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Accounts Payable Specialist Career Guide

What is an accounts payable specialist?

An accounts payable specialist is a financial professional who plays a vital role in managing an organization’s financial obligations. Their primary purpose is to ensure the accurate and timely processing of invoices and payments to suppliers, vendors, and other external parties. 

This role is valuable and necessary as they contribute to maintaining positive relationships with suppliers, ensuring smooth business operations, and providing an accurate reflection of the company’s financial liabilities.

Duties and responsibilities

An account payable specialist’s main duties and responsibilities include processing invoices and payment requests, verifying transaction information, and reconciling invoices with purchase orders and receipts. They are responsible for resolving discrepancies and ensuring that all invoices are coded correctly and approved for payment. 

Their duties also include maintaining vendor files, ensuring timely payment of invoices, and responding to vendor inquiries. Professionals in this line of work also perform periodic reconciliations of accounts payable balances, assist in month-end closing processes, and collaborate with other departments to improve payment processes and procedures.

Work environment

Accounts payable specialists typically work in an office environment, either within an organization’s accounting or finance department or in a shared services center. These professionals work across various industries, including but not limited to manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and technology. 

The work environment can be deadline-driven and detail-oriented, requiring strong organizational skills, attention to detail, and the ability to multitask effectively.

Typical work hours

The typical work hours for an accounts payable specialist are standard business hours, usually from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, during peak financial reporting periods or month-end closings, they may need to work additional hours to ensure all invoices and payments are processed and reconciled accurately. Flexibility in work hours may be necessary to meet deadlines and complete essential tasks.

How to become an accounts payable specialist

Becoming an accounts payable specialist involves a combination of education, relevant work experience, and in some cases, professional certifications. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement for many positions in this field. Focus on courses in math, accounting, and business to gain a solid foundation in these areas.

Step 2: Complete postsecondary education (optional)

While not always required, obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field can increase your job prospects and help you stand out among other candidates. A college education provides more in-depth knowledge of accounting principles and practices, which will prove beneficial when seeking employment in this field.

Step 3: Gain relevant work experience

Start by seeking entry-level positions in accounting, finance, or bookkeeping to gain practical experience. Hands-on experience in accounts payable or a related field will help you develop the necessary skills for managing invoices, payments, and vendor relationships. As you gain experience, look for opportunities to specialize in accounts payable or similar roles within your organization.

Step 4: Develop proficiency in accounting software and tools

Specialists often use accounting software and tools to manage invoices and payments. Familiarize yourself with popular programs like QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel, and other accounting software. 

Also, explore accounts payable-specific software solutions commonly used in the industry. Proficiency in these tools will make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.

You can also find courses online to learn more about these accounting tools. Udemy offers a course on QuickBooks Vendors and Accounts Payable, as well as a Complete Financial Analyst course which will teach you how to utilize Microsoft Excel. 

Step 5: Obtain professional certifications (optional)

Although not always required, earning a professional certification can help you stand out as a candidate and demonstrate your commitment to the field. Some relevant certifications for those working in this field include the Accounts Payable Certification (APC) from the American Institute of Financial Clerks and the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. These certifications typically require a combination of work experience, education, and successful completion of an exam.

You can also earn an employer-recognized Tally Bookkeeper Professional Certificate through Coursera which will help to prepare you to enter this field. This certificate consists of three courses that will help you learn the foundations of the field:

Step 6: Develop your technical and soft skills

Professionals in this role need strong technical skills, including proficiency in accounting software and Microsoft Office applications, especially Excel. Invest time in learning and mastering relevant software to increase your efficiency and accuracy. 

It’s also helpful to develop your communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills, as these are crucial for success in this role.

Step 7: Network and apply for jobs

Once you have gained the necessary education and experience, start networking within your industry and applying for positions. Tailor your resume and cover letter to showcase your skills, experience, and any certifications you have earned. Attending job fairs, industry events, and connecting with professionals in your field can help you learn about job opportunities and make valuable connections.

How much do accounts payable specialists make?

The compensation for accounts payable specialists can be influenced by factors such as geographic location, education, years of experience, industry, and company size. In some cases, performance bonuses or commissions may also impact their overall income. 

Generally, professionals with more experience or higher education may command higher salaries. The industry they work in and their location can also play a significant role in determining their earnings.

Highest paying industries

  • Postal Service: $62,670
  • Federal Executive Branch: $61,490
  • Securities: $60,960
  • Natural Gas Distribution: $60,590
  • Insurance Carriers: $57,710

Highest paying states

  • Alaska: $58,440
  • Connecticut: $57,840
  • California: $57,820
  • New Jersey: $57,800
  • Virginia: $56,800

Browse accounts payable specialist salary data by market

Types of accounts payable specialists

Now let’s explore the various types and specializations of accounts payable specialists within this field.

General accounts payable specialist

General accounts payable specialists are responsible for handling a wide range of accounts payable tasks within an organization. These professionals process invoices, manage vendor payments, resolve discrepancies, and maintain accurate financial records. They may also assist with month-end closing procedures and financial reporting, providing essential support to the organization’s overall financial management.

