1. Public Accounting
Public accounting refers to the practice followed by accountants who serve clients on a project or contractual basis.
These accountants work in CPA firms or individually to provide audit and attestation, tax planning and preparation, and advisory services to their clients.
In CPA firms, new accountants start as accounting or audit staff and work their way up to the junior accountant, senior accountant, supervisor, manager, and partner positions. After gaining enough experience, they may also start a public accounting firm of their own.
2. Private Accounting
In private accounting, also known as practice in commerce and industry, an accountant serves only one company. Accountants in private accounting provide a staff function which supports the company by performing accounting-related tasks.
Positions in private practice include entry-level jobs such as bookkeeper, accounting clerk, financial analyst, internal auditor, and others. From there, new entrants can work their way up the organizational chart and get to key management positions such as Chief Internal Auditor, Controller (Chief Management Accountant or Chief Accounting Officer), and Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
3. Government Accounting
Government agencies also need accountants. These agencies need accounting information to help them plan, budget, forecast, and allocate government funds. State auditors are also employed by the government to ensure the proper use and allocation of the said funds.
4. Accounting Education
This area is made up of accountants who are into teaching, research, and training & development. Accountants can pursue a career as a faculty member in a school, an author of an accounting book, a researcher, a trainer, or a reviewer.
Note that it is not unusual to work in more than one area. In fact, many accounting professionals engage in more than one scope of practice. One may be providing public accounting services while having a part-time job in teaching. Another may be employed by a multi-national company or by a government agency while also working as a bookkeeping consultant to the public.