What Is a Staff Accountant? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover how to become a staff accountant. Learn about staff accountant skills, how to build a staff accountant career, and moving up the accounting career ladder.

[Featured image] A staff accountant is standing by four windows, with a view of the skyline.

Staff accountants work with many aspects of accounting, including financial statements, payroll, taxes, and auditing. As you research staff accountant career opportunities, you’ll find that this profession is vast and diverse. In this article, learn how to become a staff accountant, the different concentrations in this career path, and the responsibilities.

What exactly is a staff accountant?

A staff accountant is a member of the accounting department who performs routine financial and accounting tasks. Staff accountants are often responsible for preparing reports, maintaining general ledgers and accounts payable files, and keeping up with the company's tax obligations. They ensure that all financial records are in order by following standard accounting principles (GAAP).

What are some typical staff accountant job responsibilities?

The responsibilities of a staff accountant vary depending on the size of the company and its operations. While smaller companies may have only one staff accountant, larger companies often hire multiple staff accountants who specialize in different areas, such as accounts payable or accounts receivable, or those requiring less accounting experience.  

As a staff accountant, your job duties will typically involve entry-level accounting tasks, but you may do some higher-level functions as you get more experience. Some job responsibilities for a staff accountant may include: 

  • Maintaining accounting records such as bank reconciliations, general ledger accounts, and subsidiary ledgers

  • Recording daily transactions in an accounting system, including purchases and sales transactions

  • Preparing and analyzing data for accounting statements such as profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets, and income statements

  • Ensuring that incomings and outgoings reporting follows state and federal regulations

  • Conducting internal audits regularly to determine whether company policies are effective

  • Maintaining detailed accounts payable records and ensuring timely payment of invoices

  • Assist in preparing quarterly financial statements for submission to external auditors for review and approval

  • Assist in preparing monthly and year-end financial statements

  • Assist with the preparation of budget forecasts used in planning efforts by management teams

  • Preparing financial statements like b: Balance sheets, income statements, cash flow reports, and profit-and-loss statements

  • Making recommendations for cost reduction and increasing revenue

  • Preparing and filing taxes: Especially taxation-focused staff accountants

  • Keeping track of assets such as cash, inventory, and liabilities, such as machinery depreciation

  • Reconciling staff expenses

What work settings do staff accountants work in?

Staff accountants can work for every type of company, government agency, and charity. You may work part or full-time and may be a part of an internal company accounting department. You’ll also see jobs in accounting firms, often specializing in tax, forensics, or another type of accounting. As a staff accountant, you'll typically work in an office rather than off-site. Most staff accountants work under the supervision of a CPA or senior accountant.

What types of software do staff accountants use daily?

Staff accountants use various software programs to perform their duties more efficiently and accurately. The programs they use include products such as these:

  • QuickBooks Pro allows you to track expenses, generate invoices, and store customer data in one place.

  • TaxACT Deluxe can assist you with filing federal and state taxes.

  • Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are both helpful for creating charts, graphs, and analyzing data.

  • Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium provides you with access to desktop versions of Word and other MS Office programs.

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC helps you to view and create PDF files 

Many variations on the staff accountant title exist, and your job title can depend on your company and the type of accountancy you do. For example, a staff accountant might be called a forensic staff accountant or taxation staff accounting if working in a specialist area Here are some roles similar to staff accountant:

*All annual US salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of August 2022

  • Accounting technician: $96,957 

  • Accounting officer: $94,615 

  • General accountant: $91,746

  • Staff accountant: CPA: $98,373

  • Accounting bookkeeper: $76,646 

  • Project accountant: $88,034 

  • Staff accountant: $96,213 

  • Financial analyst: $93,581

  • Senior accountant: $110,042

Required education and skills

The education and experience that’s required to get a staff accountant job depend on the companies you want to work for. The larger accountancy firms, such as the ‘Big 4,’ tend to be more competitive and have more stringent application criteria.

  • Associate degree in accounting or finance: An associate accounting degree can qualify you for entry-level accounting positions, such as bookkeeper, clerk, or other junior accounting roles. However, this degree does not generally provide the education needed to become a staff accountant.

  • Bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance: As a staff accountant, you'll typically have a bachelor's degree in accounting and experience in an accounting-related job, such as bookkeeping or an accounts clerk. Some employers require you to have both passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and be licensed as a CPA to join their accounting team.

