Accounting is a diverse field with great salary expectations, stable prospects and lots of different career opportunities, which is why it’s such a popular choice for many of the commerce students at Torrens University Australia (TUA).
If you’re wondering how to become an accountant, look no further. Here’s a simple six-step guide for school-leavers, international students or anyone new to the industry, with a special focus on the qualifications you need for an accounting career in Australia.
Job prospects and salary basics
Before we get started on your career path, you may be interested to know that the average salary for accountants in Australia is around $90,000 a year. Entry-level accountants can expect to make around $50,000, and senior accountants can expect figures over $100,000 a year.
This job has a high projected growth rate in Australia of 9.4%, and a high job satisfaction score of 4.4/5 according to a survey by jobsite Seek. Despite what you may think, opportunities in accounting go far beyond the standard professional doing tax returns.
One of the most well-known professions for accountants is as a tax agent. This role requires broad skills, such as negotiation, communication, analysis and problem solving, but it also requires great personal integrity. You could be helping people, supporting businesses or charities, or catching financial criminals. You have a lot more options with a career in accounting than you may even realise.
Here’s how you get started.
1. Choose a pathway: CPA, CA or IPA
There are three professional accounting bodies in Australia awarding the membership certification you legally need to submit certain reports and fulfil your functions as an accountant in Australia. Each has its own set of educational requirements.
What kind of education you are going to need will depend on which one you choose.
Certified Practising Accountants (CPA)
This body awards a CPA certification after you have achieved the complete 14 parts of required education. Eight parts equals a bachelor’s degree in accounting or similar, six equal a postgraduate course, plus three years’ experience that can be gained while studying.
Chartered Accountants (CA)
You need a minimum bachelor’s degree in accounting or similar to gain a CA membership. After which, you need to take extra schooling by taking the Chartered Accountants Program that is offered by the CA institute, while also gaining three years’ experience.
National Institute of Public Accountants (IPA)
The IPA offers two certifications: There is the Member of National Institute of Accountants (MNIA), and the Professional National Accountant membership (PNA). The IPA does not require a bachelor’s degree, but you must have at minimum a diploma of accounting, or similar.
Make sure before you enrol in your course that it meets the requirements of the accounting body of your choice. You can ask your institution directly, or perform a search using the accounting bodies own approved courses database
2. Get a bachelor’s degree
Unless you are choosing the IPA pathway (in which case you need a diploma), the most common way to start your journey towards a career in accounting is to enrol in a bachelor’s degree.
Some examples of bachelor’s degrees that are approved by the CA or the CPA are:
- Bachelor of Business (Accounting)
- Bachelor of Accounting
- Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting)
- Bachelor of Business (Economics and Finance)
- Bachelor of Finance
- Bachelor of International Business (Accounting)
At Torrens University Australia (TUA), the Bachelor of Commerce is endorsed by the CA and the CPA. This course allows you to major in accounting while also providing a broad education across finance, accounting, economics, quantitative analysis, information systems, and business and taxation law.
The benefit to getting a broader degree, such as business or commerce (that is still CA and CPA approved) is that you have more flexibility in case you decide to change careers into another field such as finance or economics. However, any of the degrees on this list would be a great choice to kick-start your accounting career.
3. Alternatives to a degree?
A bachelor’s degree is a clear and uncomplicated pathway towards an accounting career, and most accountants start with this step. However, not everyone has the time to commit to a full bachelor’s degree right away, or perhaps you don’t have the right ATAR. If it is your ATAR stopping you, you should know that Torrens University recently removed our ATAR requirements across our courses.If you can’t enrol in a bachelor’s degree, you could instead start with one of these alternatives:
- Diploma of Accounting
- Certificate IV in Accounting
- Certificate IV in Bookkeeping
These qualifications all teach you valuable skills, such as payroll and accounting systems, preparing financial statements, tax documents and interim reports and bookkeeping procedures. With these skills, you could go out into the workforce and begin your career as a junior bookkeeper, assistant accountant or accounting support officer.
You won’t be able to get CPA or CA membership until you complete further study, but you will be able to get into the workforce quickly and gain some valuable experience on the job.Plus, you may be able to have your certificate or diploma credited towards a degree later on, so you don’t necessarily have to commit to a bachelor’s straight away. For example, with a Diploma of Business at TUA
you have already completed the equivalent of a year from the BA of Business program.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a related field but you haven’t worked in or studied accounting, your best pathway to an accounting career is via postgraduate study.
