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How to Become a Controller

Do you have a talent for numbers, accounting, and managing multiple things at once? It’s the controller’s job to manage accounting and finance related activities for a company or business. Controllers wear many hats and play a key role in everything from preparing budgets to managing other financial aspects like accounting, billing, payroll, taxes, and more.

Controllers often manage accountants, bookkeepers, and similar employees to help in these tasks that are so important to a company’s bottom line.

As a controller, you’re an invaluable “behind the scenes” member of the team, monitoring the financial performance of a company and handling many aspects of daily operations and employee relations. The controller position is one of great responsibility and opportunity.

Sample job description

Are you excellent with finances? Are you great at directing budgets that keep companies up and running? If so, we’re hiring a controller at [Your Company Name] and would love for you to apply. Controllers use all the financial data at their disposal to oversee and direct all aspects of a company’s accounting operations. They record and maintain all financial reports, and handle accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, compliance, inventory management, and more. Controllers use financial software and analytical skills to ensure continued operations. They control and monitor all things within the context of finances and are integral to the functionality of a business.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Manage all accounting operations including billing, A/R, A/P, GL and counsel, cost accounting, inventory accounting, and revenue recognition
  • Monitor the financial performance of the company
  • Supervise employees performing financial reporting, accounting, billing, collections, payroll, and budgeting duties
  • Communicate financial metrics to senior management
  • Maintain current knowledge of organizational policies and procedures, federal and state policies and directives, and current accounting standards
  • Receive, record, and authorize requests for disbursements following company policies and procedures
  • Handle all aspects of employee insurance, benefits, and casualty programs, including monitoring changes in health insurance regulations and creating budgets for benefits and workers’ compensation

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, finance, or a related discipline. Certified public accountant (CPA) or certified management accountant (CMA) designations are usually preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Experience with general ledger functions and the month-end/year-end close process
  • Excellent accounting software user and administration skills
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills
  • Excellent analytical and organizational skills
  • Ability to work closely with the senior management team
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office suite software

Preferred qualifications

  • 3+ years of managing budgets
  • Familiarity with financial software
  • Proficient in Google and Microsoft
  • Bachelor’s degree in finance, business, or related field

Typical work environment

The controller will spend a significant amount of time seated at a desk in an office environment. They will oftentimes work with other managers, employees, management, and others to share information and resolve issues. 

Controllers may find themselves participating in or leading meetings, and may work in a position that requires travel. The general hours worked for a controller are going to be the standard 40 hour work week, Monday through Friday.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a controller can be from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in an office setting. However, longer or different hours can, at times, be necessary.

Available certifications

As controllers work in a variety of industries, there are many institutions that offer certifications, including:

  • Certified Management Accountant. The CMA is a highly advanced professional certification that’s specifically designed to test and measure the financial management skills and leadership prowess of the individual. This certification should be obtained by an accountant or financial position seeking to move into a management position and expand their skill set. It does require 2 years of experience and requires renewal once a year, however.
  • Chartered Global Management Accountant. The CGMA is a highly sought-after certification that shows you’re serious and committed to the financial industry. It announces the commercial skill, strategic mindset, and transformational vision needed to demonstrate you have leadership acumen and a problem-solving approach to your position.
  • International Accredited Business Accountant. The IABA shows individuals who hold this accreditation have the practical understanding and foundational knowledge needed to be successful practitioners. For this very reason, those wishing to obtain the credentials must pass an experience requirement with 3 years of related experience or 2 years of college education in a related field. After passing the comprehensive exam will be able to hold the title and globally recognized accreditation.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, finance, or a related discipline, with certified public accountant (CPA) or certified management accountant (CMA) certification usually preferred.

CPA certification involves passing the Uniform CPA Exam set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). CMA certification can be earned by passing the CMA exam.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 11-3031

2020 Employment681,700
Projected Employment in 2030693,288
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 17% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift118,200 increase

According to Investopedia, accounting professionals who rise to the controller position typically earn above-average salaries, with some at large companies having the opportunity to make well above average.