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But what about you? Should you be an accountant?
As in all vocations, you should have certain qualities and qualifications before deciding definitely to make a commitment to a particular field. And you should really think about it. Sometimes there is a lot of pressure put on people to decide “what you want to be when you grow up” before they’re ready to decide. Many people don’t know until they are very grown up. Many people never know at all and end up spending their lives going from one job to another, hoping that the next one will be the right one.
It’s difficult these days, because there are so many jobs. Even in a field like accounting, as we have seen, there are dozens of jobs, many kinds of accountants. If you do decide to pursue a career in accounting, don’t feel you have to choose a specialty the following day. Take your time. Ease your way into your decision. Try it on for size and see how well it fits in a week, a month, a year. And remember, nothing is irreversible; you can always change your mind.
That said, let’s see about accounting. Of course you have many questions about the field, and some of these will be answered in this book. But there are some things about any field that a book can’t tell you. You have to ask those questions yourself. And that’s why it is so important to talk to people in the field and take advantage of any opportunity to do work in the field. For example, a simple thing to do would be to balance a checkbook. Have you ever done that? Maybe it’s not so simple after all. Or ask your parents if you can watch them while they attempt to balance the household books. Not simple either. That could be your first taste. Perhaps your last!
But if you decide to continue with accounting, you’ll probably want to know what the right age is for entering the field. “By the time you graduate from college with a degree in accounting-then you’ll know that it’s the right age,” said one accountant who took years to make up her mind before taking the plunge.
Maturity is one quality that an accountant should have. Mainly, accounting consists of helping people solve their problems. True, the problems are money problems, but what problems bring out the craziness in people more than financial ones? So upon graduation from high school, you should perhaps not open up your own accounting firm. Study and experience help make any person in any field more mature.
In terms of appearance and physical characteristics, it used to be that only men with white collars could sit at the desks in accounting departments. That’s not true anymore. Not only have women bombarded the field, but dress mores are changing. Of course, it depends on where you work and what your priorities are. Many people today will just not wear a suit and tie to work, and they try to find a company that accommodates their desires; others don’t care.
Accounting is also a good field for people who are physically handicapped. Since it doesn’t require any physical strength, more and more handicapped people are going into accounting with great success.
Intellectually, however, it’s important to be alert and aware. As an accountant, you will often encounter great loads of data. You should have the mental capacity to organize this material intellectually and logically. Nervousness is a handicap, if it is excessive. Calm and patience are important. In tax accounting, for example, one client will have every figure and deduction organized and completely computed. But the next client might have just a batch of loose checks and statements piled up. Patience and understanding are obviously important in these situations; it doesn’t help to scream at your clients.
As in every other field, you’re going to meet people in ac-counting whom you don’t like. You have to be tolerant of these people. You sometimes work for them and are paid to solve their financial problems. Someone once called an accountant a “business physician,” and that’s pretty accurate. An accountant plays doctor to the business problems of his client.
One other thing is most important to mention. And it can be described in a word: accountability. Whenever an accountant reads and signs a company’s earnings report, he or she must sign that report saying that the information contained in the report is accurate. Honesty is extremely important, because the accountant has to account for his clients. He is, in a sense, responsible for making sure that he and the company have dealt with their earnings in an honest way.
That accountability is a result of consumerism-the trend for people to want to know what they’re paying for and to demand to know what big business and big government are up to. The whole Watergate scandal of the early 1970’s, and the nursing home scandals-the list could go on and on-have forced private and public officials to be more accountable to the public. An accountant could do all kinds of things to cheat here and there for his own benefit and for the company’s benefit. But this isn’t happening much anymore. In fact, government agencies have said that if businesses can’t police themselves, the government will do it for them. The public today is demanding honesty and responsibility, and there is no reason why accountants shouldn’t give it to them.
There are, of course, very special skills that could lead a person to a career in accounting. Skill with figures and ability to express yourself orally and on paper-these are important. Writing may seem like an unusual necessity, but accountants today must communicate complex problems in understandable terms to others who lack the accountant’s training.
If, however, you want to start your own accounting business, then your qualifications should be more varied. When you have your own business, you become your own counselor. You don’t have a boss or anyone to take your problems to. Creativity, resourcefulness, and ingenuity are just three of the qualities.