Industry 101: Accounting

The Career Center has Industry Advisors for students interested in Accounting. They work directly with employers in the Accounting industry to understand their recruitment needs, promote the value of Villanova candidates and plan programs such as the Wall Street Meetups. They encourage you to use the resources outlined in this guide to stay informed about this exciting industry. Log onto your Handshake account to make an appointment with an Industry Advisor to discuss your interest in Accounting.

What is Accounting & Is It Right for Me?

Overseeing and managing financial records and operations of organizations to make sure they follow organization, industry, and government regulations.



Core services provided by public accounting firms include accounting, audit, assurance, tax, and advisory/consulting services (although accounting firms are increasingly under pressure to divorce their management consulting services from their accounting services because of the potential for conflicts of interest). The four largest accounting firms are known as the “Big Four” and are well known throughout the world. The firms are Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC.


Accountants can also work for public or private companies. Large companies—especially Fortune 500 firms—may have their own accounting departments. These departments prepare financial information (both tax and audit) for public accountants, track company performance for internal evaluation, and work with management on issues related to acquisitions, international transactions, and any other operational issues. Many medium- and smaller-sized businesses have one or more accountants on staff.


Government accountants can work at the federal, state, or local levels. Many government organizations have large accounting departments to analyze the performance and allocation of their funds. The Department of Defense, the Government Accountability Office, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) typically hire large numbers of accountants for services and evaluations within the organization. Accountants at the IRS typically review individual and corporate tax returns and offer guidance when new laws (such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act) are passed. The SEC hires experienced accountants to evaluate filings made by public companies to ensure that the companies are complying with SEC regulations. In addition to these agencies, accountants can find great jobs in many other government agencies. At the federal level, for example, accountants can work for the FBI, the CIA, NASA, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture, to name just a few.


Nonprofit organizations are found throughout the country and the world, and they have a strong need for accounting professionals. Accounting for nonprofits is very similar to for-profit accounting; they both follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and increasingly International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). In addition to understanding GAAP and IFRS, nonprofit accountants must understand the Financial Accounting Standards Board standards written specifically for these organizations as well as the tax regulations specific to those organizations. (For example, nonprofit organizations are typically exempt from federal taxation.) The accounting departments in these organizations are typically smaller than those in for-profit companies, so an employee may be responsible for more than one area of accounting (e.g., both financial statements and tax issues).


There are many opportunities for those with accounting backgrounds to teach at the high school and college levels. Academic institutions that offer degrees in accounting or related fields are located throughout the country. Job opportunities are good because there is currently a shortage of Ph.D.-level faculty in college business and accounting departments. The shortage is so acute that some top schools are even hiring those with only master’s degrees in accounting and a lot of work experience. To encourage more people to become teachers, the AICPA recently launched the $10,000 William (Bill) Ezzell Scholarship to provide financial assistance to CPAs who are pursuing their Ph.Ds.

What can I do with Accounting?

An accounting company or firm typically has the following accounting departments:

General Accounting

Accountants perform a variety of duties that promote the financial management and well-being of their employer. They record the financial activities of their organization and prepare financial statements that summarize the activity of a particular period (month, quarter, year, or other time spans). At for-profit companies, they prepare a variety of financial statements and reports, including income statements, balance sheets, and statements of cash flows. These statements are based on generally accepted accounting principles and/or International Financial Reporting Standards, which are rules that have been established for preparing and presenting financial statements. General accounting departments perform many other tasks, such as preparing an organization’s state and federal income tax returns, managing the internal financial operations of their organization, and preparing financial reports and analyses for CEOs and financial officers.


The primary service provided by the auditor is an examination of the financial statements of a company or any other legal entity, resulting in the publication of an independent opinion on whether or not those financial statements are relevant, accurate, complete, and fairly presented.

The most basic functions of CPA (short for a certified public accountant, the professional designation for accountants) firms are accounting and auditing, which consist primarily of performing independent audits of the financial statements issued by companies. A company is a client of its accounting firm—it pays the accounting firm to audit its financial statements. The accounting firm’s audit signals that an independent authority attests to its validity.

Assurance Services

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) defines assurance services as “independent professional services that improve the quality of information, or its context, for decision makers.” In addition to accounting information, accountants involved in assurance provide financial projections and forecasts and assurance on e-commerce, mergers and acquisitions, comprehensive risk assessments, internal controls, inventories, fixed assets, accounts payable, system reliability, and any other area in which reliable information is needed to make a business decision.


