There are plenty of myths about accountants and what they do, starting with the age-old stereotype of a little man in glasses at his desk, hunched over an adding machine. Did you know that over 50 percent of accountants are women? And that accounting is now done through modern, convenient software programs instead of little number-crunching gadgets? But the biggest myth of all about being an accountant is that you have to be some sort of math whiz, able to add numbers and figure out percentages in an instant. Many people who would potentially be great accountants are scared off from the profession because they're not that good at math, and many others who are amazing at math lack the more important skills it takes to be good at accounting. The way in which accountants work with numbers might surprise you. And the portrait of a tech-age American accountant could surprise you even more.
1. What an Accountant Really Does Accountants work with numbers, it's true, but so does almost any business-related profession. The real job of an accountant is to collect and analyze data. They stay on top of all the different ways the company they work for is earning and spending money by compartmentalizing the financial elements of each department. Cataloging receipts, maintaining profit and loss statements, keeping track of payroll expenses, and more are a part of this. It's business finance, so numbers and figures are important, but the majority of these are stored using accounting software which can paint a clear picture of how the business is doing financially. Accountants use this information to act as advisers, cutting costs and creating goals to help an employer or client save as much money as possible.
2. The Accountant as a People Person For years, accounting has shown up on lists of the highest-paying jobs for people who don't like people. But this is largely a myth, as well. Today, the role of accountants as specialist advisers is greater than ever before, and an accountant needs to know how to collaborate with the other aspects of a business. If you're working in small business accounting, the need to connect with clients is a huge part of the job. Hair salons, restaurants, mechanics, and independent retail stores all need the services of a good accountant who can help teach them how to understand their financial realities and what their data is really saying.
No matter where you're employed, accountants also work with vendors, colleagues, and staff to effectively provide coaching on how to get the most out of the company budget.
3. Tax Preparation Another myth that has been prevalent when people think about accounting is the idea that accountants only serve as tax preparers. Tax preparation is only one part of an accountant's job, but it's definitely a very important one. In America, 99.7 percent of businesses have fewer than 500 employees, and most of them rely heavily on tax breaks and deductions at the end of the fiscal year. The accounting department will have tax season on its mind all year long, but what really matters the most is having enough knowledge to keep business taxes error-free. That means accountants need a strong understanding of laws and regulations that govern a particular company due to its size and industry. An accountant is there to keep a business in compliance with laws it might never have even heard of as well as maximize the amount of write-offs on a return.
It's easy to see that accounting isn't necessarily all about math, and that in the technological age of today, people skills and organizational wizardry are valued much higher than being a whiz with equations. The average professional accountant comes in all shapes and sizes, but they play an important role in keeping both the largest and smallest American companies afloat. It takes much more than an adding machine to pull that off.
Brett Harris writes for the best accounting schools where you can earn your accounting degree.