A Master of Accounting, Master of Business (Accounting), Master of Finance (Accounting) or Master of Professional Accounting are all ideal postgraduate degree paths to equip you for your career, and to pave the way for your CPA or CA certification.
4. Choose your specialisation
If you thought that accounting was just doing taxes, think again. There are lots of different accounting roles you could explore, from forensic accounting to consulting. Just like lawyers, most accountants choose a specialisation while studying or in their early career, and then become experts in their area.
Here are a few examples of different specialisations you could choose:
- Financial accounting
- Auditing and forensic accounting
- Tax accounting
- Managerial accounting
- Public accounting
- Government accounting
These different specialisations can lead to a variety of different careers with different hours and lifestyles so be sure to consider what kind of a working life you want when you specialise.
Do you want to set up your own small company, or be self-employed? Do you want to work for the public good, catching tax-dodging companies for a government agency? Or perhaps you’d prefer managing large accounts in the high-stakes world of corporate finance?
Do research before choosing your specialisation. Try to get some work experience or shadowing opportunities to see what different types of accounting careers involve. Ask your professors, seek advice from seniors in the business, utilise career services at your university and assess your own strengths and interests.
When you’ve decided on a specialisation, you can shape your internships, majors, projects and subjects around gaining experience and knowledge in that area.
5. Gain some junior experience
Don’t wait until you’ve graduated to get some junior accounting experience. There are lots of different ways you can gain experience during your studies, and I strongly advise that you do so. By the time you graduate you’ll be work-ready, with a fantastic resume and some industry connections.
Internships are an incredible way to gain industry experience, and study after study shows that internships often lead to a paid job after graduation. In one such study of US business college students, 53% of graduates secured their paid positions within the first year after graduation from former internships or from contacts they made during their internship.
The easiest way to organise an internship is through your education provider. So, before you enrol in a course make sure that your institution has a proactive internship program linking you with good quality industry networks. At TUA, we have a fantastic internship program, where every student gets a personal success coach to guide them through the internship process and access to our countless industry partners.
If you’re not enrolled at a school or your education provider doesn’t have an internship program, you can organise an internship independently. The best way to do this is to create a shortlist of companies you’d like to work for, and approach them directly to ask about opportunities. Or, find an internship listing on your usual job seeking website.
Junior, summer or part time jobs
As I already mentioned above, it’s possible to get started on your accounting career with a junior payroll, assistant or bookkeeping position. If you are in your final year, you might be considered for a junior position even before you’ve finished your degree.
Look for junior accounting and bookkeeping positions online, take a look at their requirements and try applying. As of mid-February, there are almost 7000 accounting assistant jobs listed on Seek.
Get a part-time or summer job with a small business, working in retail, hospitality or customer service. Then, let your boss know that you are training as an accountant and would be willing to assist them with bookkeeping, payroll or accounts if they would give you the opportunity to practise.
Volunteering is another great way to get experience. Check out some of the diverse volunteering opportunities available now online, or put your hand up to manage the books for a university club or society. Be proactive in trying to volunteer your time whenever possible. Not only does it show that you’re conscientious and motivated to future employers, it will help you expand your networks and create goodwill that may lead to further opportunities.
With some experience, an internship and a degree under your belt, you’re well on your way to a graduate accounting position. Now, all you need is your chosen accounting body membership certification.
6. Become a member of the CPA, CA or IPA and get your official stamp
We started this article talking about the three accounting bodies in Australia that are the gatekeepers for your accounting career: the CPA, the CA and the IPA. After you’ve worked hard to get all the required education and work experience, you will now have your eye on the prize: the membership certification allowing you to become a fully-fledged, registered accountant.
For the CPA, this means passing an exam. For the CA, this means graduating from their specific education program. For the IPA, there are three different stages of membership you can take a look at.When you’ve passed this final stretch, you will be allowed by law to perform every function of an accountant, making you ready for those senior roles and to embark on your journey as a practising accountant.
Justin Pierce, Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability, at Torrens University Australia (TUA).