There are several types of accounting that range from auditing to the preparation of tax returns. Accountants tend to specialize in one of these fields, which leads to the different career tracks noted below:
Financial accounting. This field is concerned with the aggregation of financial information into external reports. Financial accounting requires detailed knowledge of the accounting framework used by the reader of a company's financial statements, such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Or, if a company is publicly-held, it requires a knowledge of the standards issued by the government entity responsible for public company reporting in a specific country (such as the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States). There are several career tracks involved in financial accounting. There is a specialty in external reporting, which usually involves a detailed knowledge of accounting standards. There is also the controller track, which requires a combined knowledge of financial and management accounting.
Public accounting. This field investigates the financial statements and supporting accounting systems of client companies, to provide assurance that the financial statements assembled by clients fairly present their financial results and financial position. This field requires excellent knowledge of the relevant accounting framework, as well as an inquiring personality that can delve into client systems as needed. The career track here is to progress through various audit staff positions to become an audit partner.
Government accounting. This field uses a unique accounting framework to create and manage funds, from which cash is disbursed to pay for a number of expenditures related to the provision of services by a government entity. Government accounting requires such a different skill set that accountants tend to specialize within this area for their entire careers.
Forensic accounting. This field involves the reconstruction of financial information when a complete set of financial records is not available. This skill set can be used to reconstruct the records of a destroyed business, to reconstruct fraudulent records, to convert cash-basis accounting records to the accrual basis, and so forth. This career tends to attract auditors. It is usually a consulting position, since few businesses require the services of a full-time forensic accountant. Those in this field are more likely to be involved in the insurance industry, legal support, or within a specialty practice of an audit firm.
Management accounting. This field is concerned with the process of accumulating accounting information for internal operational reporting. It includes such areas as cost accounting and target costing. A career track in this area can eventually lead to the controller position, or can diverge into a number of specialty positions, such as cost accountant, billing clerk, payables clerk, and payroll clerk.
Tax accounting. This field is concerned with the proper compliance with tax regulations, tax filings, and tax planning to reduce a company's tax burden in the future. There are multiple tax specialties, tracking toward the tax manager position.
Internal auditing. This field is concerned with the examination of a company's systems and transactions to spot control weaknesses, fraud, waste, and mismanagement, and the reporting of these findings to management. The career track progresses from various internal auditor positions to the manager of internal audit. There are specialties available, such as the information systems auditor and the environmental auditor.