How to succeed in public accounting: 7 tips to start your career

5 min read
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Public accounting can be intimidating when you’re just getting started. But there are many ways to set yourself up for success and make building your career exciting, rather than overwhelming. To give you a jumpstart, we're sharing seven tips on how to succeed in public accounting and set yourself up to accomplish your goals. 

7 Tips to Succeed in Public Accounting

#1 Develop a plan.
#2Don't settle. 
#3Earn your CPA license. 
#4Embrace continuous learning.
#5 Build your soft skills.
#6Strengthen your tech skills.
#7Get started with Becker. 

How to succeed in public accounting in 7 steps

#1: Develop a plan. 

Any great journey requires a road map. It’s important to develop a plan for your accounting career and a timeline for what you want to achieve and how you want to advance. 

If you’ve completed higher education in accounting or finance, chances are that you’ve gotten exposure to several areas of specialization within the public accounting world. You have enough knowledge of auditing practices, tax regulations, reporting procedures, and other areas to inform what you’d like to be doing long-term. With this knowledge, we encourage you to form a plan—albeit a rough one—of your career goals. 

This shouldn't be set in stone - be flexible to new opportunities and keep an open mind. Determine what you are passionate about and pursue working for a company whose values align with your personal belief system. When designing the road map, make sure it includes the work/life balance you need. 

Keep in mind that your plan may change along the way as you gain more experience and develop new interests. 

#2: Don’t settle. 

When you’re fresh out of graduation and looking for a job, it’s natural to jump at the first position available. It’s scary to be unemployed and you’re eager to put your degree to good use. 

That said, don’t settle for a position that doesn’t excite you, or at least interest you. You want your first experience in the professional world to motivate you towards more. If you choose a position that you don’t enjoy, it’s easy to burn out, instead of looking forward to the career that’s ahead of you. 

Even if it takes a little bit longer, work hard to apply for a position that inspires you to dig deeper into public accounting. It may not yet be your “dream job,” but it should have elements that interest and excite you and guide you in the direction of your career goals. 

#3: Get your CPA license. 

The most important tip on how to succeed in public accounting is getting your CPA license. It's almost always necessary to advance your career in public accounting. The path to earning your CPA license requires a significant investment of both time and money. However, it’s an investment into your future—one that pays for itself and then some in career advancement, opportunities for specialization, higher pay, and more. 

Earning your CPA license is the first major landmark to success in public accounting. The investment of time, work, and money is well worth the payoff of new opportunities and immense career growth. 

The CPA Exam is arduous, and most candidates spend 20-25 hours per week studying for it. This is a huge undertaking for anyone, but especially those trying to balance a full-time job or a full course load. In fact, the national average first-time pass rate is only around 50 percent.1 

Taking a CPA review course is well worth the investment because it teaches you the most difficult concepts as well as step-by-step instructions on how to pass the CPA Exam (boosting the pass rate to 94 percent among Becker’s Exam Day ReadySM to students). Becker CPA review instructors are active CPAs with real-world public accounting experience who offer practical knowledge as well as excellent test-taking strategies and techniques. 

#4: Embrace continuous learning. 

After you get your CPA license, it is important to expand your knowledge with continuing education in tax, auditing, and management advisory services. Building on your knowledge, developing new skills, and staying up-to-date on laws and regulation are a key step in how to succeed in public accounting.  

Each state also has different continuing professional education (CPE) requirements necessary to renew your CPA license, so it's important to check with your board of accountancy for specifics.  

CPE courses can include topics like: 

  • Accounting 
  • Auditing 
  • Ethics 
  • Business law 
  • Business management 
  • Economics 
  • Finance 
  • Taxes 
  • Personal development 
  • Statistics 
  • Specialized knowledge 
  • Human resources 

Meeting CPE requirements is the baseline. It’s even more important to make sure that your skills and technical knowledge are up to date with current standards, and to remain curious about the latest accounting and financial reporting trends. Becoming an expert in a specific area can make you a more valuable asset to your employer and increase opportunities for advancement. 

#5: Build your soft skills.

Soft skills like teamwork, time management, and good communication are vital when working with co-workers and clients and can open doors as you build your career. Clients enjoy partnering with relatable, high-energy CPAs, because they are easy to work with and use their positive nature to build strong relationships of trust and integrity. 

As you work to strengthen your technical knowledge and skills, push yourself to also flex your soft skills and build your ability to lead a team. 

#6: Strengthen your tech skills. 

New technology is revolutionizing all industries and public accounting is no exception. Working to hone your expertise in accounting programs, AI, and other new technologies will help you remain competitive on the job market and provide opportunities for advancement in your career. 

You may consider learning more about these technologies, among others, as they’re being applied to accounting practices: 

  • Accounting software and data programs 
  • Cloud computing 
  • AI and machine learning 
  • Blockchain 
  • Big data 
  • Fintech and digital currencies 
  • Mobile apps 

#7: Thrive in your accounting career with Becker. 

Launching your public accounting career comes with questions, doubts, and nerves. Sometimes, what you really want is just to hear from someone advanced in the field who can guide you through the many uncertainties that come with inexperience. 

Becker asked hundreds of top accountants and CPAs what they wish they would’ve known at the beginning and how to succeed in public accounting, pulling it all together into one course: Survive and Thrive to Start Your Accounting Career

Access the insights that don’t show up in theory and that you can’t search online, from learning how to prioritize and take ownership of tasks to building better relationships and setting boundaries. We want to equip you with the strategies and confidence to thrive in a long and fruitful public accounting career!

Do you want to succeed in your first accounting role?

Experienced CPAs share what they wish they knew at the beginning of their career and how they turned challenges into opportunities.


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