Accountants are commonly misunderstood- whether it be the stereotypical personality or the type of work accountants perform, but I have first hand dealt with these misconceptions for years. These common misconceptions could be part of the blame for the shortage of accountants entering the field, so continue reading below for my personal experiences in busting these myths.
1. Accountants Exclusively Deal With Taxes
In my experience, the most common misconception about accountants is that most people correlate the term “accountant” with “taxes.” Some of the most common dialogues, when I mention that I am a CPA, are as follows:
- “Can you file my taxes?” I respond, “I stay as far away from taxes as possible. I even have my CPA sister do my taxes because that is what she specializes in.”
- “Tax season is coming up, so it must be a hectic time of year for you,” to which I reply with, “It is, but not because we are filing the taxes, but because we are getting the financials finalized to send them over to the tax team to file the tax returns.”
My first-born daughter was ironically born on April 15th, and everyone thinks it’s just so fitting as most people associate an accountant with the April 15th IRS tax filing deadline. In reality, the tax portion of the CPA exam is only one section out of four, so CPAs have to learn a realm of topics, not just taxes. To be more specific, the CPA exam consists of the following four sections:
- Auditing and Attestation (AUD) tests knowledge and skills related to professional responsibilities, including ethics, independence, and professional skepticism. Professional skepticism reflects an iterative process that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of audit evidence.
- Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), which tests knowledge in content areas of corporate governance, economic concepts and analysis, financial management, information technology, and operations management.
- Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) tests knowledge and skills in the financial accounting and reporting frameworks used by business entities (public and nonpublic), not-for-profit entities, and state and local government entities.
- Regulation (REG) tests knowledge and skills over US federal taxation, US ethics and professional responsibilities related to tax practice, and US business law.
Therefore, there are several niches within the field of accounting. From health care to IT and everything in between, this diverse profession makes it possible to play an important role in almost any industry imaginable. When moving from Texas to California, I even thought I needed to be close to a big city to land a good accounting position, but I needed to be corrected. We moved to Napa, which has hundreds of wineries, and sure enough, their accounting departments were within most of them. Every business will need some accounting work, so the possibilities are endless!
2. Accountants Are Natural Math Whizzes
People often associate accountants with number crunchers, but gaining an accounting degree doesn’t mean you have to complete endless math classes. As Professor David Cartwright explains, “Accounting is not math. There are math components in it, but if you can add, subtract, multiply, and divide, that is the level of math that you need to do as an accountant.” Most of the mathematical work these days is handled by computers and calculators, so you may need less skill in doing the actual calculations but rather knowing how to set up and input the data, run a spreadsheet, and interpret and analyze the data. I would say that staying on top of the current and emerging technology is far more important than knowing how to calculate the math.
Every time I go out to dinner with friends and the server doesn’t split the bill, they give it to me to figure out the split, but I can use a calculator just like anyone else! My husband still jokingly mentions when we were in the early stages of dating and were meant to split the grocery bill. My top-of-the-head, quick math calculation was not down the middle. My excuse was that I was bearing more of the cost as the breadwinner of the relationship at that point when the reality was that I didn’t plug the calculation into Excel! But, hey, I’m still successful as an accountant without being a math whiz.
3. Accountants Are Introverts
Back in high school, a counselor mentioned accounting when discussing possible career paths. I chuckled at this thought. Being the blonde, bubbly, personable, outgoing girl, my vision of an accountant was working alone behind a computer in a musty old basement, and that just didn’t seem to fit together.
I eventually took an accounting class in high school, and the teacher was the best – she made learning fun but was also outgoing and social! So, my decision to go into the field of accounting was made at an early age, and to this day, when meeting new people, when I answer “accounting” to what I do for a living, it continues to be a shocker to most.
While introverts can be in the profession, I’ve seen more of the opposite. Most days are filled with communicating instead of sitting in solitary, as I work in a team environment and communicate with clients and colleagues daily. Accounting is a suitable career for all personality types!
4. Accounting Is Boring
The above misconception about math often plays into the widespread assumption that accounting- and accountants- are boring. Some people perceive accounting to be the same mundane tasks day after day with very little variety. The truth is that the accounting field is full of interesting analytics that drives impactful decision-making. The increasing role of technology also ensures that the field of accountancy is always changing. Just a mere 14 years ago, when I first entered the audit world with a big four CPA firm, we were still doing 100% paper audits on my clients, which is now mainstreamed into a completely paperless audit technology.
Learning all the new technological advancements, including artificial intelligence, keeps us accountants on our toes and ensures we are constantly learning new software. This rapid pace of change guarantees that no two days look exactly alike, especially in the consulting role we often take on at Protea Financial. This allows us to service various companies anywhere from a face serum producer to a seaweed producer to our mainstream niche of wineries. I guarantee that no accounting job looks the same, so you will always find variety.
5. Accounting is a Male-Dominated Profession
While this may have been true back in the mid-1900s, today, there are more women accountants than men, as women comprise about 60% of the profession in the US. The increase of women in the profession has rapidly grown since the late 1900s, with one of the reasons being that it’s believed that it’s a career that will allow work-life balance to have both a good career and a family. I can attest to this as I entered this profession, knowing it will always be in demand, be financially fulfilling, and that I could eventually get to a point in my career where I could take advantage of the flexibility to raise a family.
6. Accountants Work Long Hours
While there is some truth to this, it doesn’t always have to be the case. I worked the regular 8 am – 5 pm office hours in my winery accounting positions and was never expected or asked to work any overtime. However, when entering the profession as an auditor with a big four CPA firm, the expectation was slightly different, and overtime was ordinary. Still, it also came with the stigma that ex-big four are the most desirable candidates in the workforce, thus increasing my chances for a stable, well-paying job later in my career.
Fast forward to the present day, I have landed a well-paying, 100% remote accounting job and only working a 25-hour week as I currently have the duties of raising a young family. Depending on the time of year, that 25 hours might require 30-35 hours to complete all my responsibilities, like in the first few months of the year as we finalize the yearly financials. Other times, like in the slow summer months, it might only require 15 hours. So, a career in accounting could take on many shapes and sizes depending on what you want.
The bottom line is that the accounting field deserves far more praise than it typically receives. It can be a satisfying, fulfilling, and flexible career. I’m just so glad I had that high school counselor and accounting teacher that helped me see that truth at an early age and set a clear path for me to follow to achieve my goals in accounting. I couldn’t be happier with my decision and where I eventually ended up. If you are thinking of a career in accounting, don’t let these misconceptions hinder your decision!