  • Master’s in accounting (Optional): A master's degree in accounting or business administration is an option to boost your accountancy career prospects and open new opportunities. An advanced degree can make you a more competitive candidate for jobs that receive a lot of applicants, like those in PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and Deloitte.

Consider an accounting certification.

Accounting is a dynamic field, and it's essential to keep up with the latest trends and changes. Here are three reasons to consider getting certified as an accountant:

  • Certification shows you're skilled in a specific area of accounting

  • Certification gives you an edge in the job market

  • Certification gives you more opportunities in your career path

  • CPA or another certification may be an application requirement for some jobs

Certified public accountant (CPA) and other certifications

The certified public accountant (CPA) designation is the most widely recognized professional credential in accounting. It’s considered the gold standard in US accounting. 

To get your CPA license, you must meet the education and experience requirements of the state where you practice. Some states have established reciprocity agreements with other states allowing certified public accountants to practice in their jurisdictions without further study or examination. All US jurisdictions, except for the US Virgin Islands, require 150 hours of formal, relevant, approved education to qualify for CPA.

You might like to consider another specific accountancy or accounting-related certification:

  • Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA)

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA)

  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

  • Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP)

  • Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) 

Competencies required for staff accounting jobs

The staff accountant's role is varied. You need a mix of workplace and technical staff accounting skills to succeed. Some of the main competencies that you’ll require to become a competent staff accountant include:

  • Numeracy: The ability to use numbers effectively to solve problems and make decisions

  • Analytical: The ability to identify, interpret and evaluate the financial information

  • Spreadsheet proficiency: The ability to use spreadsheet software for manipulating data and perform mathematical functions, with functions like VLOOKUP

  • Problem-solving skills: The ability to understand and solve problems using critical thinking skills

  • Oral and written communication: The ability to communicate orally or in writing with customers, colleagues, and managers

  • Reading financial reports: The ability to understand financial statements, such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.

  • US tax regulation know-how: A good understanding of US tax law as it applies to businesses

  • Time management: Ability to manage time effectively, especially when working on multiple streams of work

  • Ethics: Uphold the highest of ethical standards

Accounting specializations you might like to consider

Accounting is a broad field that encompasses many specializations. You can be an accountant or auditor for small businesses, multinational corporations, or government agencies like the IRS. If accounts need to be completed an accounting professional should be involved. Accounting specializations include the following:

*All annual US salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of August 2022

1. Business accounting

Business accountants analyze and gather the financial activity of business operations, including financial statements, budgets, and forecasts. Business accountants may specialize in areas such as investments or insurance.

Average annual salary (US): $86,183

2. Tax accounting

These accountants perform accounting for taxes, tax compliance, preparation of tax returns, and valuation of assets for tax purposes.

Average annual salary (US): $88,825

3. International accounting

International accountants work with international trade, multinational operations, foreign currency transactions, international standards for accounting and auditing, and more.

Average annual salary (US): $90,229

4. Bookkeeping

Bookkeepers record financial transactions in journals and ledgers according to accepted business rules. Bookkeeping is a more junior role.

Average annual salary (US): $70,561

5. Auditing

Auditors ensure that financial statements are accurate and comply with relevant regulations. They also provide an independent opinion on the fairness of these statements.

Average annual salary (US): $88,959

6. Management accounting

Management accountants assist managers by preparing forecasts, analyzing costs, and helping to make decisions about production, sales, and investments.

Average annual salary (US): $101,573

Professional organizations to know

You can use information from professional accounting organizations to help you advance your career, develop valuable skills, and stay updated with new developments in the profession. Here are some professional organizations that you might want to consider joining:

  • American Institute of CPAs

  • American Accounting Association

  • National Society of Accountants

  • Institute of Management Accountants

  • Beta Alpha Psi (Student organization)

  • Institute of Internal Auditors

  • Association for Financial Professionals

Next steps

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants are in demand, and the career outlook for the accounting and auditing field is expected to grow 7 percent between 2020 and 2030 [1]. To get on a faster track to more senior accounting roles, you might consider the Online Masters of Accounting offered by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

To improve your resume with less intense courses of study consider the Accounting for Decision Making course provided by the University of Michigan or the Managerial Accounting Fundamentals course offered by the University of Virginia, on Coursera. 

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Accountants and Auditors: Job Outlook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors.htm.” Accessed August 17, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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