Careers in Accounting: A Stable Career

By Thompson, Michael | Diversity Employers, February 1998 | Go to article overview

Careers in Accounting: A Stable Career


Thompson, Michael, Diversity Employers


At colleges and universities cross the United States, accounting continues to be a popular career choice for African Americans. The past three decades have seen steady and continuous growth in the numbers of African Americans entering into the accounting profession. In 1969, there were 10,000 African Americans in the accounting profession, of which only 100 were Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Today, there are over 75,000 African Americans in the accounting profession, of which 3,000 are CPAs.

Even though many changes in accounting have occurred over the past years, student interest has remained fairly stable. The future of accounting promises even more exciting changes, providing a variety of new opportunities and experiences.

A Stable Career

For much of the 1990s, the business world has undergone several changes, three of which are most noteworthy. First, with the creation of formal regional trade agreements such as NAFTA and the European Union, companies have shifted major parts of their marketing and production activities abroad. Second, the explosive introduction and growth of new technologies have significantly improved the productivity levels of American workers, as well as the quality of American products. Finally, the growth of the entrepreneurial and small business sector has provided the most dynamic aspect of U.S economic growth, as well as the most significant creation of new job opportunities.

Despite these rapid changes, one thing has remained relatively certain: career opportunities in accounting have remained very stable. As long as companies, whether large or small, must prepare various financial records for both internal and external use, the world will always need accountants. Despite the recent turbulence in the world's financial markets, despite all the talk about corporate downsizing, accounting graduates continue to find a healthy employment market.

Misperceptions of Accounting and Accountants

Many university students misunderstand the accounting profession. "Formerly, accounting was thought of as just bookkeeping, and accountants were referred to as 'bean counters' who simply tabulated numbers all day," says Sabrinna MeTier, an African-American student and graduating senior at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. Jessica Paige, another African-American senior at Haas, echoes this sentiment. "When I was a freshman, I wasn't very aware of accounting. I had decided that I would pursue a career in finance. I imagined accountants stuck in offices all day, hovering over calculators."

Most students don't realize just how dynamic the accounting profession has become. According to MeTier, "The accounting profession has changed a great deal. Before, what was most important for accounting professionals was that they were good with numbers. Today, accountants are required to possess good interpersonal skills." Paige adds, 'Accounting is becoming much more consulting-oriented. It's not enough any more to just record and analyze clients' records. Now, accountants must advise their clients on how to improve their businesses. Job descriptions of accountants are definitely expanding."

Public and Private Accounting

Career opportunities in accounting fall most broadly into two categories: public and private. Public accounting firms range from one-person operations to large multinational organizations that employ thousands of professionals. They provide a variety of services to their clients, who are usually individuals or other businesses. Most often, career paths in public accounting are either in audit or tax. The task of audit professionals-as the word implies-is to carefully and rigorously audit and document all the financial records and business transactions of their clients. The auditing process results in the accountant's "stamp of approval" on the client's business activities. The auditors verify, that all client accounting records that are publicly reported (to shareholders, potential investors, etc. …

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