Google Calendar.
With the ability to securely share sensitive files online, it’s never been easier to set up a home-based bookkeeping or accounting practice. As a bonus, you might even be able to claim all those home-office expenses yourself for a change.
Editor’s note: Hoping to work for yourself? GoDaddy can help set you up with its free logo maker, free website builder and productivity tools like Microsoft 365, including the world-famous suite of products (Excel, PowerPoint, etc).
Minor drawbacks to consider
There are some fantastic aspects to being an accountant — the:
- High salary
- Perennial demand for services
- Ability to live anywhere in the world
But there are also some factors you should think about before launching into an accounting career.
Qualification time and expense
Before you can start an accounting career, you’ll need to become qualified.Studying takes time and often involves a hefty debt.
You’ll need to gain part-time work to support yourself while studying, which often means taking whatever job fits around your Tafe or University hours.
Plus, the courses you’ll be undertaking aren’t the kind you can snooze through. You’ll be learning complex topics and need to work hard to pass your exams.
Depending on which role in accounting you choose, you may also need to undertake further study such as becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst.
If you get easily stressed, this might not be the job for you. There’s a lot of responsibility – a number in the wrong column could cost the business thousands of dollars. And with responsibility comes pressure.
For those working for an accounting firm or as an independent accountant, this profession also has a busy season when work can pile up and tempers flare.
So, if you’d prefer a role where slip-ups aren’t too big a deal or one that has more flexible deadlines, accounting probably isn’t for you.
Hours of solitary work
When you’re choosing a career path, it’s vital to consider the type of life you enjoy leading.
If you’re happiest chatting with people or being outdoors, you’re better off as a barrister or park ranger.
Accounting involves a lot of sitting at a desk and you may be alone in your office for most of the day. Some people consider accounting boring – once you’re past the initial hump of learning your new role, every day is going to be pretty similar. But for others, the notion of predictability means they can relax knowing how their week is going to play out.
Despite all of this, accounting is an ideal career for anyone wanting a stable, secure and well-paid job.
Accounting careers remain a solid choice
With an increasing number of Baby Boomer accountants retiring from the upper levels of the profession, the future is looking rosy for new accountants.
Strong income earning potential, family-friendly workplace conditions and opportunities to work in pretty much any industry you choose make accounting a great option. If you’re looking for a career with stability and security, it’s a perfect choice.
Common questions about accounting careers
We’ve rounded up some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about becoming an accountant for you.
What is the highest-paying job in accounting?
Financial Controllers are generally the highest, earning around $92,000 per year. They are followed closely by Bank Branch Managers who average around $86,000 per annum and Financial Analysts at around $80,000 per annum.
What are the career paths in accounting?
An accounting degree opens up many career options including:
- Cost Estimator
- Enrolled Agent
- Forensic Accountant
- Real Estate Appraiser
- Tax Accountant
- Tax Attorney
- Tax Preparer
- Accounting Clerk
- Accounts Payable/Receivable Clerk
- Accounting Information System Specialist
- Actuarial Accountant/Insurance Accountant
- Budget Analyst
- Capital Accountant
- Comptroller/Financial Controller
- Cost Accountant
- Environmental Accountant/Sustainability Measurement
- Payroll Accountant
Are accountants in demand in Australia?
Thanks to travel restrictions and border closures, Australian accounting roles are now in high demand. Before COVID-19, there was a hefty reliance on overseas accountants.
Now businesses are being forced to hire locally, which is great news for accounting graduates.
Plus, many accounting roles are held by people nearing retirement age. As they move out of the workforce, it will open up job opportunities for fresh candidates.
Is accounting a good career?
First of all, accounting is a smart career, because every business has accounting needs. This makes accounting a stable career — there will always be demand for it.
Plus, there are many types of accounting roles available, ranging from:
- Running your own private accounting practice to
- Being a financial controller for a large business
And because accounting is needed across the nation, you can choose not only who you want to work with, but where as well.
Lastly, there’s plenty of potential for career progression too.
Is it easy to get an accounting job in Australia?
Landing your first job in accounting is the hardest part. Many job ads ask for candidates with years of experience behind them.
Try volunteering for a non-profit organisation to gain some experience and show you have a strong work ethic. Then look for entry-level roles and be willing to compromise to get started in the field.
Once you get into that initial role, moving on and up is much easier.
UPDATE: This accounting careers article was first published on 19 February 2019 and updated 31 July 2022.