Accounting assistant career guide

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Learn how to become an accounting assistant

An entry role in the accounting industry can be a great idea if you are good at working with numbers, are detail-oriented, and maintain a high standard of integrity. Accounting is a diverse industry, so there’s plenty of career paths you can choose from. One choice, which can turn out to be lucrative and help you advance on the employment ladder, is to become an accounting assistant.

Even if this is an entry-level position in the accounting field, choosing this path can offer you access to more opportunities along the way and help you build a successful career if you work hard, grow your skillset, and further your education.

What is an accounting assistant?

Accounting assistants provide support to staff accountants or to self-employed professionals by performing a combination of basic accounting tasks, and front and back-office administration activities.

Day-to-day duties of an accounting assistant can include – without being limited to – reviewing financial information, preparing financial records, copying and recording various documents, settling payments, helping customers in-person or via the telephone, alongside other entry-level bookkeeping tasks.

Your job responsibilities as an accounting assistant can vary depending on the size of the firm that employs you, as well as your work experience, education status, and skill level.

What to expect from an accounting assistant role

The accounting assistant position is typically a full-time 9-to-5 job with various and diverse job responsibilities. In such a role, you’ll handle a wide variety of basic accounting tasks combined with administrative activities and customer interaction. Contrary to the usual perception of the accounting world of people sitting at desks all day looking at spreadsheets, the accounting assistant position is quite an active one, especially if you work in a large accounting firm.

Duties can vary on a case-by-case basis, but most assistants will be required to know how to operate a computer and other office equipment such as printers, phones, faxes, or scanners. Knowledge of accounting software programs is also a box you’d have to tick as it would be required to introduce, review, or update financial information in databases and reports.

Other tasks may include:

  • Verifying the accuracy of transactions
  • Filing customer information
  • Making sure payments are duly made without errors or missing data.

The median hourly salary in 2020 in the U.S. for accounting assistant roles was $16.87, which corresponds to a median annual wage of $41,355.

What you need to become an accounting assistant

Even if the accounting assistant position is one aimed at beginners in the world of accounting, aspiring candidates do need to meet a set of prerequisites. These skills, qualities, and competencies are or can be common to several accounting roles.

Numerical skills

Accounting is mostly about numbers, so having good arithmetic knowledge somehow goes without saying when applying for an accounting position.

Communication abilities

The ability to communicate well and efficiently both verbally and in writing is crucial in every business environment. Accounting assistants deal with people on a daily basis, so being well-spoken and knowing how to express yourself in writing concisely and clearly are traits that must be present on your list to be good at what you do.

Good attention to detail

The accounting assistant job implies working with numbers in different types of forms and formats. But that is not the only thing you are supposed to do. There are many tasks an accounting assistant has to take care of, so there may be moments when you have a lot on your plate at the same time. Being able to focus on the specifics of each activity is a path to success.

Objectivity

Accounting is far from being a creative profession, so facts will always be at the forefront of every decision you make in your daily work. The capacity to do that is considered a big plus by most employers who are looking for an accounting assistant.

High moral standards

Integrity is essential in any career, but it is vital in accounting where – let’s say – hiding or omitting facts or numbers from a report can put at risk someone’s financial health situation.

Assessing your work

The ability to accurately review your work for quality slips – such as typos, mathematical errors, or just to check if the whole thing makes sense – after having finished a specific task is crucial for accounting professionals and assistants. You deal with facts and figures on a daily basis, and mistakes can happen. That is why it’s vital to review everything properly before it leaves your hands. By eliminating errors, you can save yourself and your company much frustration and potential financial problems.

Maturity and professionalism

Even though it may sound excessive to expect such things from a candidate who applies for an entry-level role or from someone fresh out of high school, these are important qualities for accounting assistants. It’s essential to understand the business environment you work in and conform to its written and unwritten rules. It’s vital to have composed behavior in different situations and show respect to colleagues and customers. It’s crucial to be punctual and keep your word. These are all signs of maturity, professionalism, and qualities employers look for in candidates.

Accounting Assistant salary information by state
future outlook tooltip icon

Payscale is a salary survey service meant to provide employers and employees with salary data at local levels to benchmark and compare. While Payscale has a much smaller sample size than BLS, Payscale does update more frequently so data may be considered fresher. Payscale also indicates salaries at a wider range of roles whereas BLS sometimes aggregates numerous professions into one category which may skew salary data. For this reason, we find Payscale to be a good secondary salary indicator. All information received from payscale is via a paid API. You can read more about payscale and their data methodology here.

Nominal
Real salary
future outlook tooltip icon

The nominal salary is the unadjusted salary paid.

The real salary is adjusted to consider the purchasing power by state. We multiply the nominal salary by a state purchasing parities index to indicate the relative value of salaries by state. For instance, while New York or California might pay the highest nominal salary, these states are relatively expensive and so the real value of the salary is often less than a cheaper to live in state with a lower nominal salary.

Highest salary states

1.

California

$44,848

Average salary

2.

Massachusetts

$44,446

Average salary

3.

Alaska

$44,420

Average salary

4.

Connecticut

$44,395

Average salary

5.

