While accountants still do count beans, they are just as likely to be swooping into a company as the all-purpose experts, setting up information systems, advising on business problems, and consulting on issues from computer technology to tax matters to long-range planning.
Consulting, particularly consulting on technology and technology-related matters, is the hot area of accounting these days, and this is the world that Kristy Rugg is aiming for.
A 21-year-old senior business major at George Washington University, Rugg illustrates how it's possible to combine school training, the hot Washington job market, a little bit of luck and a lot of effort to gain a foothold in consulting.
Rugg's ultimate interest, at least at the moment, is in marketing, and she figures she may be able to combine that interest with her computer skills to land a good job with a consulting firm after graduation.
"It's an up-and-coming thing in consulting to have a marketing department," she said, and as the consulting field becomes more competitive that trend is likely to grow.
In fact, she is already working in her field -- in the Washington office of Grant Thornton LLP, a large accounting firm with a growing consulting practice. Rugg does "data mining," searching through databases on the Internet and elsewhere for potential clients for the firm's tax services.
Combining computer skills with other expertise fits well with what clients want, said Grant Thornton partner Douglas Stevens.
At the same time, technology is invading non-technical areas of business.
Robert F. Bonner, director of MBA career management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said a recent survey of jobs taken by students found that 35 percent of those in corporate or strategic planning had high-tech responsibilities, and 34 percent of those in marketing had such responsibilities.
And the rewards are there. An experienced consultant with technical skills can figure on making $75,000 to $100,000 a year, while a senior manager with skills and experience can command $100,000 to $135,000. The annual pay of a partner at a major accounting firm goes from $200,000 on up.
At the same time, people in the field say, consultants have to be happy with a nomadic life, going where the client is and staying until the problem is solved. "Airport VIP lounges lose their luster pretty fast," said one.
ON THE JOB: Accountant/ consultant
Salary: $75,000 to $100,000
Education: Accounting degree with training in strategic planning
Experience: Accountants with systems experience are especially prized.