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Staff Accountant Career Guide

What is a staff accountant?

A staff accountant is a professional who performs various accounting duties within an organization. They are integral members of the finance or accounting department and contribute to the accuracy and efficiency of an organization’s financial operations.

These professionals are employed across all sectors, from private businesses and nonprofit organizations to government agencies. Their work assists in making informed decisions, ensuring financial transparency, and fulfilling regulatory requirements. An accountant’s role in maintaining financial records and ensuring financial compliance is invaluable to their organizations. 

Duties and responsibilities

The duties of a staff accountant can encompass a broad range of accounting tasks. These include preparing financial statements, maintaining general ledger accounts, performing account reconciliations, assisting with budget and forecast preparation, and conducting internal audits.

These accountants also play a critical role in month-end and year-end closing processes. They may prepare tax returns and work with external auditors. In addition, they assist in ensuring that the organization adheres to accounting principles and regulations.

In addition to these technical responsibilities, professionals in this role may communicate with other departments to resolve accounting discrepancies, provide financial information, and assist with financial analysis.

Work environment

Staff accountants typically work in an office environment. They spend much of their time working with computers and accounting software. While the work can be independent, it also often requires collaboration with other finance or accounting department members, and at times, with other departments within the organization.

Due to the precision and trustworthiness required in handling an organization’s financial information, strong attention to detail, problem-solving abilities, and a high degree of integrity are necessary attributes for this role.

Typical work hours

Generally, staff accountants work full-time, and their hours align with typical business hours. However, during certain periods such as the end of the fiscal year or tax season, they may work additional hours to meet deadlines.

Despite the potential for periods of increased workload, the role can provide a great platform for career growth in accounting, with opportunities to specialize or move into higher-level positions over time.

How to become a staff accountant

Becoming a staff accountant involves a mix of formal education, certification, and hands-on experience. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to enter this field.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

The first step is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. These programs typically cover subjects like financial accounting, cost accounting, taxation, auditing, and business law.

If you’d like to explore the field before committing to a bachelor’s program, consider taking one of the following courses. They are both fully online with flexible schedules, and you’ll earn a certificate upon completion. These are beginner-level courses with no prior accounting experience required:

Step 2: Gain practical experience

Practical experience is crucial in the field of accounting. Many degree programs include internship opportunities, which can provide valuable hands-on experience. Alternatively, you might gain experience through entry-level positions in bookkeeping or clerical roles within an accounting department.

Step 3: Obtain certification (optional)

Although not always required, obtaining certification can significantly enhance your job prospects. The most common certification for accountants in the United States is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, which requires passing an exam and meeting certain education and experience requirements. If you are interested in this path, consider earning this CPA Pathways Graduate Certificate to help you prepare for the CPA exam.

Step 4: Continue your education

Keeping up with the latest accounting principles, laws, and technologies is important for this role. This could involve taking continuing education courses, attending seminars, or obtaining a master’s degree in accounting or business administration.

Step 5: Apply for jobs

With a relevant degree, practical experience, and possibly certification, you’re ready to apply for staff accountant positions. Be sure to highlight your accounting skills, attention to detail, and any relevant certifications on your resume and cover letter.

How much do staff accountants make?

Several key factors can influence the compensation of a staff accountant. One of the most significant is the level of experience. Accountants with several years of experience and those with valuable skills such as financial analysis or tax preparation often earn more than those just starting out in their careers.

The specific industry in which they work also dramatically impacts their compensation. Industries such as finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, and manufacturing, which heavily rely on financial reporting and compliance, typically offer higher salaries.

Geographic location is another critical factor. Those in areas with a higher cost of living, or financial hubs like New York or San Francisco, often earn more than those in other regions.

Education and certifications can also impact salary. While many successful staff accountants start their careers with a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, those with a master’s degree or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation may have higher earning potential.

Lastly, the company’s size can influence their compensation. Larger companies often have more complex accounting needs and can afford to pay their accountants more.

Highest paying industries

  • Securities and Commodity Contracts – $88,310
  • Federal Executive Branch – $80,450
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $78,440
  • Insurance Carriers – $77,920
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services – $76,340

Highest paying states

  • Virginia – $88,220
  • New York – $85,640
  • New Jersey – $85,430
  • California – $81,960
  • Massachusetts – $78,920

Browse staff accountant salary data by market

Types of staff accountants

In this section of the career guide, we explore the different types and specializations associated with the role of a staff accountant. Their specializations can vary depending on the specific area of accounting they focus on, the industry they work in, and the methodologies they employ.