Washington

$43,400

Average salary

6.

Hawaii

$42,664

Average salary

7.

New Jersey

$42,336

Average salary

How experience affects earnings
future outlook tooltip icon

Payscale aggregates all employee salaries into experience and degree cohorts and charts out the average salaries accordingly. While this is interesting information, it is simply an indicator and should not be considered as a definitive accounting.

Average

Timeline Salary
Less than 1 year $36,086
1 to 3 years $39,309
4 to 6 years $42,102
7 to 11 years $44,128
12 years or more $47,523

The effect of specialization on pay
future outlook tooltip icon

Payscale looks at the skills listed on employee CVs by career and takes the average salary to extrapolate which skills correlate to a higher salary, on average. While this is interesting information, it is simply an indicator and should not be considered as a definitive accounting.

General Ledger Accounting

General Ledger Accounting

4.29% Average salary increase

or approximately

$1,720 in annual pay

Accounts Payable

Accounts Payable

0.17% Average salary increase

or approximately

$67 in annual pay

What your resume should include

If you have any of the above-mentioned soft skills, include them in your resume when you apply for an accounting assistant position – or other beginner roles in the industry. They will help you differentiate yourself from other candidates. You can also add to your CV any internships, volunteering work, or part-time jobs that you have had. These show that you are dedicated, willing to work, gain various skills, and adapt to different situations and environments.

Listing soft skills is important. However, your resume should primarily focus on your studies and work experience in the field – if any. The good thing about applying for an entry-level position is that you don't necessarily need a higher-education degree to qualify for such a job. However, holding an industry-related degree or certificate is beneficial, so let's look at your options.

Get an undergraduate certificate in accounting

The undergraduate certificate in accounting helps you understand the basic principles of the topic and find work in entry-level roles in the field. Don't confuse it with an accounting certification, which is something completely different even if their titles sound similar.

The duration of undergraduate certificates in accounting depends on the type of institution you choose. Most programs take up to 1 year or 20 to 30 credit hours to complete, which is less time than earning an associate's degree.

The tuition fees can start at $100 per credit for less competitive schools and go up to $200 for programs at better-ranked institutions.

Choose to obtain a bookkeeping certificate

There are different types of undergraduate certificates in accounting you can go for depending on the specific area you want to focus on and become specialized in. If you're after an accounting assistant position, then you can opt for a bookkeeping certificate.

This type of credential teaches you accounting principles and helps you gain the necessary bookkeeping skills to qualify for bookkeeper or assistant roles.

Earn an associate's degree in accounting

Even if you can still find a job in accounting with a diploma or a certificate, employers prefer applicants who hold at least an associate's degree. An associate's degree in accounting can fast-track your entry to the accounting industry. Earning one takes around 2 years, and the tuition fees are half of what you would typically pay for a bachelor's degree in accounting.

In 4 semesters – or approximately 60 credit hours – you learn the fundamentals in areas like financial analysis, record keeping, auditing and taxation practices, as well as business management skills. Admission requirements are not exceptionally high – a high school diploma and a GPA score of at least 2.0 – and you can choose to earn it entirely online if your lifestyle does not allow you to attend courses on campus.

Plus, depending on what you want to focus on more, you can choose between 3 types of associate's degrees: associate's of arts, associate's of science, or associate's in applied sciences.

Further your education to grow your career

The higher your level of education, the more you'll gain access to better employment opportunities says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. High education offers you the body of knowledge you need to become a specialist in your desired field of work, and helps you develop your skills in that profession, too. That is why, if you aspire to advance in your accounting career to positions higher than the one of accounting assistant, you need to consider earning a bachelor's degree in accounting.

American Accounting Association (AAA)

Established more than a century ago, the AAA gathers under one roof an extensive community of accountants from all walks of life, including the academic field.

National Society of Accountants (NSA)

With a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge, NSA is a society that has been active for 75 years.

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

Established in 1887, AICPA is the official body that represents CPAs, developing and grading the CPA certification examination at state and national level.

International Federation of Accountants (IFA)

This organization represents accounting professionals in more than 130 countries around the world, acting as a global common ground for networking and best practices in the accounting industry.

The Institute of Internal Auditors of North America (IIA)

Founded in 1941 and based in Florida, the IIA is an organization with 200,000 members globally that represents internal auditors' interests at national and international levels.

Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)

Founded in 1969, ISACA now has more than 150,000 members in over 180 countries and is a global organization for information governance, control, security, and audit professionals.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

Established in 1908, NASBA acts like a forum for the 55 State Boards of Accountancy in the US, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination. In partnership with AICPA, NASBA facilitates CPA examination for professionals oversees.

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)

Home to over 85,000 members, CFE is an organization that offers anti-fraud training, certification, and education.

European Accounting Association (EAA)

Founded in 1978, EEA is an academic organization that supports Europe’s accounting community through research, education opportunities, and knowledge sharing.

Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)

Also known as the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business, IMA is the body in charge of organizing and grading CMA and CSCA examination certifications.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

Founded in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1973, FASB is an independent organization that sets the standards for public and private organizations following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) in the field of financial accounting.