There are three layers to becoming a good accountant, and I’ve outlined a few points here:
College Education. you’ll need a BS in Accounting from a “good” school. Every student has access to the same books and internet searches, so here a “good” school is defined as one where your professors are engaging and the cohorts are collaborative.
Get your CPA. immediately after graduating. It only gets harder as you move forward in life. Your employers and clients look to the CPA designation as a badge of honor.
Diversify your work experience. Work in an accounting firm, an audit firm, a tax firm, a small business, or a public company. Mix it up, cover a breadth of skills. Because ultimately you will… (see pt 4)
Find your niche. Not all accountants are created equal, nor should they be. Find the industry that you like and excel at the most, and then dive deep. Accounting for startups is wildly different from accounting for the Health Industry. A great Health Care CPA is likely a poor Hospitality CPA; the fields are just too different to truly master both.
Don’t stop. Seek new learning opportunities and new ways to become more knowledgeable. It’s easy do it SALY, but there may be new ways to it more efficiently.
Know thyself. There are three types of Accountant out there: Grinders, Minders, and Finders. Grinders have deep technical knowledge, but don’t like to interact with clients. Minders love to interact with clients, but don’t have as deep of a knowledge base. Finders are the salespeople, their knowledge base carries breadth (but leaves the depth to the Grinders). Knowing which type of accountant YOU ARE is vital to your success.
Gird your loins. People care about their money A LOT. And when something goes wrong with peoples money, the accountant is often caught in the cross-hairs. A great accountant is able to calmly and rationally explain bad situations to clients (even when it’s not the accountant’s fault).
We’ve recently published a list of startup accounting job descriptions. Visit them to see what the duties and responsibilities VP’s of Finance, controllers and accountants have at startups.