Career watch: CPA profession provides job opportunities

During May and June, 70,000 high school students will graduate from Minnesota public and private schools. As new graduates consider career options, the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants encourages them to look at accounting.

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks accounting and auditing as one of the leading professions in terms of job openings," said Sara Portner, MNCPA Chair. "Accountants and auditors who have a professional certification, especially CPAs, have the best prospects."

Interest in accounting as a career waned during the 1990s, when many students chose to pursue technology-related careers. However, increasingly complex financial regulations resulting from legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act has fueled the demand for more college-educated accountants. According to Portner, 598 students passed the CPA exam in Minnesota last year, the highest number of new Minnesota CPAs since 1993.

Some of those newly minted CPAs should have no trouble finding work. An AICPA report released in May reports that nearly 90 percent of accounting firms nationwide forecast the same or increased hiring of graduates this year compared to 2010; and nearly three quarters of the largest firms anticipate more hiring - an indicator of a rebounding economy.

In a separate study conducted by AICPA and the University of North Carolina Kenan Flagler Business School, 62 percent of the CEOs, CFOs, and other Midwest executives expressed optimism about the economic prospects of their companies in the next 12 months, and more than 15 percent plan to hire more employees. In addition to openings due to job growth, CPA job opportunities will expand as baby boomers retire.

What can a college-educated accountant expect to make? The 2011 Salary Guide from Robert Half reports that an entry level accountant working in a Minneapolis public accounting firm can earn between $43,575 and $65,100 in the first year (range based on size of firm and specialty); while an entry level staff accountant in Minneapolis business and industry can expect between $35,700 and $50,138 in the first year (range based on size of company and specialty). In addition, college-educated accountants with a CPA designation can receive starting salaries up to 5 to 10 percent more.

"Aside from monetary rewards, there's the reward of knowing that you're helping a client or company make informed business decisions," added Portner, who has spent 17 years working in both public accounting and management accounting at a Twin Cities construction company.

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