Accounts payable analyst

An accounts payable analyst specializes in analyzes and optimizes the accounts payable process. Their tasks include reviewing and analyzing invoices, identifying discrepancies, and working closely with vendors to resolve any issues.

They also monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) related to the accounts payable function, such as payment timeliness, and recommend process improvements to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Accounts payable supervisor

An accounts payable supervisor is responsible for overseeing a team of accounts payable specialists and ensuring the efficient and accurate processing of accounts payable transactions. 

These professionals establish and enforce policies and procedures, manage workloads, and provide training and guidance to their team members. Other key responsibilities include collaborating with other finance professionals to support the organization’s financial objectives and maintaining strong vendor relationships.

International accounts payable specialist

The focus for professionals in this specialization is managing accounts payable transactions for organizations that operate globally or have vendors in multiple countries. They ensure compliance with international accounting standards and tax regulations, manage foreign currency transactions, and navigate the complexities of international trade and payment practices. 

For this role, it’s vital to have a strong understanding of foreign exchange rates, tax laws, and the specific financial requirements of different countries.

Accounts payable automation specialist

An AP automation specialist is responsible for implementing and managing automated accounts payable systems and processes. They work with technology solutions, such as invoice automation software, to streamline the accounts payable function, reduce manual tasks, and increase accuracy and efficiency. 

These professionals must have a solid understanding of finance and technology to effectively integrate automated systems into the organization’s financial processes.

Top skills for accounts payable specialists

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as an accounts payable specialist.

Strong organizational skills

These specialists manage a high volume of invoices, purchase orders, and payment records. They must be able to prioritize tasks, maintain accurate records, and keep track of deadlines to ensure timely payments and avoid late fees or penalties. 

Strong organizational abilities contribute to a streamlined and efficient accounts payable process, reducing the likelihood of errors and promoting financial stability for the organization.

Attention to detail

Professionals in this role must be able to identify errors and discrepancies in invoices, contracts, and payment records to ensure accurate financial reporting and maintain the organization’s reputation. A meticulous approach to reviewing documents and verifying information helps prevent costly mistakes and ensures that vendors are paid the correct amount for their goods or services.

Solid understanding of accounting principles

A thorough understanding of accounting principles enables them to accurately process invoices and payments in line with established standards and regulations. This includes knowledge of double-entry bookkeeping, the matching principle, and various payment terms. By applying these principles consistently, they help maintain accurate financial records and support the organization’s overall financial health.

Proficiency in relevant software

Proficiency in relevant software allows these specialists to manage the accounts payable process efficiently and generate accurate reports. Familiarity with accounting software like QuickBooks or Microsoft Dynamics, as well as tools for document management and electronic payments, enables them to streamline their workflow and maintain organized records. Staying up to date with the latest technology and industry trends helps them continually improve their skills and contribute to the organization’s financial efficiency.

Effective communication abilities

Communication abilities are important for interacting with various internal and external stakeholders to resolve discrepancies, clarify information, and address inquiries. Strong communication skills also facilitate collaboration with colleagues, help to maintain positive relationships with vendors and ensure that any issues related to payments or invoices are resolved promptly and professionally.

Accounts payable specialist career path options

A career path for an accounts payable specialist typically begins with obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. However, some entry-level positions may accept candidates with a high school diploma and relevant work experience. 

Those starting their careers may begin in entry-level positions such as accounts payable clerk or accounting assistant. In those positions, they will gain experience in processing invoices, managing vendor relationships, and ensuring timely payments.

As they gain experience and demonstrate proficiency in their roles, they can progress to more advanced positions, such as accounts payable analyst or senior accounts payable specialist. These roles often involve more complex tasks, including the analysis of accounts payable data, resolving discrepancies, and improving processes.

Further career progression can lead to a supervisory or managerial position, such as accounts payable supervisor or accounts payable manager. These roles require strong leadership and communication skills, as they will be responsible for overseeing a team, ensuring adherence to internal controls and policies, and managing the accounts payable function more broadly.

In addition to experience, obtaining professional certifications, such as the Certified Accounts Payable Professional (CAPP) or the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certifications, can provide a competitive edge in the job market and help accelerate career growth.

In recent years, the accounts payable field has experienced a shift toward greater automation and digitalization, which has led to an increased demand for people with strong technical skills and adaptability.

Individuals in this profession are expected to leverage technology to streamline processes, reduce errors, and improve overall efficiency. Additionally, as organizations continue to focus on cost control and optimization, those with strong analytical skills and an eye for detail will be highly valued.

Employment projections for accounts payable specialists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks is projected to decline by 5 percent through 2031. This decline is mainly due to the increased automation of routine tasks and the consolidation of roles in accounting departments. 

However, those with advanced technological skills and the ability to adapt to new software and systems will still be in demand, as businesses will continue to require their expertise in managing financial transactions and ensuring timely payments.

Accounts payable specialist career tips

Stay current on accounts payable best practices

In this profession, keeping up-to-date with industry best practices is essential to ensure efficient processing and accurate financial records. Stay informed by reading industry publications, attending webinars, and participating in online forums or discussion groups. 

