In public accounting, the CPA serves many clients as an objective outsider or in an advisory capacity. Currently there are over 46,000 public accounting firms in the United States ranging in size from small local accounting practice to large international CPA firm. Below are some examples of public accounting positions and what they require:
Staff Auditor (1-3 years) performs the detail work of a financial audit under the supervision of a Senior. Staff Auditors will often start to direct small audits at the two-year level.
Tax Staff (1-3 years) prepares tax returns, researches tax questions, and counsels clients on tax problems under the supervision of a Tax Senior and/or Tax Manager.
Management Services/Consulting Staff (1-3 years) provides a variety of consulting and management advisory services and reviews the integrity of client systems under the supervision of a Senior or Manager.
Senior Auditor (3-6 years) works under the general direction of an Audit Manager. Responsibilities include the direction of audit field work, assignment of detail work to Staff, and review of their working papers. Also prepares financial statements, develops corporate tax returns, and suggests improvements to internal controls.
Tax Senior (3-6 years) works under the general direction of a Tax Manager and/or Tax Partner. Prepares or reviews tax returns for individuals and organizations, researches tax questions, offers suggestions for tax planning, and studies law for potential tax savings.
Management Services/Consulting Senior (3-6 years) works under the general direction of a Manager and/or Partner. Performs and/or supervises detailed consulting assignments involving various functional areas (computing, personnel, marketing) within client organizations.
Audit Manager (6+ years) supervises Seniors and Staff. Responsible for audit program approval, personnel scheduling, audit working papers review, financial statement disclosure footnote approval, day-to-day client relationships, determination of billings for engagements, and training and evaluation of Staff and Seniors. Achievement of this level is critical to long-term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.
Tax Manager (6+ years) directs and reviews Staff and Senior Tax Staff, approves corporate tax returns prepared by Audit Staff, and is available to Audit Staff for consultation. Also performs tax planning and preparation for individuals, estates, trusts, and small businesses and researches unusual tax matters. Achievement of this level is critical to long-term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.
Management Services/Consulting Manager (6+ years) maintains direct contact with corporate personnel. Responsible for internal control procedures, operational control procedures, operational budgets, business financing, analyses of projects or departments, and a variety of special purpose studies. Achievement of this level is critical to long-term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.
Partner level is coveted since only about 2 percent of all persons entering CPA firms will reach this plateau. The financial rewards are significant. The Partner normally purchases equity in the firm and therefore shares in all profits. Typically, a professional must be a CPA to become a Partner. In larger firms, an equivalent position of Principal is available to deserving specialists who are non-CPAs. An Audit, Tax, or Consulting Partner is typically responsible for overall client-related activities.
Senior Partner performs all the duties of a Partner. The achievement of Senior Partner is obtained as a result of longevity with a firm and expert handling of instrumental accounts. The title of Senior Partner may also be attained through participation as a member of the Executive Committee, which is responsible for developing the firm's policies, planning activities, or providing day-to-day management and administration of one or more branch offices or regions.
Positions are available as an Audit Committee Chair or Audit Committee Member for public companies, private companies, not-for-profit organizations and government organizations. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), there is a requirement for a financial expert on the Audit Committees for public reporting companies. Private companies, not-for-profit organizations, and government entities also have a need for CPAs on their audit committees.
For more information on Audit Committees access the Audit Committee Effectiveness Center here.