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A career in accounting means you will have the opportunity to work within almost any industry imaginable. Compensation varies according to level of education, certification and specializations, but in general, accountants are well paid. With the field experiencing rapid growth, now is an excellent time to beginning planning for your career in accounting.
Nearly every type of organization employs Accounting professionals. Learn how the CPA role varies between different industries, and how you can specialize your work based on your skills and interests.
From large to small, public to private, a wide range of work experience is available to you depending on the employer you choose. Discover what the top industries have to offer below.
- Public: Explore the possibilities that arise from starting in Accounting's biggest field
- Corporate: What it means to go in-house as a corporate CPA
- Nonprofit: How to combine your passion with your career by working at a nonprofit
- Education: Working part-time or full-time as an Accounting teacher
- Government: Learn the benefits of being a CPA for local, state, and the Federal government
- Consulting: Accounting consultants can work at a variety of companies, and on a range of projects
- Self-Employed: Find out the pros (and cons) of having your own Accounting practice
Once you become a licensed CPA, you'll have the ability to choose a specialization. While it's not mandatory, having an area of expertise boosts both your marketability and your salary. Learn more about the most in-demand specializations below.
- Audit: Doing the detective work of investigating whether companies are operating ethically
- Financial Forensics: Working inside—and outside—the courtroom by investigating cases of corporate fraud and bankruptcy
- Information Technology: Using technology to solve business problems and improve efficiency
- Business Valuation: Determining the true value of companies in advance of mergers and acquisitions
- Personal Financial Planning: Helping individuals by strategically advising on savings, investments, and risk management
- Tax: Navigating the ever-changing world of tax accounting
- Managerial: Combining financial analysis and business acumen to help companies grow
Information updated as of September 2022
A 2020 LinkedIn survey placed CPAs in sixth place among the most in-demand jobs. CPAs also held the top spot for the fastest job growth. The demand for CPAs continues to grow along with the economy and the need to maintain financial records. Keep reading to learn more about this growing career field.
How Much Does a CPA Make?
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants and auditors earn a median salary of $73,560. Education, experience, and location can all impact earning potential for CPAs.
However, this career provides an upward earning trend for professionals who stay in the field and gain more experience, making now a great time to get started in the industry.
Salary by Education
Although all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants hold CPA licensure. CPA requirements vary by state but to earn licensure as a CPA, candidates must complete a minimum of 150 credits prior to sitting for the exam administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Generally, bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits. CPA candidates must earn another 30 credit hours. Some aspiring CPAs complete combined bachelor's/master's programs to fulfill this requirement. Others complete this requirement through extra undergraduate credits and a few graduate courses.
Completing a master's degree may also increase your earning potential compared to just a bachelor's. The table below breaks down the average salary for accountants with different education levels. Keep in mind this table includes all accountants, not solely CPAs.
Salary by Experience
While education helps people obtain CPA licensure and higher salaries, experience also impacts earnings. According to data from PayScale, the average salary for CPAs increases steadily with more experience.
Early career (one to four years in the field) CPAs earn an average of $60,000 per year. In contrast, late career (more than 20 years experience) CPAs earn an average of $98,000 per year—a stark increase.
Additionally, some employers may offer CPAs performance-based bonuses and other monetary benefits.
Salary by Location
Geographic location also impacts earning potential for CPAs and accountants. Some states may offer higher average salaries due to factors like increased demand, larger population, and higher costs of living.
Regardless of the industry, companies need skilled accountants to help run their business in adherence to local financial laws and regulations. A variety of industries employ CPAs in different capacities.
The tables below detail the top-paying and top-employing industries for accountants and auditors. Some of the top paid CPAs work for the federal government, while most accounting professionals work in general accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services.
A large number of accounting professionals also serve in management roles for companies and enterprises, making that industry the second highest employing area for accountants.
The industry an accountant works in can impact salary and earning potential, day-to-day job duties, and any opportunities for upward mobility. Explore the tables below to learn more about which industries employ the most CPAs, and which sectors offer the highest average salaries.