Build a professional network

Networking is important, as it can help you learn from your peers, stay updated on industry trends, and discover potential job opportunities. Join relevant professional associations and networks to connect with other finance professionals. Some key organizations include:

  • Institute of Financial Operations (IFO)
  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Association of Certified Accounts Payable Professionals (ACAPP)
  • International Accounts Payable Professionals (IAPP)

Master accounting software and technology

It’s vital to be proficient in various accounting software programs and technology tools. Familiarize yourself with popular accounting software like QuickBooks, Microsoft Dynamics, and SAP. In addition, stay current on advancements in automation and other technology trends to improve efficiency in the AP process.

Develop strong attention to detail

Accuracy and attention to detail are crucial, as errors in financial records can have significant consequences. Focus on developing your ability to spot discrepancies, double-check your work, and maintain organized records.

Improve communication and interpersonal skills

Effective communication and interpersonal skills are important when dealing with vendors, colleagues, and management. Work on refining your ability to communicate clearly and professionally, both in writing and verbally.

Pursue continuous learning and professional development

Continuously expand your knowledge and skills by participating in courses, certifications, and workshops related to accounts payable and financial operations. Some areas to consider for professional development include:

  • Accounts payable processes and best practices
  • Regulatory compliance and reporting requirements
  • Cash management and forecasting
  • Vendor management and negotiation
  • Fraud prevention and detection

Cultivate a customer service mindset

In this job, you’ll frequently interact with vendors and colleagues. Develop a customer service mindset, focusing on being responsive, helpful, and courteous in your interactions. This will not only improve your relationships with others but also enhance your reputation as a reliable and effective professional.

Develop analytical and problem-solving skills

You’ll often need to analyze financial data and solve problems related to discrepancies or payment issues. Strengthen your analytical and problem-solving abilities to identify issues quickly and devise effective solutions. This will help you stand out as a valuable member of your organization’s finance team.

Where the accounts payable specialist jobs are

Top companies

  • Accenture
  • Citi
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of America

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What are the main responsibilities of an accounts payable specialist?

Accounts payable specialists are responsible for managing an organization’s accounts payable processes. This includes processing invoices, verifying vendor information, reconciling vendor statements, and resolving discrepancies. It also entails issuing payments, maintaining accurate financial records, and ensuring compliance with company policies and regulatory requirements.

What skills are essential for an accounts payable specialist?

An accounts payable specialist should possess strong analytical, organizational, and communication skills. They should be detail-oriented, able to manage multiple priorities, and proficient in using accounting software and Microsoft Office applications. Knowledge of basic accounting principles and practices, as well as relevant laws and regulations, is also essential.

How do accounts payable specialists ensure the accuracy of invoices?

Accounts payable specialists ensure the accuracy of invoices by carefully reviewing them for correct billing amounts, applicable discounts, and appropriate tax rates. They also verify that vendor information, such as addresses and bank details, is accurate and up-to-date. These professionals investigate and resolve any discrepancies or errors promptly to maintain accurate financial records.

What is the role of an accounts payable specialist in vendor management?

Accounts payable specialists play a key role in vendor management by maintaining accurate and up-to-date vendor records, ensuring that payments are issued promptly and accurately, and addressing any vendor inquiries or concerns. They also work closely with the purchasing department to ensure that invoices match purchase orders and that any discrepancies are resolved efficiently.

How do accounts payable specialists maintain financial records?

Accounts payable specialists maintain financial records by accurately recording invoice and payment information in the organization’s accounting system. Frequent tasks also include reconciling vendor statements, monitoring outstanding balances, and generating reports as needed to support financial analysis and decision-making.

What types of software and tools do accounts payable specialists use?

Accounting software, such as QuickBooks, Sage, or SAP, are key tools used to manage and process invoices and payments. They also use Microsoft Office applications, particularly Excel, for data analysis and reporting. In some cases, they may also use specialized accounts payable automation tools to streamline processes and improve efficiency.

How do accounts payable specialists contribute to cash flow management?

Accounts payable specialists contribute to cash flow management by monitoring outstanding invoices and ensuring that payments are issued in a timely manner. They also work with vendors to negotiate favorable payment terms, such as discounts for early payment or extended payment periods, which can help to optimize cash flow for the organization.

What is the role of an accounts payable specialist in ensuring regulatory compliance?

Adhering to established accounting practices, company policies, and relevant laws and regulations are key responsibilities of accounts payable specialists. They ensure that invoices are processed accurately, tax calculations are correct, and payments are issued in compliance with applicable rules and deadlines.

How do accounts payable specialists collaborate with other departments?

Accounts payable specialists collaborate with various departments within an organization, such as purchasing, finance, and operations. Their responsibilities include working with purchasing to confirm the accuracy of purchase orders and resolve discrepancies, with finance to support financial reporting and analysis, and with operations to address any vendor-related issues that may arise.

What opportunities for professional development and growth are available to accounts payable specialists?

It’s helpful to pursue professional development and growth through continuing education, attending workshops and conferences, and earning industry certifications, such as the CAPP or the APC. As these specialists gain experience and expertise, they may have the opportunity to advance to supervisory or management roles, or to transition into other areas of finance and accounting.