Interested in being an accountant but don’t yet have your bachelor’s degree? Would you like some accounting experience to strengthen an empty resume? There are a couple of different ways to enter the accounting industry before you are a CPA. Accounting clerks and accounting assistants are both foundational parts of many firms and organizations. While accounting clerks are entry-level positions, an accounting assistant position is usually available for those with a technical/associate’s degree and comes with more responsibilities, (usually) greater salary, and more room for career advancement.
What Does an Accounting Assistant Do?
Unlike an accounting clerk (which is an entry-level position that requires only a high school diploma), accounting assistant positions usually require a two-year technical degree or a two-year associate’s degree with an accounting focus. Some firms are also open to (or desire) hiring assistants who are currently achieving a four-year bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Accounting assistants work directly with accounting managers, certified professional accountants (CPA), c-suite professionals (like a chief financial officer (CFO)), and other personnel in an accounting department. Usually, an assistant is hired to work with one department, for example, the accounting department, the finance department, the payroll department, or the purchasing/inventory department.
Depending on the size of a firm, an accounting assistant may work with one CPA. In this circumstance, they will perform a variety of support roles, both administrative and financial. This may include processing invoices, maintaining financial records, communicating with vendors, clients, and personnel, or handling invoices, payments, and receipts.
- General support to a department or an individual (in smaller firms, may support the whole organization)
- Preparation and processing of invoices, receipts, payments
- Preparation of purchase orders, approvals, and fulfillments
- Reconciliation of payroll hours and taxes
- Updates to ledgers and accounts
- Preparation and distribution of paychecks
- Processing of accounts payable or accounts receivable checks and payments
- Basic administrative tasks: filing, handling customers, answering phones (similar to bookkeeping work)
This list of duties is neither inclusive nor appropriate to all accounting assistant positions. If an assistant is hired for a specific department, like accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory, cost accounting, or payroll, they will likely find that they only do some of these tasks consistently. When this is true, their breadth of work responsibilities may be smaller, but the depth of the work within their specific department will be greater.
Though accounting assistants usually receive on the job training, there are a variety of hard and soft accounting assistant skills that will still prove important and/or valuable both in the job hiring process and on the job.
- Experience with accounting software(s), including skill with Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks
- Fundamental financial/accounting vocabulary and understanding
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Attention to detail and ability to recognize discrepancies
- Data entry skills; precision and speed
- Highly organized
As with any industry or profession, salaries will vary depending on geography, size of firm, and education and experience. Indeed.com reports an average accounting assistant salary of $16.52/hour, with a range of $15.15 – $20.51/hour. For bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary of $40,240 (in 2018). Note that the BLS numbers are related to an accounting clerk; there was no clarification found (if there is any) between accounting clerk salary and accounting assistant salary.
Additional Training and Certifications
There is no required certification for the job of accounting assistant. However, many assistants are working towards a career as a certified public accountant (CPA), so they are involved in bachelor’s level work. If you are not currently in school but would like to continue learning and display competence and passion, there are accounting certifications you can pursue. These certifications may also prove helpful in the job hiring process.
Most certifications require a high school diploma or GED. Most programs are anywhere between 15-45 credit hours and can be achieved online or in-person. Expected areas of study may include:
- Principles of financial accounting
- Payroll accounting
- Income tax and federal tax
- Microcomputer accounting
- Managerial accounting.
Learning goals in these certificate programs are: (1) An understanding of basic accounting concepts and vocabulary, (2) Ability to analyze and report payroll, financial information, and budgeting details, (3) Adherence to ethical, legal, and discretionary standards and (4) Preparation for further education and/or CPA examination.
There are a variety of university and community colleges that offer these certificates. Do your research to ensure that an accredited institution or organization is the one offering your chosen program.
Accounting Assistant: A Smart First Step
While an accounting assistant can be a solid and consistent profession, it is also a great first step for one ultimately desiring to be a CPA. Accounting assistant positions are often part-time and may offer a student the ability to work and be in school at the same time. Many employers desire or look for assistants who are in school and desire advancement, as these personnel are often highly committed to organizational goals and look forward to growing, learning, and being promoted within their existing place of work.
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