Accounting Hierarchy in the Workplace

Managers meet with clients to ensure customer care.
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Public accountants, especially those who work for one of the big four accounting firms, are usually promoted based on their years of service in the field. Small moves up the corporate ladder might not mean huge pay increases or completely new job titles, but they do signify advancements in the industry. A large jump in the hierarchy of job titles often occurs when a nuts-and-bolts worker is offered managerial responsibilities.

Everybody Starts Somewhere

    The beginning level for most accounting companies is a paid internship. Interns are typically juniors or seniors in college or graduate students and often work during busy seasons when accounting firms need additional help. Some interns are offered permanent employment once they finish their educations. Those who are offered a permanent position often have the title staff auditor or tax staff, according to the American Institute of CPAs. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big four accounting firms, uses the title "first year associate" to describe interns or new hires who have recently received permanent employment, according to a PwC accountant's report on After a year of service or successful completion of the first busy season, new hires often receive the title "experienced associate," although the new title isn't considered a promotion.

Grunt Work

    Employees who enter the next level receive titles such as "senior auditor," "tax senior," "management services consulting senior" or "senior associate." The word "senior" assures co-workers, clients, and business associates that you are not new to the industry and you have valuable experience under your belt. Senior accountants prepare financial statements; complete corporate and individual tax returns; review all work performed by first-year and experienced associates; and offer tax planning. They work under the direct supervision of managers who critique, correct and review their work.

Who's the Boss?

    The next level in the accounting hierarchy, manager, is a big jump and often results in higher pay, more responsibility and increased accountability. Managers must ensure all financial documents, audits, and tax returns are accurate and comply with all tax laws. They often address difficult tax situations that lower-level employees don't know how to handle or interface with difficult clients who don't submit necessary documentation according to legal timelines. Employees with approximately 6 years of service or 2 to 3 years of experience at the senior level are eligible for management. Senior managers train under partners to learn the ropes before they make it to the top level.

The Bigwigs

    Partnership is the end goal for many accountants, and the road there isn't always easy. Accounting firms often hire partners based on current needs and available positions, so a qualified senior manager isn't guaranteed partnership. Partners assess and vote on senior managers to determine who has the best industry knowledge, interpersonal skills and talent to represent the firm. The need for new partners varies on an annual basis, so some senior managers might not make it to the partner level until a partner in a particular field, such as real estate tax or auditing, retires or leaves the company or there is an increase in clientele.

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