General ledger accountant

General ledger accountants maintain the general ledger, a record of all an organization’s financial transactions. These professionals ensure that all entries are accurate, complete, and comply with accounting standards. They also prepare financial statements and reports.

Tax accountant

Tax accountants specialize in preparing and filing tax returns for businesses or individuals. Professionals in this role ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations, assist with tax planning strategies, and may represent clients during tax audits.

Audit staff accountant

Audit staff accountants work in internal or external auditing. These accountants review financial records and processes to ensure accuracy and compliance with laws and regulations. They identify potential areas of risk and recommend improvements to internal controls.

Cost accountant

Cost accountants analyze costs related to a company’s products or services. Their responsibility is to help businesses understand the cost of goods sold (COGS), allocate costs to different business areas, and aid in budgeting and financial planning.

Payroll accountant

Payroll accountants manage all aspects of payroll processing, including wage calculations, deductions, and payroll tax compliance. They ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time, and they prepare payroll-related financial reports.

Project accountant

Project accountants focus on the financial management of specific projects. Accountants in this role track project budgets, costs, and revenues, provide financial reports and analyses related to the project, and ensure accurate billing and recognition of project-related revenues.

Top skills for staff accountants

Proficiency in accounting software is a fundamental skill for staff accountants. They often use software like QuickBooks, SAP, or Microsoft Excel for tasks like data entry, financial analysis, and reporting. Familiarity with these tools can increase efficiency and accuracy in their work.

Strong mathematical abilities are vital for these professionals who regularly perform complex calculations and must have a strong command of numbers to ensure accurate financial reporting. This includes understanding financial formulas, managing budgets, and analyzing financial data.

Given the precision required in accounting, they must be meticulous. Minor errors can lead to significant issues, so being detail-oriented ensures that financial records are accurate and comply with regulations.

Understanding accounting principles is also essential for these professionals. They need to have a solid grasp of accounting principles, such as the concepts of debits and credits, the different financial statements, and the requirements of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Finally, staff accountants must communicate financial information to non-accounting professionals clearly and understandably. Whether they’re explaining financial concepts, discussing budgets, or presenting financial reports, their ability to communicate effectively ensures that all stakeholders clearly understand the organization’s financial status.

Staff accountant career path

The career path for a staff accountant often begins with an entry-level accounting role, such as a junior accountant or accounting clerk. These roles provide practical experience in handling financial transactions, preparing financial reports, and using accounting software.

After gaining experience and potentially acquiring additional professional certifications, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, you may advance to a staff accountant role. In this role, you’ll manage a wider range of accounting tasks, including preparing financial statements, conducting budget analysis, and assisting with audits.

With more experience, a strong track record of accurate financial management, and potentially a master’s degree in accounting or business, you could progress to a senior accountant or accounting manager role. In these roles, you’ll oversee a team of accountants, manage complex accounting tasks, and contribute to financial strategy planning.

Further advancement could lead to roles such as a controller, where you’ll manage all accounting operations, or a chief financial officer (CFO), where you’ll oversee the financial strategy of an entire organization.

Some professionals may also choose to specialize in a particular area of accounting, such as tax accounting or auditing, leading to specialist roles within these areas.

The role of staff accountants is continually evolving in response to technological changes, regulatory shifts, and changing business environments.

A significant trend impacting this role is the increasing use of financial software and automated systems. These technologies can streamline many routine tasks, allowing accountants to focus more on strategic analysis and decision-making.

Another major trend is the growing importance of data analysis in accounting. Professionals in this role are expected to interpret financial data and provide insights that inform business decisions, which requires proficiency in data analysis tools and techniques.

Regulatory changes often affect their work. They must stay up-to-date with the latest tax laws, financial regulations, and accounting standards, adapting their practices as necessary.

Lastly, with the rise of remote work and virtual teams, accountants need to be able to collaborate effectively in a digital environment. This might involve using collaboration tools, participating in virtual meetings, and working across time zones.

Employment projections for staff accountants

Staff accountants fall under the broader category of “Accountants and Auditors,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment in this category is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The economy’s health and changes in financial regulations can significantly impact this growth rate. 

However, accountants with a professional certification, like the CPA, and those with a master’s degree in accounting or business administration will have the best job prospects. Also, those with strong technical skills, including proficiency in data analysis and financial software, will likely be in high demand.

Staff accountant career tips

Develop strong numerical skills

As a staff accountant, you’ll deal with numbers and calculations daily. Strong numerical skills can help you perform your tasks accurately and efficiently, reducing the risk of costly errors.

Understand accounting principles and regulations

A solid understanding of accounting principles and regulations is essential to perform your duties effectively. This includes knowledge of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), tax regulations, and financial reporting standards.

