Students work in capital markets classroom

Careers and the CPA

On-Grounds Recruiting and Career Services

More than 300 regional, national, and international recruiters visit McIntire each year in search of exceptional employees. The Commerce Career Services (CCS) staff provides support and resources to ensure that students, alumni, and employers find the perfect match.

One-on-one counseling, career search advising, workshops, employer-specific programs, and even personal introductions to recruiters are provided with the highest level of service and care. CCS hosts coffee hours weekly during the recruiting season for students to informally meet with recruiters and learn more about career opportunities within their organizations. Commerce Career Day, held each fall, provides an opportunity to speak with representatives from more than 100 organizations seeking to hire McIntire graduates.

In addition, McIntire’s centers, student organizations, and Corporate Partners Program host a full calendar of events that offer students the chance to meet with business leaders from a wide variety of industries and functional areas of expertise. In short, students have almost daily opportunities to network with business leaders and potential employers.

Career Path

The career path at a large accounting firm is usually similar to the following:

Staff: First- and second-year employees who usually perform the detailed work and administrative tasks. Staff interacts with the client’s staff and managers even at this level. 

Seniors: Have two to five years of experience and are responsible for the timely execution of the audit plan, supervision of staff, division of workload, and communication of staff’s work and findings to the client and the firm’s partners.

Managers: Have at least five years of experience and are in charge of the overall audit plan and client relationship. Managers are also expected to identify opportunities for new work that partners can pursue.

Partners: Usually have at least 12 years' experience and are responsible for overall engagement quality. Partners are also equally responsible for maintaining relationships with current clients and selling services to new clients.

Career FAQs

Why do students choose careers in accounting?
Although accounting does involve crunching numbers to an extent, it is nowhere near as mundane as its stereotype of bean-counting, calculator-driven, pocket-protecting employees. Quite conversely, accountants are key players in strategic business decisions. Not only must accountants collect and compile the company’s financial information, but they are also asked to analyze and assess the company’s performance, provide suggestions for improvement, and develop future expectations based on the business environment.

Right now is a great time to be entering the accounting profession. With the introduction of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the increased importance placed on quality reporting, accounting services and qualified candidates are in high demand. In addition, students just now entering the accounting profession will experience and influence significant changes in accounting rules, regulations, and application for the future. The globalization of the economy is driving change and creating international opportunities for accounting professionals. Students choose careers in accounting because they provide great platforms for launching any career. Employees with a thorough understanding of accounting systems are necessary for any company to succeed.

What is the difference between public and private accounting?
Public accounting refers to working for an accounting firm that serves as an external and independent auditor to its clients, which may be large or small companies, nonprofit organizations, or even individuals. There are many sectors within public accounting such as tax, audit, and advisory services that employees can pursue or even switch between. Private accounting involves working as an accountant for and within an organization. Staff accountants serve their companies in numerous ways, including internal audit, cost accounting, financial reporting, business development, and corporate finance. Although many often make the switch from public to private accounting at some point in their career, it is not nearly as easy or as common to switch from private to public accounting.

What is the big deal with the Big Four?
Four firms dominate the public accounting sector in terms of size and are collectively called the "Big Four": Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. These firms are all international players and have most of Fortune’s top companies as clients. The employee training offered by the Big Four, both formal seminars and on the job, provides an invaluable learning experience and strengthens your resume significantly. In addition, the Big Four are currently attempting to offer more flexible work hour programs to meet employees’ needs.

What about middle-tier accounting firms?
The introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley and the extra workload associated with its requirements has created a great opportunity for the middle-tier accounting firms. While the Big Four firms had to drop some of their clients, the eight mid-size accounting firms were picking these companies up, adding significantly to their clientele and bottom line and creating great opportunities for new hires. Employees who choose these firms often cite slightly better working hours, a quicker path to the top, and more varied work along the way, with the opportunity to perform more significant work earlier in their career, as key factors to their employment decision.

What are some of the other career choices related to accounting?
Other career choices include:

  • Forensic accountant
  • Government accountant
  • Management accountant
  • Business consultant
  • Budget and credit analyst
  • Internal auditor
  • Controller
  • Chief financial officer
  • Certified fraud examiner
  • Individual practice

Where can I learn more about accounting careers?
To learn more about accounting careers, visit these websites:

Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA)

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)  

CPA Exam FAQs

Why would I want to take the CPA exam?
Passing the Uniform CPA examination is a requirement to qualify for licensure as a certified public accountant in the United States.

What requirements must be met to sit for the CPA exam?
Requirements to take the exam vary by state and are described on each state’s Board of Accountancy website. In Virginia, candidates must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, with a total of 150 semester hours, including accounting and business subjects, distributed as follows:

  • 30 semester hours in accounting, including financial or intermediate accounting, management/cost accounting, taxation, and auditing (these four courses must be upper-level accounting, not introductory-level courses)
  • 24 semester hours in business subjects at the graduate or undergraduate level

What are the different sections of the exam?
The four sections of the exam are:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD). This section covers knowledge of auditing procedures, generally accepted auditing standards and other standards related to attest engagements, and the skills needed to apply that knowledge – 4.5 hours
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC). This section covers knowledge of general business environment and business concepts that candidates need to know in order to understand the underlying business reasons for and accounting implications of business transactions, and the skills needed to apply that knowledge – 2.5 hours
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR). This section covers knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles for business enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, and governmental entities, and the skills needed to apply that knowledge – 4 hours
  • Regulation (REG). This section covers knowledge of federal taxation, ethics, professional and legal responsibilities, and business law, and the skills needed to apply that knowledge – 3 hours

What is the process for taking the CPA Exam?
Although each state has its own specific procedures, the basic process involves:

  1. Apply to take the exam (request, complete, and submit an application).
  2. Receive your notice to schedule (valid in Virginia for 12 months and in most other states for 6 months).
  3. Schedule your exam.
  4. Take your exam.
  5. Receive your score report (once one exam is passed, most states allow 18 months for passing the remaining three sections).
Helpful Websites

American Institute of CPAs/EPA exam website

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy

CPA Candidate Bulletin

Virginia State Board of Accountancy