CPA Certified Public Accountant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: April 12, 2021

A Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, is responsible for assisting business owners and individuals in maintaining and improving their financial health and reporting procedures. Their duties include meeting with clients to discuss their current practices and financial needs, reviewing financial statements and tax forms to check for errors and performing audits to ensure compliance with tax organizations.

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CPA duties and responsibilities

CPAs perform a variety of accounting duties, including:

  • Balance financial records and check for inaccuracies
  • Audit individual accounts on a random or scheduled basis
  • Check for major financial issues
  • Ensure projects stay on budget
  • Publish audited financial statements
  • Work with executives and CEOs to establish budgets
  • Oversee Accountants and other financial professionals
  • Make suggestions regarding budgets and other financial decisions
  • Assist with external company audits
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What does a CPA do?

Certified Public Accountants typically work for accounting firms or CPA firms, but they may also work as self-employed individuals. They work closely with company Executives and finance professionals to organize financial documents and implement efficient accounting procedures. Their job is to oversee company employees to ensure they implement effective accounting procedures and answer questions about financial reporting. They may also participate in court cases to provide witness statements about financial details on their client’s behalf.

CPA skills and qualifications

CPAs need a high degree of technical skill in accounting. Other important skills and qualifications for CPAs include:

  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Ability to explain complex accounting data in a simple way
  • Ability to analyze complex systems
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines
  • Knowledge of accounting and financial software
  • Willingness to stay up to date with latest accounting methods and technology
  • Excellent attention to detail

CPA salary expectations

A CPA makes an average of $66,565 per year. Salary may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location.

CPA education and training requirements

Certified Public Accountants need at least a bachelor’s degree. They also need to pass a state licensure exam in order to become CPAs. After passing all portions of the exam, they need a certain amount of experience working under a current CPA before being able to officially apply for a CPA license. The length of experience varies from state to state. On-the-job training is most common, and it includes working with experienced CPAs until they meet the work experience requirement to apply for a license. Internships during an undergraduate program are also valuable training experiences.

CPA experience requirements

Entry-level CPAs should have the minimum experience requirement needed to apply for a license, which is somewhere between six months and two years. For positions in larger companies or with more complex duties, CPAs should have at least three years of experience. Senior-level CPAs and those in leadership roles, at least five years of experience is preferred. Experience in the same industry is also valuable for Certified Public Accountants.

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Frequently asked questions about Certified Public Accountants


What is the difference between a Certified Public Accountant and an Accountant?

The difference between a Certified Public Accountant and an Accountant lies in their qualifications, seniority and relative job responsibilities. For example, Accountants typically have a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting or a master’s degree. This qualifies them to reconcile accounts, prepare tax returns and calculate payment for company employees at each pay period. 

In contrast, Certified Public Accountants typically hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting or finance in addition to obtaining the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. This license is considered the highest an Accountant can receive. Because Certified Public Accountants have additional certification, they hold more seniority than Accountants and earn higher salaries. Certified Public Accountants also have more advanced responsibilities, including reporting financial data to the IRS or SEC.


What are the daily duties of a Certified Public Accountant?

On a typical day, a Certified Public Accountant starts work at their accounting or CPA firm. They check their email and voicemail for missed messages from clients and review their schedule to confirm their obligations for the day. They receive new assignments from the firm’s management team and contact clients to establish a meeting time. Throughout the day, they travel to different clients at their homes or offices. Certified Public Accountants coordinate with their clients to review financial documents and make suggestions about future practices.


What qualities make a good Certified Public Accountant?

A good Certified Public Accountant is someone with an extensive professional background in accounting and finance. Their professional knowledge, in combination with their CPA license, enables them to provide sound financial advice to their clients. Certified Public Accountants should have the ability to problem-solve and develop innovative solutions for their clients who face financial difficulties. They should also have excellent written and verbal communication as they need to be able to write financial reports to send to government agencies and they need to be able to speak effectively with clients and financial personnel. 

Further, a good Certified Public Accountant makes a conscious effort to stay up-to-date on financial laws and regulations so they can best help their clients comply with those laws and regulations.


Who does a Certified Public Accountant report to?

Certified Public Accountants typically report to a CPA Firm Manager or an Accounting Firm Manager depending on their place of employment. These individuals assign Certified Public Accountants to clients and coordinate their work schedules and payroll details. If self-employed, a Certified Public Accountant may report directly to their clients.

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