Accountants working in taxation do much more than prepare tax returns. Taxation departments create strategies to minimize tax liability (reduce the number of tax payments) and comply with local, federal, and international law. Specific tax services now cover a wide range of issues.

Corporate Finance and Risk Management Services

This area covers a broad range of services designed to assess and manage organizational risk from strategic, tactical, and financial perspectives.

Transaction Services

This area employs audit and tax professionals to maximize the returns on a merger, acquisition, and divestiture transactions, analyzing each stage of the transaction process for both the buy-side and the sell-side to realize full value.

Business Process Outsourcing

CPA firms often have both the expertise and size to assume the operation of many of the noncritical functions of their clients. Firms outsource such services in order to focus resources on their core functions and to rationalize nonoperating costs. The functions commonly outsourced to CPA firms include finance and accounting, enterprise resource planning systems, human resources, training and education, and information technology.

Litigation Consulting

The larger CPA firms offer financial, economic, and statistical services to parties involved in litigation, arbitrations, mediations, and other forms of dispute resolution processes. These services may include forensic accounting and investigation; management, valuation, and defense of intellectual property; analyses related to antitrust situations; securities litigation services; asset tracing and recovery services; insurance litigation and fraud detection; and computer/information technology forensics.

Management Accounting

Management accountants serve internal management decision-makers at a company or organization. Examples of these managers would include top executives at corporations, college deans, and hospital administrators. Management accounting involves the identification, measurement, accumulation, analysis, preparation, and communication of financial information that is then used by managers to plot strategy and make decisions. Management accountants may make recommendations on business strategy, resource allocation, cost efficiencies, and operations to improve financial performance.

Environmental Accounting

As businesses have increased their awareness of environmental issues, CPAs have been getting involved in everything from environmental compliance audits and systems and procedures audits to handling claims and disputes. Companies in the utilities, manufacturing, and chemical production areas have increasingly turned to CPAs to set up preventative systems to ensure compliance and avoid future claims or disputes or to help once legal implications have arisen.

Management Consulting

Management consulting addresses an infinite array of issues related to the overall performance and direction of a firm’s business. These services include systems integration, business strategy, e-commerce and technology consulting, and human resources.

Skills and Qualities

If you have these qualities, you could be a fit for accounting:

  • Accounting employers typically recruit from accounting majors but may consider other majors like math, MIS, sciences, and economics
  • Competency with numbers
  • Strong analytical, and problem-solving skills
  • Effective oral and written communication skills
  • Attentiveness to detail
  • Patience
  • Industriousness

To look deeper into skills required of specific careers, browse the “Accounting” industry in Firsthand and click on specific professions you are interested in.

Life in the Accounting Industry

Pros and Cons: Major pros include working with great peers, good pay, flexible schedules that allow you to work where you want, and excellent opportunities for growth. Some cons include long hours during the busy season Jan-April, the constant need for continuing education, and not a lot of room for creativity.

Sample Career Trajectory: Read all about trajectories for accounting professions by browsing the “Accounting” industry in Firsthand and clicking on specific professions you are interested in.

Check out these Day in the Life Examples and Career Q&A Videos.

Villanova Resources to Help You Learn More & Network

  • Our team of Industry Advisors provides industry-specific career support to students and young alumni with focused career goals within a particular company or industry area. They possess knowledge of recruiting practices, trends, hiring timelines, and employer relationships to enhance your job or internship search.
  • The counselors on our Career Development team aid in developing application materials (resumes, cover letters, personal statements, LinkedIn profiles), practicing interviewing and networking skills and learning the fundamentals of any successful job or internship search.

Annual Events to Attend at VU:

  • VSB’s Careers in Corporate Finance and Accounting (Fall)
  • Employer On-Campus and Virtual Recruiting: Info sessions, coffee chats, career fairs, info tables
  • Society Events: Accounting Society Event (Fall), Women in Business Conference (Fall)

VU Student Societies: Accounting Society, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Ascend, Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), Society of Women of Color, Villanova Women in Business Society

Virtual Groups: VSB Mentor Program GroupBRIDGE Society

Find a Mentor:

  • A mentoring relationship is a learning and development partnership between two people, typically a more experienced person (mentor) and a less experienced person (mentee). The relationship can last days, weeks, semesters or even years depending on the goals and experiences of the people in it. Mentors and mentees discuss topics like personal and professional decisions, explorations of career paths and ways to navigate a career.
  • Find a mentor through Formal Mentor Programs at Villanova, Faculty, the Nova NetworkLinkedIn, as well as your own personal network.

