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mid-career switch to accounting?

john577john577 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
edited June 2013 in Parent Cafe
Any accountants out there that can give me advice on whether I should look further into a mid-career change into accounting? I've been active on the forums before, I'm using this new name to keep my personal situation here separate from my other postings.

I'm an engineer in my early 50's (living in CA) and don't expect my job to last a whole lot longer, certainly not long enough to get to retirement age of 65 or so. My branch of electrical engineering is in declining demand, so when my company has layoffs this area tends to be hit somewhat hard. And there aren't a heck of a lot of openings out there in my field for those that get laid off. I know I could learn a related branch but companies prefer to hire people who have resumes listing experience in the exact area they're being hired for. Plus age discrimination seems to be real in engineering; from people I know it just seems tough to get another job if you're let go after age 50.

So trying to figure out what I can do for the next 15 years or so, I was considering a career change to accounting. I am good at math and business related software like Excel. While I have no accounting experience I did take a couple of Econ classes in college and enjoyed them, for what its worth. There are some Cal-State schools that offer a 1 year Masters in Accounting that qualifies you for the CPA exam so the schooling itself seems to be affordable.

The real question I have, for which I'm hoping those in the field can offer advice, is to ask whether its worth it? For starters, would there be reasonable job prospects for someone just starting out in their 50's or would employers just look and laugh?

I must confess that I don't know any accountants so I don't have any in-depth knowledge of what the job is like on a daily or weekly basis. Aside from reading some career books (that are probably aimed at those of HS age, not mid-age), are there any suggestions as to how I should find out more to help make sure it would be a fit?

Lastly, as to salary. I expect that an entering accountant earns an entry level salary, but what might prospects be after 3-5 or more years in the field for someone doing this as a mid-career switch?

What I'm hoping to do by asking here is avoid pulling the wool over my own eyes. Its too easy to search out info that goes along with a sentiment of "go for it" and downplay sites with info that says bad idea. I have a lot of respect for the experience of the many people that take part in the Parents Forum, and am hoping to get the kind of advice those in a position to have an informed opinion would give to a friend or relative approaching them with a similar question.
Post edited by john577 on

Replies to: mid-career switch to accounting?

  • nj2011momnj2011mom Registered User Posts: 2,885 Senior Member
    CPA & former accounting instructor here. Take a look at this website (it's the book I used for Intro to Accounting) to see if you really like accounting.

    Weygandt, Kieso, Kimmel: Financial Accounting, 4th Edition - Student Companion Site

    I despised Macro Econ in both undergrad & grad (MBA), so I wouldn't take that as a good barometer if you like accounting. Better questions to answer: Do you like to balance your checkbook? Are you excited about doing your taxes? Are you detailed oriented?

    A friend of mine is finishing up her Masters of Accounting now at age 53, having been a systems analyst for many years before staying home 8-10 years with her kids. You should look at the pre-requisites for the program, as well as getting a CPA license in your state. While the program may only be a year, it may assume basic financial accounting mastery and other business classes. Here are the requirements for California:


    While she has been taking classes, my friend got a part-time job as a bookkeeper/payroll analyst with a local accounting company. You should also investigate the experience requirements needed in your state before you can be licensed. It varies around the country. Long-term I think she plans to become a sole proprietor and offer tax, payroll and bookkeeping services to local companies and individuals, so her income will be based on how hard she works. I don't think the big national or regional firms will be willing to hire an entry level accountant in their early/mid 50s.
  • SilpatSilpat Registered User Posts: 1,263 Senior Member
    I'm not a CPA but am married to one and have an offspring who's working toward certification. If you haven't already, you may want to review this site before going any further: CPA Requirements
    oops - just noticed that nj2011mom posted the same. As she pointed out, the requirements will take much longer than you might imagine.

    You didn't mention whether your interest is in audit, tax or even advisory services. If it's tax, you might want to try becoming a registered tax preparer rather than a CPA, at least for the short term. In fact, if it's not too late in your area, you could look into the quickie tax schools run by the chain tax return prep companies and try a seasonal job doing individual returns. It would give you some taste for tax work to see if you want to continue down that path.