Top-Paying Industries for Accountants and Auditors, 2020
|INDUSTRY||NUMBER OF ACCOUNTANTS AND AUDITORS EMPLOYED||AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY|
|Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing||3,910||$112,680|
|Federal Executive Branch||22,160||$105,980|
|School and Employee Bus Transportation||120||$105,060|
|Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities||31,450||$102,020|
|Other Information Services||4,660||$99,810|
Finance and Accounting
Source: Robert Half Talent Solutions
Information as of November 2021
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry projects outstanding job growth among the state’s accountants between 2018 and 2028. During this ten-year period ending in 2028, jobs in this profession will increase by more than 11.5%. The Department expects about 380 job openings annually, which will occur through a blend of new job growth, retirements, and natural job turnover.
Home to Glacier and Yellowstone, two of the country’s most visited national parks, Montana enjoys a robust hospitality and tourism industry, which is among the top employers of accountants in the state. What might be surprising, however, is that the physical engineering/biological research industry is also counted among the top areas of employment, with agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula and the Montana State University Department of Animal and Range Sciences in Bozeman requiring the lion’s share of accounting services. Insurance agencies and brokerage firms get a notable mention, too, with G.E. Capital in Billings, claims company Gallagher Bassett in Missoula, and CUSO Financial Services, LP in Bozeman all counted among the major employers of accountants in the state.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for accountants and auditors in Montana was $63,240 as of May 2020. During this time, the nonmetropolitan area of West Montana ranked fifth among the top-paying nonmetro areas in the nation for accountants and auditors, reporting an average salary of $77,490 during this time.
Salaries for Accountants in Different Specialized Roles
The BLS also provides a deeper diver into what Montana’s accountants and auditors are earning based on factors such as industry, accounting role, experience, and more.
Note that the following May 2020 BLS numbers only highlight base pay for accountants and do not include salary incentives such as bonuses and stock options, both of which can add considerably to an accountant’s total compensation package.
Corporate Staff Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Accounting Clerks
Corporate accounting is competitive and often comes with equally competitive salaries for accountants in Montana. Those fairly new to the profession earn a salary of about $29,500 as of May 2020, which represents the 25thpercentile. With a few more years of experience, accountants here earn about $36,900, which represents the median level, while those with considerable experience and/or senior roles earn closer to $44,960 – $52,510, which represents the 75th – 90th percentile.
After earning a master’s in accounting, forensic accountants spend years honing a unique skillset that includes the role of part-accountant and part-investigator, and their salary range reflects this. The BLS reports a salary of about $81,050 for these accounting pros, which represents the 75th percentile among all accountants and auditors in the state.
Controllers and Other Financial Managers
Corporate controls call for professionals with a meticulous mind for regulatory compliance and internal processes, so it comes as no surprise that the salary range reaches well beyond six figures for controllers and other financial managers.
In Montana, the median salary for controllers and other financial managers was $100,530 as of May 2020. Those with considerable experience and top industry credentials usually earn salaries that reflect the 75th – 90thpercentile: $135,370 – $183,360.
In larger cities, salaries for these accounting pros tend to be much higher. For example, in Billings, their median salary is $122,190, while those in the 75th percentile earn about $164,930 and those in the 90th percentile earn salaries that exceed $208,000.
CPAs and Auditors
CPAs, the star players of public accounting, can command huge paychecks at the senior manager/director level. The BLS reports that CPAs and auditors in Montana earn about $106,830, which represents the top-earning (90thpercentile) accountants and auditors in the state. In Billings, this number is even higher, at about $113,070.
Accountants in Executive Roles
No surprise here—CFOs are among the most generously paid executives in the field of accounting. At the median level, these top-level accounting professionals earn about $121,250 in Montana. At the 75th percentile, they earn about $193,900, and the top earners here (90th percentile) earn salaries that exceed $208,000.
The median salary for accounting executives in Billings is even higher, at $144,810, and those in the 75th percentile and up here earn more than $208,000 annually.
Writing a great cover letter and resume is an important step in your job search journey. When writing your resume, be sure to reference the job description and highlight any accounting skills, awards and certifications that match with the requirements. You may also want to include a headline or summary statement that clearly communicates your goals and qualifications.
When writing a cover letter, be sure to reference the requirements listed in the job description. In your letter, reference your most relevant or exceptional qualifications to help employers see why you're a great fit for the role.