13 Accounting Career Paths With Salary

Accounting Career Paths With Salary

When exploring career options, a solid choice is accounting and finance. Traditionally, imagining an accountant may conjure a person crunching numbers in a cubicle, but the reality is much more dynamic and exciting.

We all know accountants work with a company’s books, but what exactly do they do?

What level of education do you need?

Do you need soft skills and a high level of emotional intelligence?

What kind of growth is available?

Is it a stimulating, high-growth career?

In this post, I’ll take you through some career paths accountants can pursue.

Is Accounting a Worthwhile Career?

Accounting is a straightforward career – it’s a reliable option with plenty of potential for career development, increasing salaries, and job security in most industries.

Every company needs accounting services, from small businesses to non-profits to Fortune 500 enterprises.

The median salary for an accountant is higher than the national median salary for many other professions, coming in at around $77,000. This could be a great career option if you’re a logical thinker who enjoys problem-solving.

Experts predict that the employment of accountants will grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, slightly faster than the average for all occupations. So job security is there.

Networking opportunities are abundant in the accounting world, with professional licensing and certifying groups offering peer networking groups locally, regionally, and nationally.

But what about the different paths you can take throughout your accounting career?

Are you dreaming of a seat in the C-suite? Accounting can take you from entry-level positions to the top of your field, with plenty of exciting stopovers along the way.

What Careers Do Accountants Do?

The accounting profession offers a variety of career opportunities if you have a passion for numbers and financial management. While accounting career paths can vary greatly, the skill sets needed to excel in most positions are similar.

Accountants possess diverse skills, including logical and analytical skills, critical thinking, general business knowledge, and accounting software proficiency.

In addition, I can’t overstate how critical soft skills like organization and good communication are for accountants.

These skills open doors to a wide range of career paths, usually in one of three directions:

  • Public accounting
  • Corporate finance
  • Financial services

Let’s go through the skills you need for each of these.

Public accounting focuses on providing financial services to various clients, including individuals, businesses, and government organizations.

Public accountants can service various industries via auditing, tax preparation, and consulting, making it an ideal path if you seek variety daily.

Skills that make a successful public accountant include:

  • Technical accounting expertise
  • Communication skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Hold the CPA license

Corporate finance involves managing the financial affairs of a specific company. Accountants in this domain work as part of the finance team within organizations, contributing to strategic planning, financial analysis, budgeting, and reporting.

Corporate accountants play a pivotal role in ensuring the financial health and stability of the company and might have titles such as Financial Analyst, Management Accountant, CFO, or Controller.

To work as a corporate finance accountant, you should possess specific skills, including:

  • Financial planning and analysis
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Business acumen
  • Hold the CMA certification or other managerial accounting certification options

The financial services sector encompasses banking, investment management, insurance, and more. Financial services accountants contribute to risk assessment, financial reporting, and market compliance.

If you want to work in financial services, your accounting skill set should prioritize the following:

  • Regulatory knowledge
  • Financial analysis
  • Attention to detail
  • Hold the CFA certification

Whatever your chosen career, honing these skills and staying adaptable to industry trends will lead you down a successful path.

Even as businesses evolve, the demand for skilled accountants will remain.

Let’s look into some positions you can hold as an accountant and see how your accounting career could grow from entry-level on.

Junior Accountant

You may start in a junior role. Here’s what that would entail.

What Do They Do?

A junior accountant is an entry-level position responsible for managing daily financial and accounting tasks such as posting journal entries, managing payroll entries, and reconciling general ledger accounts.

Where Do They Work?

Junior accountants can be a part of any company’s accounting department or could find success at an accounting firm.

How to Become a Junior Accountant

A bachelor’s degree is usually necessary to become a junior accountant. An accounting degree will set you up for great success alongside your aptitude for math, your analytical skills, and your organizational prowess.

Years of Experience Necessary

A junior accountant role is an entry-level position, so no experience is necessary.

Average Salary for a Junior Accountant

A junior accountant can expect to make $55,000 annually.

Staff Accountant

As you climb the ladder, you may progress from junior to staff accountant.

What Do They Do?

A staff accountant has similar responsibilities to a junior accountant, though they may hold more credentials as they usually have more experience in the industry. Entry-level or junior accountants focus more on balance sheets, budgeting, and expense tracking. In contrast, a staff accountant may focus on financial statement preparation, budget expansion, or large purchase planning.

Where Do They Work?

Staff accountants work in-house as a member of the accounting department.

How to Become a Staff Accountant

Earning a junior accountant position at a company with growth opportunities is a great way to work your way up to a staff accountant position.

Years of Experience Necessary

A staff accountant is a mid-level position between junior and senior accountants. A few years of experience as an accountant is generally all you need to progress to a staff accountant.

