Staff accountant career guide

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What does a staff accountant do?

If you have an aptitude for numbers – either from school or professional experience – there is every chance you possess the transferable skills needed to become a staff accountant. In this role, there is considerable potential to move up the salary and career ladders.

Staff accountants are primarily employed by accounting firms, private and public companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. They work under a director, controller, or Certified Public Accountant (CPA).

Life as a staff accountant is typically desk-based. There is generally less of a requirement to leave the office compared to accountants who manage the books of multiple clients.

What is a staff accountant responsible for?

A typical working month for a staff accountant will often involve the following tasks and responsibilities:

Comprehensive financial report writing

Staff accountants are regularly tasked with summarizing big data in comprehensive reports. Lenders and investors are two of the most common businesses that employ staff accountants to monitor their fiscal health and overall exposure in the marketplace.

Overseeing invoice and billing software

Handling accounts payables and expenses using proprietary or off-the-shelf accounting software.

Maintaining a book of account

A more traditional way of overseeing a company’s finances and accounts, but still a common responsibility of staff accountants.

Submitting and paying tax returns

Tax filing for individuals and businesses is a key task for staff accountants, especially during the January – April tax season. Impeccable knowledge of tax legislation is an essential requirement.

Monitoring industry data

Keep a close eye on losses, spending, and profits and contrast these with comparable companies in the same sector, as well as other industries.

Preparing operational and capital budgets

Prepare billing and accounts data to help inform operational and capital budgets for the next fiscal year.

What does a staff accountant job description look like?

If you are keen to learn more about the typical duties of a staff accountant, the following list which is common to many advertised positions can prove an insight into the job responsibilities.

  • Capable of recording and maintaining financial reports and records
  • Handling general ledger accounts
  • Periodic reviews of annual budgets and performance projections
  • Reconciling balance sheets periodically
  • Working in close collaboration with accounting manager or head of department
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Strong analytical and numeracy skills
  • Working knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
  • High attention to detail
  • Self-motivated and well-organized

What is a staff accountant analyst?

A staff accountant analyst adopts a more focused role by monitoring industry and company trends for their employer. Using analytical software, analysts keep a keen eye on their company’s bottom line to try and pinpoint ways to improve operational efficiencies. Analysts often compare their company’s own data with similar companies in their industry or similar-sized businesses in other sectors.

What is a corporate staff accountant?

A corporate staff accountant is a qualified professional who is employed by a company or organization to prepare and monitor the company’s financial records. This applies to any associated subsidiaries too. They will also be tasked with financial planning and analyzing data to present to senior management.

How to become a staff accountant?

Staff accountants typically require a bachelor’s degree in accounting, along with a year of work experience. Although this doesn’t need to be accountancy-based, your degree does need to be accounting or finance related. You must be able to demonstrate that you have a firm handle on the principles of accounting. You’ll also need a broad awareness of areas like cost and managerial accounting, audits, and global financial reporting standards. Most bachelor’s degrees in accounting will require you to have a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.5 to apply. The most competitive programs require GPAs of up to 3.0.

Do you lack the necessary qualifications or experience to go straight into a staff accountant position? You could look to build your accountancy skills in an entry-level role such as:

Accounting intern

Most trainee accountants on an internship may report directly to a senior accountant within their company. A bachelor’s or master’s in accounting is still typically required, but no previous experience is necessary. Typical tasks could include payroll, data entry and analysis, and auditing and reconciling general ledger accounts.

Accounting assistant

Accounting assistants are also employed to provide much-needed clerical support to existing accounting departments. From handling mail and basic bookkeeping to filing and fielding phone calls, these tasks might fill a typical working day.

Financial clerk

Financial clerks operate in a similar vein to an accounting assistant. You may provide clerical and administrative assistance to your employer’s existing accounts department. Clerks often handle bills, update financial records, and process transactions.

What are the requirements or qualifications for a staff accountant role?

In terms of requirements, most accounting firms and large corporations will require their staff accountants to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting as a minimum. Those looking to apply for higher-level staff accountant positions may also wish to specialize in a master’s degree in accounting. Some colleges will only offer a master’s degree in accounting to those with existing professional qualifications and licenses.

It’s highly recommended to obtain your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA). The CPA exam contains the following 4 sections –

  • Auditing and attestation
  • Business environment and concepts
  • Financial accounting and reporting
  • Regulation

All 4 of these sections need to be completed within an 18-month window, scoring at least 75 on each to pass and secure your license. It’s possible to find bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting that meet the educational requirements needed to sit the CPA examination.