Stay updated with industry trends

The accounting field is influenced by numerous factors, from technological advancements to regulatory changes. Staying updated with these trends can help you adapt your practices and comply with current regulations.

Build a professional network

Networking can provide valuable insights, learning opportunities, and potential collaborations. Consider joining professional associations and communities such as:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Master relevant accounting software

Accountants use various accounting software for tasks such as bookkeeping, financial reporting, and tax filing. Proficiency in these tools can enhance your productivity and the accuracy of your work.

Implement continuous learning

The accounting field continually evolves with new methodologies, tools, and regulations. Continuous learning is critical to staying updated and enhancing your capabilities. Areas of focus could include:

  • Updates on accounting standards and tax regulations
  • Advances in accounting and financial software
  • Best practices in financial reporting and internal control
  • Emerging trends in accounting and finance

Improve your attention to detail

Attention to detail is essential in accounting, where minor errors can lead to significant discrepancies. This skill can help you identify and correct errors, ensure regulation compliance, and provide accurate financial information.

Cultivate strong communication skills

Accountants often need to communicate financial information to non-accountants, from team members to top management. Clear and effective communication can ensure everyone understands this information, aiding decision-making and fostering collaboration.

Where the staff accountant jobs are

Top companies

  • Deloitte
  • PwC 
  • EY 
  • KPMG
  • Grant Thornton LLP

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • SimplyHired


What skills are necessary for a staff accountant?

Accountants should have strong numerical and analytical skills to handle various accounting tasks. They should be detail-oriented to ensure accuracy in their work and have a strong understanding of accounting principles and regulations. 

Proficiency in accounting and other related software, like spreadsheets, is also critical. In addition, they should have good problem-solving skills and the ability to work as part of a team.

What are the typical duties of a staff accountant?

Typical duties include:

  • Preparing and maintaining financial records
  • Reconciling bank statements
  • Assisting in the preparation of financial reports
  • Analyzing budget forecasts

They also handle bookkeeping duties, process invoices, and may assist with tax preparation. Depending on the size and structure of the organization, professionals in this role might also be involved in auditing, payroll processing, or other specialized accounting tasks.

What type of education or certification does a staff accountant typically have?

They typically hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Some might also have a master’s degree in accounting or business administration. 

Many choose to pursue professional certifications such as the CPA designation, which, while not always required, can enhance professional credibility and open up more advanced job opportunities.

How does a staff accountant contribute to the success of an organization?

They contribute to an organization’s success by accurately maintaining financial records and helping to ensure financial transactions are correctly recorded and classified. These professionals assist in preparing financial reports that guide management’s decision-making processes. By contributing to budgeting and auditing processes, they also help the organization manage its financial resources effectively and comply with financial regulations and standards.

How does a staff accountant work with other professionals in an organization?

Accountants often work closely with other professionals in the finance or accounting department, including senior accountants, auditors, financial analysts, and finance managers. They may also interact with professionals from other departments to gather information for accounting tasks or provide data or reports. In addition, they might work with external auditors or tax professionals as part of their duties.

What are the challenges a staff accountant might face?

Challenges might include maintaining accuracy when dealing with high volumes of data, staying updated with changing accounting regulations or standards, and managing multiple tasks or projects with tight deadlines. They might also face challenges related to complex accounting issues or situations that require extensive research and analysis.

What are the key performance indicators for a staff accountant?

Key performance indicators might include:

  • The accuracy of financial records and reports
  • Timely completion of assignments
  • Compliance with accounting standards and regulations
  • Contribution to successful audits or financial analyses

They may also be evaluated based on their ability to identify and solve accounting issues and their collaboration with team members and other stakeholders.

How does a staff accountant stay updated with the latest accounting standards and regulations?

They can stay updated with the latest accounting standards and regulations by attending professional development courses, workshops, or webinars and reading industry publications or updates from professional accounting organizations. Membership in such organizations can provide access to resources and updates about changes in the field.

How does a staff accountant ensure the accuracy of their work?

Accountants in this role ensure the accuracy of their work by double-checking entries and calculations, using accounting software features that aid in accuracy, and staying updated with best practices in accounting. They may also adhere to internal controls and procedures designed to prevent errors and collaborate with colleagues for complex tasks requiring additional verification.

What role does a staff accountant play in an audit?

They play a central role in an audit by preparing and providing the necessary financial records for review. Their responsibilities may include assisting in internal audits by examining financial transactions and records for accuracy and compliance with internal policies and external regulations. These professionals might also help implement recommendations from audit findings to improve financial processes and controls.