Average Salary for a Staff Accountant

Staff accountants generally see an annual salary of $60,000.

Senior Accountant

As you make your way up an organization, you may land a senior accountant position.

What Do They Do?

Senior accountants are leaders in their organizations. Often, this is the first managerial role an accountant will hold and can lead to other leadership positions such as accounting manager, corporate controller, and eventually CFO.

Senior accountants should be experts in accounting to efficiently lead a team and manage their duties, which could look like the following:

  • Financial report preparation and presentation
  • General ledger management
  • Tax return preparation
  • Account reconciliation
  • Financial forecasting
  • Payroll completion

Where Do They Work?

Senior accountants often work for large corporations and enterprises with a vast accounting department.

How to Become a Senior Accountant

Many senior accountant positions require more than a bachelor’s degree. Some may pursue an MBA, while others opt for a professional certification like CMA.

As a senior accountant, you’ll have a lot on your plate. You’re responsible for the most critical tasks in the accounting department and must have a sophisticated understanding of all accounting and financial management aspects.

Years of Experience Necessary

Senior accountants usually have 3-5 years of experience before landing a senior role. Experience in various junior positions will set you up for success in this senior role.

Average Salary for a Senior Accountant

The average senior accountant’s salary in the US is around $73,000.

There is a way to increase your starting senior accountant salary–research shows that professionals with certifications like the CMA outearn their peers by up to 58%. Ready to look into that CMA exam yet?

Tax Accountant

Love a life full of forms and nuances? Tax accounting may be for you.

What Do They Do?

Tax accountants specialize in tax preparation. They are well-versed in the laws, rules, and regulations around local, state, and federal taxes. As a tax accountant, you’ll work with individuals and businesses for all their tax-related needs.

Your primary responsibilities as a tax account are the following:

  • Property tax, sales tax, and other license filing and calculations
  • State and federal income tax preparation
  • Tax audit or legal dispute assistance
  • 1099 filing and preparations

Where Do They Work?

Tax accountants can work inside an organization as part of their finance function or independently for various clients and businesses.

How to Become a Tax Accountant

Tax accountants need some specific skills to be successful. Tax law knowledge, accounting best practices, account software competency, asset and time management, attention to detail, and comfortability with numbers should all be part of a tax accountant’s repertoire.

While a bachelor’s degree in accounting, economics, or finance is the norm, a common path also combines some education and work experience. You’ll also be required to have the CPA license.

Years of Experience Necessary

Tax accountants only need a few years of experience, although your salary will increase the more years you have under your belt.

Average Salary for a Tax Accountant

For entry-level tax accountants, the average annual salary is $54,000. The average annual salary for more experienced tax accountants is closer to $70,000.

Cost Accountant

Want a corporate life but in a specific niche? Then cost accounting might be what you’re looking for.

What Do They Do?

Cost accountants often work in large organizations with complex costing requirements. They track and manage business costs, including expenses, budgets, and supply chains.

Your duties as a cost accountant may include the following:

  • Supply Chain Cost refinement
  • Pricing strategy assistance
  • Business decision support
  • Budget development
  • Costs vs. profits

Where Do They Work?

Large businesses with complex processes employ cost accountants.

How to Become a Cost Accountant

Becoming a cost accountant is similar to pursuing other types of accounting roles. A bachelor’s degree will open doors to a cost accountant role, and a CMA certification can make you more desirable to potential employees.

Years of Experience Necessary

Many cost accountant roles are entry-level, though some general accounting experience is always a positive for more specialized functions.

Average Salary for a Cost Accountant

Cost accountants can expect an average salary of around $63,000 in the United States, depending on location and experience.

Internal/External Auditor

Have an eye for detail? Auditing may be a good accounting career path.

What Do They Do?

A specific company employs internal auditors to evaluate the organization’s internal controls, risk management processes, and overall governance structure. As an internal auditor, you may do the following:

  • Reporting and recommendations
  • Internal control evaluation
  • Internal risk assessment
  • Financial compliance
  • Process auditing

On the other hand, external auditors are hired externally to assess the accuracy and reliability of financial statements. You would play a crucial role in forming an objective opinion on whether a company’s financial statements present a fair view of its financial position and performance. As an external auditor, you may be responsible for:

  • Maintaining independence and objectivity
  • Compliance with auditing standards
  • Presenting professional opinions
  • Financial statement audit
  • Assurance services

Where Do They Work?

Internal auditors work inside the finance department of a company and act as a resource for management, offering insights into potential risks and opportunities for improvement.

On the other hand, external auditors can be independent professionals or employed by an audit firm to provide objective opinions on clients’ finances and compliance processes.

How to Become an Internal/External Auditor

Internal and external auditors start with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business administration.

