What Is a Staff Accountant? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • 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, with many changes forthcoming. According to a December 2022 article in the Journal of Accountancy, some of the major areas of focus that will affect the field of accounting in 2023 include [1]:

  • Sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investments

  • An increasing need for forensic accounting amid identity theft, employee fraud, and other crimes

  • Changes in how individuals plan their finances, amid inflation, economic uncertainty, and new investment opportunities 

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 generally accepted 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 perform some higher-level functions as you gain 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 profit-and-loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow reports, and income statements

  • Ensuring that incoming and outgoing 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

  • Assisting in preparing quarterly financial statements to submit to external auditors for review and approval

  • Assisting in preparing monthly and year-end financial statements

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

  • Making recommendations for reducing cost 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

Where do staff accountants work?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for the accounting and auditing field is expected to grow 6 percent from 2021-2031 [3]. 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 public 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:

  • 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. 

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

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 accountant, if they have a specialization. Here are some roles similar to staff accountant:

*All annual US salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of January 2023, and estimates total earnings (salary plus additional pay such as commissions, tips, and profit sharing).

  • Accounting technician: $49,621 

  • Accounting officer: $55,762 

  • General accountant: $60,530

  • Staff accountant/CPA: $80,106

  • Accounting bookkeeper: $50,112 

  • Project accountant: $68,925 

  • Staff accountant: $60,143 

  • Financial analyst: $72,851

  • Senior accountant: $87,717

Accounting education

The education that’s required to get a staff accountant job often depends on the companies you want to work for. The larger accountancy firms, such as the "Big 4" (Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG), tend to be more competitive and have more stringent application criteria.

Accounting degrees

  • 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: 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 the Big 4.

Certified public accountant (CPA) and other accounting certifications

Accounting is a dynamic field, and it's essential to keep up with the latest trends and changes. Reasons to get certified as an accountant include:

  • Demonstrating your skills in a specific area of accounting

  • Gaining an edge in the job market

  • Opening up more opportunities in your career path

  • Fulfilling requirements for some positions

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 that allow 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 the CPA license.

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) 

Skills 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, such as using numbers to solve problems and make decisions, understanding tax laws and regulations, ethics, and time management. According to ZipRecruiter's Career Keyword Mapper for staff accountants, the top skills employers list in job descriptions include [2]:

Technical accounting skills 

  • Reconciling records to ensure accuracy 

  • Completing journal entries to keep track of financial transaction data

  • Maintaining a general ledger for budgeting, financial statement analysis, and aggregating data 

  • Preparing financial statements such as income statements, balance sheets, and cashflow statements 

  • Using Microsoft Excel for manipulating data and perform mathematical functions, with functions like VLOOKUP

  • Keeping track of accounts payable to ensure prompt, accurate payments 

Workplace accounting skills 

  • Attention to detail for finding inconsistencies in data and ensuring accuracy in financial statements 

  • Communication skills for conveying information orally or in writing with customers, colleagues, and managers

TIP: When conducting your job search, review job descriptions closely for additional skills employers may look for in a staff accountant, such as using QuickBooks or other software, analytical skills, and performing close processes. 


Accounting specializations

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. Accounting specializations include the following:

*All annual US salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of January 2023, and estimates total earnings (salary plus additional pay such as commissions, tips, and profit sharing).

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): $91,403

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): $71,571

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): $68,920

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): $42,367

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): $58,020

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): $110,413

Professional accounting organizations to know

Joining professional accounting organizations can be a great way to advance your career, develop valuable skills, and stay updated with new developments in the field of accounting. 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

Build job-ready accounting skills with Coursera

Taking online courses can be a great way to learn more about accounting, finance and bookkeeping, and explore career options. In the Intuit Academy Bookkeeping Professional Certificate, you'll learn key accounting and bookkeeping principles and how to use software such as QuickBooks. The Managerial Accounting Fundamentals course offered by the University of Virginia offers insights and skill-building for managerial accountants.

Article sources


Journal of Accountancy. "The trends that will affect CPAs in 2023, https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2022/dec/trends-that-will-affect-cpas-in-2023.html." Accessed January 10, 2023.

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