How Do I Become a Partner of an Accounting Firm?

If you’re an ambitious accounting student, you might dream of more than a staff accountant position. You might aspire to become a partner at your firm. Partners share in the firm’s profits, which can make the position financially lucrative, and they are well-respected. However, becoming a partner is a long process that requires education, experience, certification and a number of important skills.

A Firm Partner’s Education and Experience

Becoming a partner starts with having the right qualifications. The first step to be named a partner is the same as the first step toward becoming a staff accountant: education. You will need at least a bachelor’s degree or possibly a master’s degree. You must also earn your certified public accountant (CPA) license, which requires a passing score on the four-part Uniform CPA Examination.

Education and certification are only part of the equation when seeking to become a partner of an accounting firm. Experience is especially important, and it takes years to gain the necessary experience. Aspiring partners may begin their career at an accounting firm in entry-level staff accountant positions and work with the same firm for 10 to 15 years before being named partner. The average number of years an accountant puts in before becoming a partner is 13 years, according to The CPA Journal. During this time, of course, an accounting professional is likely to advance to higher positions, such as senior associate accountant or a management position.

One reason it often takes so long to become a partner is because in addition to education and years of experience, the firm’s current partners are looking for qualities that your résumé alone doesn’t convey. A few of the most important skills that accounting firm’s consider when choosing partners include leadership skills, client service skills, technical abilities, financial performance, administrative abilities, people development skills and business development skills, according to The American Institute of CPAs.

Setting Yourself Apart from the Crowd

Only about two percent of accountants actually become partners, according to The American Institute of CPAs. To achieve your goal, you will have to do more than put in 13 years of work – you will have to use that time as an opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd. The Journal of Accountancy recommends that aspiring partners use every workday as an opportunity to develop and showcase their skills by looking for new work and challenges, taking ownership of and responsibility over projects, keeping in regular communication with supervisors and consistently showing a high level of integrity.

There are plenty of benefits to becoming an accounting firm partner, including the money and the status. However, the title comes with important responsibilities. Aspiring partners must lead other team members well, understand the technical aspects of accounting thoroughly and develop the firm as a business. Though there’s no sure path to becoming partner, using your skills to distinguish yourself from the crowd can increase your chances of getting noticed and promoted.

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