A master’s degree may be beneficial, or you could focus on passing the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam or the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

Years of Experience Necessary

Accounting professionals can start internal and external auditing careers and gain experience to excel at the CIA and CPA exams.

Average Salary for an Internal/External Auditor

Internal auditors earn an average of $63,700 annually. External auditors earn, on average, $62,000 each year as a base salary.

Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A)

Financial Planning & Analysis is all about numbers.

What Do They Do?

Financial Planning & Analysis Accountants are responsible for their company’s profit and loss (P&L). In an FP&A role, you’re critical to the business’s success, providing financial insights that support business processes – forecasting, budgeting, and strategic planning.

In FP&A, responsibilities may include the following:

  • Collaboration with the whole business for budget preparation
  • Evaluation and optimization of assets and investments
  • Growth and progression opportunity identification
  • Estimation of overall financial health
  • Financial modeling and forecasting

Where Do They Work?

FP&A is an internal function at large and scaling companies.

How to Become an FP&A Analyst

As an accountant, you most likely have the skill necessary for success in FP&A.

A professional certification, like the CMA, covers everything you need for proficiency in FP&A.

Years of Experience Necessary

Accountants can choose FP&A as entry-level employees and will usually be called FP&A Analysts. Later in your career, you could be an FP&A Manager, which requires more experience and comes with a higher salary.

Average Salary for FP&A

The average annual salary for an FP&A Analyst is $80,000 in the United States. FP&A Managers can expect a national average of $124,000 annually.

Forensic Accountant

Are your ethics staunch and your nerve strong? Then check the possibility of a career in forensic accounting.

What Do They Do?

Forensic accounting is a highly specialized area. Forensic accountants investigate fraud, bribery, money laundering, and embezzlement by analyzing financial records and tracing assets.

Some areas of focus for forensic accountants may be securities fraud, asset misappropriation, identity theft, and trademark infringements. However, you most likely won’t have a “typical day.” You could be poring over financial documents one day and conducting interviews the next.

Where Do They Work?

The options are vast. As a forensic accountant, government agencies like the FBI, financial institutions, law firms or law enforcement agencies, and public accounting firms could all be potential employers.

How to Become a Forensic Accountant

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) offers a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential that provides you with the technical knowledge necessary for forensic accountants.

Those with this certification typically earned 17% more annually than their non-credentialed peers. Holding the CPA license is also necessary for this type of role.

Years of Experience Necessary

Most forensic accounting positions require a few years of experience in general accounting.

Average Salary for a Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants in the United States make an average of $93,000 annually.

Management Accountant

Love leadership and strategic thinking? Accounting careers in management accounting may be the ticket.

What Do They Do?

Management accountants use their decision-making, planning, and performance management skills to provide expert advice and reporting to a company. From there, you would create and implement a financial strategy for your company.

The strategy element of management accounting is what differentiates it from public accounting.

Management accounting has six pillars of knowledge:

  • Strategy, planning, and performance
  • Business acumen and operations
  • Professional ethics and values
  • Technology and analytics
  • Reporting and control
  • Leadership

Where Do They Work?

Management accountants can work inside the finance function of companies, non-profits or within government agencies. Roles include Accounting Manager, Corporate or Finance Controller, VP of Finance, and Chief Financial Officer. We’ll dive into each individually below.

How to Become a Management Accountant

The first step to becoming a management accountant is the CMA certification–my specialty!

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) requires active membership for eligibility for CMA certification. I have a separate guide to becoming a CMA in just over eight months – check it out.

Years of Experience Necessary

A few years in a general accounting role will set you up for success as you pursue management accounting.

Average Salary for a Management Accountant

You can expect to earn a six-figure salary in the United States with your CMA certification. $110,000 was the median base salary in 2021.

Corporate Controller

Love checks and balances and reinforcing best practices? Then corporate controller is a high-powered accounting career choice perfect for you.

What Do They Do?

You can usually find corporate controller on the list of best accounting careers. The average job satisfaction rate of 4.15 out of 5 for controllers, due to great pay, job security, and professional growth opportunities, says a lot.

Corporate controllers are leaders who work with CFOs and other financial executives on strategic planning and improving the company’s economic performance.

As a controller, you’ll analyze financial data, project and forecast the company’s future, and present to the C-suite.

Where Do They Work?

Corporate controllers can work in businesses of any size, both private and public.

How to Become a Corporate Controller

The corporate controller role takes on much responsibility. Many controllers have MBAs, and others have professional certifications like the CMA or CPA.

Years of Experience Necessary

Most corporate controllers have many years of work experience as an accountant. Professional experience and leadership skills are also essential for the position.

Average Salary for a Corporate Controller

The average corporate controller salary is around $110,000. However, data shows that controllers with additional professional certifications, such as a CMA, earn 58% more than those without.

