Discovering the Four Types of Accounting
The field of accounting has a lot to offer: steady job growth,1 lucrative career options and the chance to work with emerging technologies as accounting information systems continue to evolve. The field also offers a great deal of variety when it comes to the types of accounting jobs available. The first step to choosing an accounting career path is to learn more about the four main accounting types – corporate, public, government and forensic accounting.
What Are the Four Types of Accounting?
Corporate accounting, sometimes called private accounting, may involve financial analysis, budget planning, sustainability accounting, using accounting information systems and other similar tasks for a company or corporation. Professionals who work in this type of accounting job are employed by non-accounting companies to help keep them in compliance with financial and tax regulations. Many corporate accountants choose to spend their careers focused in a specific industry such as technology, nonprofit work or healthcare. By doing so, they gain a great deal of specialized knowledge in their chosen industries.
Public accountants perform many of the same tasks as corporate accountants but with one important difference – they work for accounting firms that serve multiple companies or corporations. By doing so, public accountants gain a wide range of experience as they work with clients as trusted business advisors. Work in this type of accounting can involve clients from many different industries, so it is essential for public accountants to be skilled in accounting best practices and maintain an up-to-date knowledge of both GAAP and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).
Government agencies are some of the largest employers of accountants.2 Professionals who work in this accounting type oversee public funds at the local, state and federal levels. They may perform audits, utilize accounting information systems, communicate with government officials, examine data and analytics, prepare reports and advise agencies on their spending practices. Government accountants are often more strictly vetted than accountants who work in other fields, as they often deal with privileged or confidential information.
The last major accounting type is forensic accounting. Forensic accountants look for evidence of financial crimes such as fraud, money laundering and bribery. When financial data is missing or difficult to obtain, forensic accountants draw upon their expertise to recover or reconstruct records. Forensic accountants need to be resourceful and creative problem solvers who can utilize data and analytics in their investigations.
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What Types of Accounting Jobs Can I Get?
Each accounting type is unique and offers different job opportunities depending on the area of specialty. When planning your career, it’s important to understand and explore your options.
Corporate Accounting Jobs
As a corporate accountant, you may work with financial statements, tax filings and external reporting in a number of different industries. The following types of accounting jobs are common in corporate accounting:
Chief Financial Officer
Internal Audit Professional
Public Accounting Jobs
Most positions are found in public accounting firms that serve external clients. Clientele could range from small local firms that serve individuals and small businesses to international corporate conglomerates that serve multi-billion-dollar companies. The following types of accounting jobs are common in public accounting:
Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
CPA Firm Owner
CPA Firm Partner
Government Accounting Jobs
In government accounting, you'll perform a wide range of duties. You may be tasked with performing audits, examining analytics, maintaining financial records, managing government resources and more. The following types of accounting jobs are common in government accounting:
Forensic Accounting Jobs
Forensic accounting positions can vary widely. Some forensic accountants are employed by larger law firms while others are employed by legislative entities. Government agencies including the FBI, the IRS and beyond also employ forensic accountants to analyze financial data and investigate crimes. The following types of accounting jobs are common in forensic accounting:
Forensic Accounting Consultant
How to Choose the Best Type of Accounting for You?
It can be difficult to decide which type of accounting career is right for you. It's important to take your time – choosing an accounting specialty can be overwhelming, but there are strategies to make the decision easier. When determining which area of accounting to work in, consider the following:
Your strengths and interests. It's important to consider how well each type of accounting matches your personal strengths and interests. For example, if you possess a naturally investigative mind and are interested in solving financial crimes, forensic accounting may be the right area for you. On the other hand, if you would prefer activities such as auditing and managing financial resources, government accounting could be a good fit. Spend time reflecting on what specific accounting activities you find most interesting before choosing the type of accounting you want to work in.
The benefits and job outlook in each area of accounting. The four types of accounting don't just vary in the tasks they carry out – each one can also offer different benefits, including salary and work-life balance. Various accounting positions may also have different levels of projected job growth, which can affect how easy or difficult it will be to find a job. A good place to look for job growth statistics is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Advice from seasoned accounting professionals. Talking with professionals who already work in accounting can also help you decide which area of accounting is right for you. Reach out to professors, alumni, friends and family, or anyone else you might know who has accounting experience. They can help you learn what working in their area of accounting is really like, which can give you a better understanding of which type of accounting will be right for you.
Accounting offers many challenging and rewarding career options. Which type of accounting job sounds the most appealing to you? Take your time and learn as much as you can about each accounting type before making your decision.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Accountants and Auditors." Sept. 6, 2023. Retrieved Nov. 6, 2023 from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm
Accounting.com "Government Accounting Overview." Oct. 24, 2023. Retrieved Nov. 6, 2023 from https://www.accounting.com/careers/government-accounting/
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