How to prepare for a staff accountant interview

If you are selected to interview for a vacancy, it’s important to understand the types of questions you may be asked. Interviewers evaluate you more than just on a personal level. They also want to be confident in your technical knowledge and expertise.

The topics you may be asked at a staff accountant interview can include:

  • Your reasons for choosing a career in accounting
  • Your personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Why you believe you are a good fit for the position
  • Your experience with accounting software
  • How you’ve handled accounting errors in the past
  • Your knowledge and appreciation of accounting standards
  • Accounting scenarios to assess how you would respond in certain situations
  • Your appreciation of accounting skills and processes

How to switch from a staff accountant to a financial analyst?

Are you already a staff accountant and aspire to become a financial analyst? You’ll be pleased to know there are several transferable skills. Accountants will typically examine data, audit and review financial statements. Financial analysts typically look at the bigger picture of economic trends. They’ll use fundamental and technical analysis to make informed decisions on whether projects are worthy of investment.

To specialize as a financial analyst, it could be worth committing to studies for a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Not all employers will seek this but it can certainly help. Furthermore, accreditation as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) should also provide further credibility to your resume for future job applications.

How many hours do private staff accountants work a week?

Working as a staff accountant is by no means an easy undertaking. You have to be committed to your role given that many staff accountants work over 40 hours a week. Some staff accountants in the corporate and financial service sectors will be required to work longer still, with 45-hour working weeks by no means uncommon.

It’s worth noting that for many staff accountants there is a period when they are more likely to work longer hours. This is generally between January and April when audits and tax returns are particularly rife.

Can a staff accountant work from home?

Yes, it’s absolutely possible. Today, a considerable percentage of work as a staff accountant is digitized either via native or cloud-based accounting software. Even the perceived ‘Big Four’ accounting firms like Deloitte and KPMG are heavily promoting workplace flexibility, with remote working options becoming increasingly available.

Staff Accountant 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

$59,996

Average salary

2.

Alaska

$59,292

Average salary

3.

New York

$58,066

Average salary

4.

Massachusetts

$57,173

Average salary

5.

Washington

$56,640

Average salary

6.

Hawaii

$55,530

Average salary

7.

New Jersey

$54,769

Average salary

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.

Financial Analysis

Financial Analysis

5.67% Average salary increase

or approximately

$2,950 in annual pay

Month-End Close

Month-End Close

2.62% Average salary increase

or approximately

$1,365 in annual pay

General Ledger Accounting

General Ledger Accounting

2.43% Average salary increase

or approximately

$1,263 in annual pay

Financial Reporting

Financial Reporting

2.18% Average salary increase

or approximately

$1,133 in annual pay

Tax Compliance

Tax Compliance

0.27% Average salary increase

or approximately

$141 in annual pay

Auditing

Auditing

0.18% Average salary increase

or approximately

$95 in annual pay

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 $45,370
1 to 2 years $48,439
3 to 5 years $51,432
6 to 10 years $54,104
11 years or more $58,113

Why become a staff accountant?

Although it’s clear there are several day-to-day fiscal responsibilities as a staff accountant, there are multiple benefits:

A well-defined career path

There is a clear path of progression when working as a staff accountant. Experienced staff accountants often move on to become junior and then senior auditors. They may then seek promotions to become an assistant in the controller’s office or head up their own department. Alternatively, they may have gained enough experience to run their own self-employed accounting firm.

A stable industry

Accounting is considered one of the most stable, consistent industries to train and work in. Almost every type of business requires an in-house accountant or outsources their accounting requirements to professionals.

Exciting long-term earning potential

With the potential to earn upwards of $80,000 to $120,000 a year, experienced staff accountants can make a very respectable living.

Which job title is better: staff accountant or financial assistant? 

Employment as a finance assistant is considered an entry-level role. Financial assistants are generally required to handle data entry, create and manage balance sheets, maintain financial records, and prepare invoices. There is significantly less responsibility in a finance assistant role than a staff accountant role. 

Working as a finance assistant could give you a good grounding. From here, you could gradually work your way up the career ladder to a staff accountant position. 

American Accounting Association (AAA)

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)

NSA is a society with a core mission of helping tax and accounting professionals further their knowledge.

National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)

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.

Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)

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.