Accounting Manager

Want to gain a position of importance and invest in rising talent? This leadership position may be right for you.

What Do They Do?

Accounting managers lead accounting teams. They manage many positions we’ve discussed today, like auditors, staff and junior accountants, and other finance professionals.

An accounting manager’s primary goal is to lead their team in meeting the company’s objectives.

Some responsibilities include:

  • Financial report creation and analysis
  • Financial projecting and forecasting
  • CFO and Controller collaboration
  • Plan and policy development
  • Reporting to C-suite

Where Do They Work?

Accounting managers can work in any size company’s accounting department or be on staff at an accounting firm.

How to Become an Accounting Manager

Usually, accounting managers need to work in various roles for experience before they can lead a department. The wider your skills and experience variety, the better your chance of impressing a hiring manager. Some more junior roles to apply for include financial analyst, auditor, staff accountant, and senior accountant.

Additional credentials, especially the CMA or CPA, are the best way to impress hiring managers and advance your career.

Years of Experience Necessary

Accounting Manager is not an entry-level role. You’ll need at least a few years of experience working alongside other accountants to gain the skills necessary to lead a team.

Average Salary for an Accounting Manager

The average accounting manager’s salary in the United States is around $80,000, but with more experience, you could earn six figures.

VP of Finance

VPs have arrived in upper management and leadership. This is an excellent opportunity to direct a company’s big picture and financial operations.

What Do They Do?

Vice President of Finance is one of the most coveted positions for accountants. Great pay, advancement opportunities, and overall job satisfaction make this a dream job for many new accounting professionals.

The VP of Finance is a leader in any company–they are seasoned pros and have a great deal of responsibility. Some of those may be the following:

  • Overall financial plan development
  • Strategic planning and policy design
  • Forecasting and decisionmaking

Where Do They Work?

VPs of Finance typically work in mid-size to large corporations with extensive budgets, cash flow, and financial responsibility.

How to Become a VP of Finance

VPs of Finance typically possess leadership, analytical, and strategic skills. It’ll take some time to work up to the experience necessary to perform at the level of a VP, but the hard work and time are worth it.

Years of Experience Necessary

Generally, you’ll need around a decade of accounting experience to earn a spot as a VP of Finance. Half of those years should be in a managerial position.

Average Salary for a VP of Finance

Even at the lower end of the scale, the salary for a VP of finance is impressive. At an average of $230,000 annually, salaries can range anywhere from $170,000 to $300,000 in the United States.


Chief Financial Officer

The upper rung of financial management is the C-suite.

What Do They Do?

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) heads all financial activities at an organization. They aren’t just master management accountants–they have a decision-making role in areas like IT, HR, investor relations, supply chain, and operations.

While accountants are skilled at working with numbers, CFOs need good people and management skills. The ability to communicate effectively, articulate goals, cast vision, and manage multiple projects are necessary to success as a CFO.

Where Do They Work?

Many CFOs start their career at one of the “big four” accounting firms. These are:

  • Deloitte
  • Ernst & Young
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
  • Klymveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler

It is possible to start your career at one of these firms, work through the ranks, and become CFO elsewhere.

How to Become a CFO

Not everyone can work their way up the ladder to CFO. CFOs need to be ambitious, have specific educational history, make the right connections throughout their careers, and take on an incredible level of responsibility and influence not only with their organization but also in the wider industry.

Years of Experience Necessary

Generally, you’ll need 8-10 years of experience in a senior role before getting promoted to CFO. This is the time required to prove you have the skills, knowledge, and demeanor to succeed.

Another way to increase your CFO salary is a CMA certification, which can help you outearn your peers by up to 58%. Ready to look into that CMA exam yet?

Average Salary for a CFO

The median salary for a CFO in the United States is $430,000.

Even with that incredible salary, it is possible to make up to 58% more with a CMA certification when compared to CFOs without the accreditation.

Find the Accounting Career for You

Your career trajectory in accounting can take you to the top of a company, and there are a vast number of avenues you can pursue. Benefits like high salaries, networking opportunities, and job security mean an accounting career has many positives for those who choose it.

If pursuing accounting leadership sounds promising, I have all the resources you need to become a Certified Management Accountant and skyrocket your career and income.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions regarding the process for CMA certification or other accounting careers.

I’m here to make the process as simple as possible.

Nathan Liao

Hi, I’m Nathan Liao (aka the CMA Coach)! For the last 10 years, over 82,000 accounting and finance pros came knocking at my door seeking guidance and help. If you’re also aiming to conquer the CMA exam on your very first try—without wasting away time or money—you’ve found your ultimate guide. Dive in deeper to discover more about me and the dedicated team that powers CMA Exam Academy. Click here and let’s embark on this journey together!

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