How to Become a Forensic Accountant

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Forensic accounting is a specialty of the accounting and auditing industry, for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics sees a 13 percent increase in demand by 2022. Forensic accountants combine legal and accounting expertise to assess if financial crimes have occurred. Success requires adeptness in criminal investigation methods and knowledge of business operations, plus an analytical mindset and willingness to upgrade skills to remain relevant in this ever-changing field.

Focus Your Education

  • Obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or a related field, taking classes in accounting, auditing, business ethics, business law and computer skills. You also need classes in criminology, legal and regulatory issues, as well as forensic accounting concepts like financial statement fraud. Take general communications courses, too, because strong oral and written presentation skills are important.

Gain Practical Experience

  • Take advantage of chances to gain real world knowledge as an undergraduate, such as a part-time or summer internship at a public accounting firm. You may also be able to get a junior accountant's job if you attend a college or university that offers a specialized program. Both experiences, which you can arrange with the institution's help, allow you to develop the specialized skills that forensic accounting demands.

Get Professionally Certified

  • You can boost your marketability through professional certification. Many forensic accountants start as Certified Public Accountants, or CPA, which requires a four-part examination in all 50 states. You must pass all four parts within 18 months after passing the first. Another important credential is that of a Certified Fraud Examiner, or CFE, which assures employers that you have the data analysis and advanced knowledge needed to detect financial fraud.

Target Your Niche

  • Forensic accountants work for many different clients -- including insurers, law firms, public agencies and regulatory authorities -- so your job opportunities will depend on your specific interests and skill set. Many forensic accountants spend three years in general auditing before gaining the CFE certification that opens more opportunities, notes the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. This experience helps in learning basic business operations. Applicants who speak a second language can expect additional opportunities in markets like Eastern Europe, where corruption is commonplace.

Other Considerations

  • Keep your overall career progression in mind at all times. Like many finance jobs, accounting builds progressively on prior experiences. For example, many states expect completion of a business ethics course before letting you take the CPA exam, as ethical issues are a major part of forensic accounting work, according to a 2007 Department of Justice white paper. Similarly, many states require continuing education as a condition for CPAs to remain licensed.

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