    I agree that the big firms aren't likely to consider you, unless you've done a lot of project management for your engineering firm and might fit into a tiny subset of their advisory services. To the best of my knowledge, many advisory staffers in Big 4 firms are not CPAs.

    As far as salary potential, the range is tremendous. I know guys your age with accounting degrees, some even with a masters, who earn <$75K while others earn 5X that (or more.) They've worked in accounting related jobs for 5 - 35 years (obviously some are on their second or third career.) I have a relative who's an engineer working in a low COL area; in his mid-20s he earns as much as some of the middle aged bank or corporate accountants we know. One thing you could try would be to run searches on job posting sites for accountants with 5 yrs. experience to see both the demand and possible pay range for your area.

    This suggestion may have no merit, but have you considered teaching, either at the high school or community college level? In our area there's a great demand for math and hard science teachers. Some of the best teachers I had, both in high school and college, were those who'd enjoyed an interesting first career and brought that enthusiasm to the classroom. Some school districts offer short cuts for teacher certification to experienced professionals looking to change careers.
  • BCEagle91BCEagle91 Registered User Posts: 22,762 Senior Member
    My sister was an accountant (she was in a semi-management role) at an M&A company for a long time and the company closed down about two years ago. She decided not to work for a year and started looking for work this past spring. She had a couple of interviews but didn't get anything - her comment to me was how companies want you to be trained on current software - she specifically mentioned Oracle financial software.

    I took a bunch of accounting and finance courses in undergrad and have written accounting systems but I don't think that I'd have the background for the requirements today. It seems like there is much more specialization and training now.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    I graduated with dual degrees acc+mis. In my 40 years of career, I did about half and half in accounting and Mis. First few jobs were in Accounting, later on I established myself in MIS and switched. After I got out of the MIS consulting business, I got into financial sales and it required a lot of accounting background.

    In today's market, at the age of 50, I am not sure if you can get an entry level Auditor job to qualify you as an CPA, even you get a Master. Without CPA, accounting become a lower level job like a clerk. It is hard to justify for a 50 year old. The CPA firms, even the local ones, they want some one to come in that has a partner potential and by the time you attain that level, you are ready to retire, so it is hard to justify for them as well. The CPA firms will spend a lot of efforts to train a CPA to be useful in the practice.

    Having said that, you should find out from the college what is their placement history for a non-traditional student. I have little knowledge in today's market as well as your local situation.
  • archiemomarchiemom Registered User Posts: 1,616 Senior Member
    I was a licensed architect (actually still am) and was a partner in a small architectural/interior design firm before I had kids in the late 1980s. After trying to keep a business afloat and raise 2 babies, I sold my share of the firm, intending to switch careers to accounting. After 4 years of nights/weekend classes I did finally qualify for the CPA examine, took it once and failed miserably. Bad timing, likely, with two kids under the age of 5 and living in a small condo while waiting for our next home to be built.

    Anyways, the switch to accounting as a career never did pan out. I received much unsolicited advice while in school telling me that no accounting firm would hire me, and I was only in my late 30s!

    I ended up combining my construction knowledge and my financial knowledge and now have a very successful career as a construction project manager. I would think that with your engineering background and a solid financial/accounting education, you could shift your focus, while still utilizing your years of experience in the EE field.
  • john577john577 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    Thanks for the replies! It seems as if the large accounting firms are out. Do you think other large employers such as banks or industry would have an interest in someone my age, or I am more looking at becoming as a solo proprietor? After getting a year of supervised experience working under the supervision of a CPA, that is, since that is a requirement for licensing.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    for employers, you have a chance with your acc+ee backgrounds. But not in accounting, perhaps as an cost estimater? if you were to hired as entry level accountant, you are butt against those younger ppl. You have little chance to advance as an accountant, you are competing with CPAs who cannot make partners in CPA firms. Hardly any industry controllers or even managers are not CPAs. Basically you are going to work as clerks for 15 years, as stated before.

    For you to qualify as a CPA, you have to secrafice and work for a local CPA for little money and long hours, until you are qualified. And they will pay you minimum wage or close to it, as they know as soon as they sign the doc, you will be gone.

