Accounting students who are about to graduate from college have a big decision to make before starting their careers - will they choose public or private accounting. The answer to this question will determine their entry-level position and possible career trajectory.
Those who choose public accounting will typically start out as a Staff Accountant. Working as a Staff Accountant brings about many opportunities and a decent median salary of $50,000 per year. According to Forbes, Staff Accountant is one of the 10 most popular jobs for college graduates.
Staff Accountant Educational Requirements
Staff Accountants are required to have a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting and many employers require their Staff Accountants to start working toward passing the CPA Exam.
Where Staff Accountants Work
- Accounting firms
- Public companies
- Government agencies.
Staff Accountant Job Duties
According to Monster.com, a Staff Accountant can expect to perform the following Job Duties:
- Prepares consolidated internal and external financial statements by gathering and analyzing information from the general ledger system and from departments.
- Maintains and balances an automated consolidation system by inputting data; scheduling required jobs; verifying data.
- Analyzes information and options by developing spreadsheet reports; verifying information.
- Prepares general ledger entries by maintaining records and files; reconciling accounts.
- Prepares payments by accruing expenses; assigning account numbers; requesting disbursements; reconciling accounts.
- Develops and implements accounting procedures by analyzing current procedures; recommending changes.
- Answers accounting and financial questions by researching and interpreting data.
- Provides accounting support for mergers and acquisitions by reviewing financial information; converting data to general ledger system; obtaining supplementary information for preparing financial statements.
- Protects organization's value by keeping information confidential.
- Updates job knowledge by participating in educational opportunities; reading professional publications; maintaining personal networks; participating in professional organizations.
- Accomplishes accounting and organization mission by completing related results as needed.
Steps to Becoming a Top Staff Accountant
Want to stand out to your employer as a top Staff Accountant? According to the Journal of Accountancy, positioning yourself as a top Staff Accountant, “…can lead to many rewards: more responsibilities, higher job satisfaction, promotions, and higher pay.”
The 10 Competencies of Top Staff Accountants (by the The Journal of Accountancy)
Accuracy. Details matter, and there is no room for error in accounting. Staff accountants must become experts at self-review by coming back to their work as a reviewer would to find any mistakes before sending it to their manager. They pay attention to materiality: The bigger the dollar amount relative to the whole, the more times they check it.
Stepping back. Top staff accountants understand their tasks, why they are performed, and how they fit into the big picture. They make sure that their journal entries make sense and that reconciling differences are appropriate and easy to explain. If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't, and they seek an explanation.
Hitting deadlines. Few professions are as deadline-driven as accounting. When top staff accountants receive a deadline, they give themselves earlier personal deadlines, allow extra time, and assume the worst (someone will inevitably get sick or not respond to a request, computers will crash, the website will be down, or something will get lost in the mail). They turn in work early, recognizing that others depend on their work to be completed on time.
Keeping their managers informed. Managers appreciate regular updates. The best performers communicate the status of their projects to their managers and all constituents, especially during month-end and year-end closes. If they discover an issue, they ask for help and know that two or more minds working on the solution are better than one. Keeping a problem to themselves or sweeping it under the rug is not an option.
Helping their managers. Top staff accountants make their manager's priorities their priorities. They gain a reputation for taking extra steps even for small tasks, and they provide solutions rather than creating different problems. They assume that their manager is always pressed for time and has deadlines to meet. Simply saying, "I'm planning to work on the bank rec this morning, but I can help with anything more pressing" goes a long way in helping their team succeed.
Professional integrity. Upper management teams want to know about any unscrupulous happenings to address and correct them immediately. Staff accountants are trusted to do the right thing and to not overlook dubious activity. Staff communicate professionally and start with their managers, trusting them to make correct decisions to keep upper management informed, but sometimes they need to ask again or seek help from a colleague.
Mastering time management. Top performers use time to their advantage. They schedule specific times to complete tasks, avoid procrastinating, start their most difficult tasks first thing in the morning, follow up on requests, and use downtime for planning and preparation. They break up projects into specific action steps to keep the process moving.
Conquering emails. The best staff keep their emails clear and short and gain a reputation for following up and responding to emails promptly. They keep their emails organized, rather than wasting time searching through correspondence.
Becoming an Excel guru. Excel is the accountant's most valuable tool, and those who master it have a distinct advantage. Top performers use Excel to save time and reduce inefficiencies, and they use every available tool—formatting, formulas, macros, and pivot tables.
Improving themselves. Education is never complete, and top achievers take responsibility for their education by reading books and articles, watching videos, and listening to recordings on topics such as time management, writing skills, teamwork, presentation and communication skills, project management, judgment biases, supervising, management and leadership, and other personal improvement topics. They stay up to date on current accounting standards and interpretations, recognizing that the profession is constantly evolving.