What’s the difference between an accountant and an auditor?

Sometimes for students studying accounting the decision whether to pursue a career in that field or look into auditor jobs is not always clear. That is OK though, since the two fields are quite similar and the choice can be confusing to some. However, if you’re one of those students, the key differences between accounting and auditing can be everything you need to sway your opinion one way or the other.

However, it can be helpful to begin with a similarity. That is, if your major is accounting, then careers as either an auditor or an accountant are open to you. While there are specialized auditor degree programs, they are not as common at schools across the country as accounting offerings. This means that it is typical for an auditor to have an accounting degree. For both accounting jobs and auditing positions, you will also need the ability to effectively analyze and crunch large quantities of numbers and data to come to actionable conclusions. This affinity for numbers is vital to both career paths.

“An affinity for numbers is vital to both career paths.”

Once you graduate, though, paths will diverge. This is the time when you’ll have to choose between accounting or auditing – though it is important to remember that, given the right education and work experience, it is always possible to switch from one to the other. But, for now, upon graduation it is time to decide: auditor or accountant?

What accounting jobs consist of
An accountant handles an organization’s day-to-day financial operations. This typically means that the accountant will take financial data, analyze it and break it down to communicable information that they can pass on to whomever needs it. Accountants often work with balance sheets, cash flow statements, income statements and equity statements, among other documents. The work of an accountant can ultimately help a business determine its profitability as well as its financial potential for the future. There are numerous kinds of accounting jobs, depending on your interests and where you think you will perform best. If you’re interested in accounting, here are a few of the positions you can look into:

  • Tax accountant.
  • Project accountant.
  • Controller.
  • Cost accountant.
  • Fixed-asset accountant.
  • Bookkeeper.
  • Budget analyst.
An auditor will typically review the conclusions accountants come to.An auditor will typically review the conclusions accountants come to.

How auditors’ responsibilities compare 
If accounting just doesn’t seem right for you, but numbers do, you may want to look into auditor jobs instead. Auditors work with financial data in many of the same ways that accountants do, but for different reasons. While accounting positions are often internal, auditors – or the third-party firms that they work for – are typically hired by companies to review their finance information and derive conclusions for them. As such, auditors typically analyze information from longer stretches of time, such as quarterly or annual metrics, as opposed to the data observed daily by accountants. The work of auditors and accountants quite often intersects though. The former individuals are typically hired to review the conclusions of the latter to determine accuracy.

  • Internal auditors.
  • Government auditors.
  • Forensic auditors.
  • External auditors.

As far as salary goes, like responsibilities, that of accountants and auditors are also quite similar. Most sources describe a range of between $50,000 and $65,000 annually for these jobs. Though this can increase, of course, depending on what sort of position you’re hired for. Controllers – the heads of accounting departments – can make twice that easily. Employment for both positions – which are listed together by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – is expected to increase by 13 percent through 2022.

The decision to look for accounting positions or auditor jobs comes down to what sort of organization you want to work for, and the kind of data you would prefer to analyze. If you prefer your own office and day-to-day analysis you may want to look into accounting positions. However, if you like to work in a different building every couple of weeks and want to analyze the conclusions accountants come to over the course of months or even years, then take a look at auditor jobs.