Informational Interviews:

  • An informational interview is a conversation where you have the chance to ask someone else questions about their profession, career path, and more. It is common in the working world to conduct informational interviews with individuals who currently have jobs you think may be a fit for you.
  • Find professionals to interview using resources like the Nova NetworkLinkedIn Alumni Tool, as well as your own personal network.

Develop Relevant Skills with LinkedIn Learning:
LinkedIn Learning is a leading online education platform featuring thousands of courses taught by industry experts. Courses on the site enable you to explore and develop expertise in a range of subjects to boost your marketability. Villanova offers LinkedIn Learning to all students, as well as alumni who graduated within the past 12 months.

Critical Skills, Tools and Technologies utilized by Professionals in Accounting on LinkedIn:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Accounting
  • Financial Analysis
  • Financial Reporting
  • Auditing

Sample of Accounting Employers that Recruit Villanovans & Other Employers to Consider

Research other employers and jobs by checking out these Vault Rankings: Vault Accounting 25 and The Best Accounting Firms

Typical Recruiting Process & Timelines

The Recruiting Process

  • Common Entry Level Jobs include Accounting Audit Associate, Accounting Specialist, Tax Associate, and Accounting Staff I
  • Applications open in the spring and early summer for following summer internships and full-time positions. Application deadlines typically are in the fall, but some applications will roll in the winter or spring for the upcoming summer.  Check Handshake and firm websites to learn about application start dates, interviewing information & application details.
  • Some accounting organizations offer early identification programs for underrepresented student populations. These programs are typically offered to sophomores and can serve as a pipeline program for a summer internship. These programs are typically posted to Handshake and employer websites in the early Fall semester (deadlines in late September are common).
  • Accounting internship programs are typically open to juniors although many are open to sophomores as well.
  • Application deadlines close throughout the summer and early fall. Check Handshake and Accounting firm websites to learn about application close dates.
  • Summer internship programs often serve as feeders to full-time positions. Many organizations have a goal of converting their interns into full-time employees and will make decisions about full-time roles at the end of the summer internship experience.

The Interview Process

  • Many Accounting organizations utilize an electronic assessment called pymetrics prior to interviewing candidates. Pymetrics is a series of behavior-based neuroscience games that objectively measure cognitive, social and behavioral attributes. This technology helps employers look beyond an applicant’s resume and understand more about their strengths and which roles might be a fit.
  • Accounting employers can use an asynchronous, recorded interview format for first-round interviews (often using a platform called HireVue). Students can practice Accounting organization’s industry-specific questions and record practice interviewing through the Big Interview platform to prepare for these interviews. Big Interview is a free resource offered through the Career Center.

Fit and Experiential Interviews

  • Behavioral interview questions are a set of questions to assess whether you have the soft skills and motivation to succeed at that firm. These often include general questions about your background and why you want to work for the organization, combined with behavioral-based questions asking you to give examples of past experiences. Use the S.T.A.R. approach to structure your examples; Situation/Task that you were facing, Approach and actions you took to address the issue, Result of the actions you took. Learn more about “Developing Your Interview Stories” in Big Interview.

Technical Interview Questions

  • These questions are designed to test your knowledge of basic accounting, audit, and tax practices. Technical questions are typically posed to those with a lot of experience, but can definitely still be asked to undergraduate students. The main expectation is that you can learn the technical stuff—they’re more interested in the questions that test your “fit” with the firm. If you’d like to get a sense for accounting-specific questions, including audit and analytical skill questions check out  Accounting interview questions in Accounting in Big Interview.

What to Do Next

Update your Career Interests in Handshake

  • Click your photo in the upper right-hand corner to open the drop-down, then choose Career Interests
  • Which industries interest you?
    • Select all that apply.
  • Which kinds of jobs, or job functions, interest you?
    • Select all that apply.
  • Be sure to update all of your Career Interests, including where you’d like to live after graduation, to ensure that you receive the best-targeted information from the Career Center. Remember, you can update your interests at any time!

Get instant feedback on your resume through VMock.

Research employers, get the inside scoop on what it’s really like, and find career advice in Firsthand.

Begin searching for opportunities utilizing Handshake and CareerShift.

Make an appointment with one of your Career Center Industry Advisors through Handshake.