    To be a solo practioner, just get a CPA license is not enough, you need clients and cannot be all walk-in individual tax return clients. You need experiences and connections to get clients that will support your business. It is time consumming, and with your age, youre time is limited.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    There was a thread about the same subject, if you search you will find mine and others comments.

    Hre is a run down about change runways as an accountant:

    1. You will need a big savings to do this, how much? it depends what you want to do and how much u will spend before the earnings come in. The Master in Accounting program is intense and you won't be able to work and go to school the same time.
    2. For practice in Accounting as a business, if all the stars are lined up, realistically you will see some money come in after 4 years once you start your Master program. This is counted as: 1 year masters, 1 year work for cpa, for minimum wage and two years practice development. Running as a business, your earning potential is unlimited. But not too many solo practitioner earn more than 100K/year, after 10 years of practice.
    3. To work as industry accountant, you can find a job as soon as you finish the master, but you won't start more than 50K at entry level and while it is a steady job, your advancement is limited because lacking a CPA license.
    4. To work as industry accountant after your getting the CPA license in two years, you will getting a better salary, but accounting is a slow business, it is not like computer software, you cannot advance too fast, you have to wait your boss to leave before you have a chance, therefore, your age will be working against you.
    5. The best bet is to work for industry using your acc&ee background, its possible, but you will face the same problem: age discrimination.
  • nj2011momnj2011mom Registered User Posts: 2,885 Senior Member
    I can't see a bank or corporation hiring a new accountant that's over 50. Sorry, you bring no experience, but probable medical claims to the table.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    ^^ I can't see why not? I saw many gray haired airline stewardesses and in my old HP plant, there were some gray haired accountants, no, did I say accountants? they are payroll clerks....^^
  • john577john577 Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
    thanks again for the replies. One question, though, regarding post #9. In that post is says that "To work as industry accountant, you can find a job as soon as you finish the master, but you won't start more than 50K at entry level and while it is a steady job, your advancement is limited because lacking a CPA license."

    But in one of the links given in posts #2 & #3 about CPA licensing requirements it says
    Since audit hours aren’t required, you can acquire the experience you need for licensing from any CPA in California with an active license. This means you can train under the CPA who is the information technology director at Warner Bros. or a CPA who works for herself in Lodi just as easily as you can under a partner at one of the large international accounting firms.
    So would it be possible to work in industry and still qualify for the CPA license?

    All in all, though, it sounds like at this point in life becoming a CPA would deliver relatively low-paying full-time work that might be hard to find since the larger companies and big accounting firms would not be interested.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    Working as an induatry accountant such as cost or general accounting will NOT qualify for CPA license, but Internal Auditing will. Positions for internal auditors are mostly taken by CPAs anyway. In addition, provide internal tax data to be filed by external CPA will NOT qualify for CPA either.
    This means you can train under the CPA who is the information technology director at Warner Bros.
    This statement is not true. To qualify CPA license, you must do CPA related work (Audit or Tax) under supervision of an CPA.
  • artloversplusartloversplus Registered User Posts: 8,453 Senior Member
    sorry, there are some new regulations as to the attested work experiences after passing the cpa exam. Please consult the following handbook.

  • eastcoascrazyeastcoascrazy Registered User Posts: 2,478 Senior Member
    John, I'm not an accountant, nor do I play one on tv, and I'm not even sure why, exactly, I started reading this thread, but it seems to me that post #6, written by archiemom, is excellent advice.
  • nj2011momnj2011mom Registered User Posts: 2,885 Senior Member
    Historically each state had their own regulations as to what courses and experience were necessary for licensing.

    My license is in Wisconsin and my experience was a year in a controllers department, then a year in a bank credit department - both bosses were CPAs. When I moved to NJ, it was a 3 year experience requirement, so I didn't get immediate reciprocity, and they changed the law to require audit experience, however H is a year ahead of me (also with only controllership experience) and got in under the wire. You really need to check what California requires.

    If you are serious about this, you might find a small CPA firm or older sole practioner would be willing to hire you with an agreement you could buy them out in a few years.
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