Accountants are often labeled into two broad groups: specialists and generalists. As an accounting specialist, you bring to the table advanced education, experience and expertise in one specific area — which, in turn, garners higher pay and increases demand for your services. The process of becoming a specialist can impact the direction of your career, so it's important to choose wisely.
Select a Specialty Area
The first step in becoming an accounting specialist is to choose a specialization. Keep in mind that becoming a specialist can take years, so it's essential to choose an area that can keep your attention for a long period of time. Potential options include forensic accounting, auditing, tax accounting and government accounting, among others. If you're a new accountant, or if you feel uncertain, consider spending a few years as a generalist. Make it a goal to work with a wide variety of clients to gain exposure to different areas. This process helps you understand the realities of each area so you can make a more informed choice.
After you choose a specialty area, it's time to get involved. Locate professional organizations and associations that are dedicated to your chosen field. Forensic accountants, for example, can choose from a wide range of groups, including the National Association of Forensic Accountants, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and the Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants. Become a member of the group, and begin attending networking events. Use the organization's continuing education courses, conferences and workshops to build your skills, and meet new people by joining volunteer committees or presenting at events.
Pursue Training and Education
Using your new network and professional association resources, determine the training and/or certifications that are necessary for your chosen specialty. To become a licensed certified public accountant, for example, you must pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. If you're interested in taxes, consider earning a tax accounting certificate from a local university or community college. Don't discount the value of training and general education in the process of becoming an accounting specialist. If you're happy with your current employer, ask about on-the-job training. Alternatively, look into continuing education courses and training programs offered by certified, well-respected industry organizations.
Experience is the factor that differentiates one accounting specialist from another. No matter what the specialty, there is no substitute for first-hand knowledge. Once you're certified, find a job in your target area. Don't be afraid to start small — it's better to learn the ropes at an entry-level job than to fail spectacularly in a position that's beyond your abilities. Take charge of your career by seeking out new challenges, taking on difficult clients and exploring new corners of your field. Create a stellar reputation as an accounting specialist by staying abreast of regulatory changes and ensuring that clients are compliant at all times.
Becoming an accounting specialist takes time and hard work. With a careful plan, you can position yourself as an expert, making it easier to attract lucrative clients and win sought-after positions.
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