The career of an accounting assistant

Find out what you should know to help you decide whether you should pursue a job as an accounting assistant.

What is an accounting assistant? Accounting assistants are entry-level finance professionals who handle basic accounting duties. Their tasks typically involve preparing financial records, conducting office administration, and handling cash. Accounting assistants may work closely with individuals or as part of accounting departments in large businesses or accounting firms.

Job Outlook for Accounting Assistants

What Can You Expect From an Accounting Assistant Job?

Responsibilities

What does an accounting assistant do? The answer depends on the employer, but responsibilities typically include basic accounting and administrative tasks that support a qualified accountant or accounting department. A supervisor, such as a staff accountant or accounting manager, typically determines the tasks an accounting assistant performs. An accounting assistant's activities can vary from day to day depending on the role. However, the tasks featured on a typical accounting assistant job description may include the following:

  • Prepare and send invoices, credit memos, and purchase orders.
  • Process company receipts, sales invoices, and payments from customers and suppliers.
  • Monitor accounts payable, following up on outstanding balances when required.
  • Maintain exact financial records noting employer's incoming and outgoing finances.
  • Reconcile bank statements.
  • Monitor company budgets.
  • Process employee wages and expense claims.
  • Prepare balance sheets and profit and loss statements.
  • Handle insurance claims.
  • Create regular financial reports.
  • Interact with customers by phone and email.
  • Meet and greet visiting clients.
  • Carry out administrative duties such as filing, photocopying, composing correspondence, and recording minutes at meetings.

Accounting assistants who work for single accountants or small accounting departments are more likely to handle a variety of duties than are accounting assistants who work for larger organizations.

Work Environment

Accounting assistants usually work in the offices of private accountants or large companies. These companies may be accounting firms or businesses in other sectors that have their own accounting departments. Retail businesses, manufacturing firms, health care facilities, and educational institutions are some of the diverse organizations that employ accounting assistants. Accounting assistants may work independently with small amounts of supervision as needed.

While most accounting assistant work encompasses office-based tasks, some accounting assistants may be required to occasionally leave the office to attend meetings with clients or customers.

While not very common, some accounting assistants may offer freelance accounting services. These professionals may spend time at their clients' offices or a home-based office, or they may split their time between home and an external office environment.

Schedule

Most accounting assistants work typical business hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, although these hours may vary slightly depending on the workplace. However, extended hours may be necessary during busy periods, such as at the end of the financial year and at tax time, to complete financial reports and tax returns.

Accounting assistants typically work full-time hours, although professionals who want fewer hours may pursue part-time, job-share, or flexible work opportunities. These employment types are most commonly available for accounting assistants who work as part of a large accounting team. Freelance accounting assistants can vary their working hours.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be an Accounting Assistant?

Education

Accounting assistant jobs generally require at least a high school diploma. However, employers increasingly prefer accounting assistants who have an accounting assistant certificate awarded by an accredited college. College coursework prepares candidates to process financial information according to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). An accounting assistant certificate program of study can be completed in one or two full-time semesters. Alternatively, employers may hire accounting assistants who have relevant technical or associate's degrees.

Without one of these formal qualifications, employers may hire motivated accounting assistants who have a few years of bookkeeping experience. Employers may also promote accounting clerks to accounting assistants after these professionals have gained several years of working experience.

Many people pursue work as an accounting assistant while studying for a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting, finance, or another relevant field. Working as an accounting assistant provides real-world experience in accounting to complement formal study.

Experience

Since an accounting assistant may be an entry-level position for some employers, employers don't typically expect their new hires to bring a significant amount of accounting experience to the job. However, employers usually prefer candidates who have worked in an office environment. Experience using office computer programs — such as spreadsheet, database, and word processing software — is helpful for aspiring accounting assistants. Candidates who have experience in bookkeeping will typically have an advantage when seeking employment opportunities.

Skills

Accounting assistants require a varied skill set to adapt to the diverse range of activities they'll perform. Below are some of the skills employers seek in prospective accounting assistants:

  • Mathematical skills: Assistant accountants must carry out various financial tasks that require quick and exact calculations.
  • Knowledge of financial principles and accounting terminology: This knowledge base helps assistant accountants perform a range of financial functions within an organization while communicating with other accounting professionals.
  • Methodical working style: A methodical workflow ensures that accounting assistants will carry out their duties correctly and completely.
  • Ability to multitask: Accounting assistants will often be assigned a number of tasks that they must manage, often within the same time frame.
  • Ability to prioritize: This skill helps accounting assistants know which tasks are most important to complete first and which can be delayed.
  • Independence: While accounting assistants are often supervised by accountants and account managers, much work must be completed independently.
  • Focus: This skill helps accounting assistants work productively when completing lengthy and complex tasks.
  • Performance under pressure: While accounting departments aren't often seen as high-stress environments, these environments can become stressful at times, such as at the end of the financial year and at tax time. Accounting assistants must be able to work efficiently and accurately during these times.
  • Problem-solving skills: When figures in accounting ledgers are not balanced, accounting assistants must rely on their problem-solving skills.
  • Communication skills: Strong verbal and written communication skills help accounting assistants communicate with their supervisors as well as with others in their accounting teams, customers, suppliers, and other professionals.
  • Customer service: Customer service skills help accounting assistants deal with members of the public in positive ways.
  • Passion for business and finance: A national interest in the business world and its finances will help accounting assistants thrive in their roles.
  • Organization: This skill is essential for filing documents, maintaining records, and performing other required administrative tasks.
  • Discretion: Accounting assistants often deal with sensitive company and client financial information that they must keep confidential.
  • Honesty: Employers must know that they can trust their accounting assistants with access to company funds.
  • Office program skills: A clear understanding of software, such as Microsoft Office programs, will help accounting assistants create reports and invoices and manage financial records.
  • Accounting software skills: Accounting assistants often use accounting programs to perform their duties. These specific programs can vary from company to company, but an understanding of common features can help accounting assistants adapt to various workplaces.

Salary Expectations

How much do accounting assistants make? Entry-level accounting assistants typically earn about $39,000 a year. As they gain 20 or more years of experience in their positions, accounting assistants can expect to increase their salaries to an annual average of $46,000. Accounting assistants may find higher salaries in different parts of the United States. For example, the average annual salary for an accounting assistant is $43,000 in New York City, New York; and $41,000 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Job Outlook for Accounting Assistants

Projected Growth

Accounting assistants are classified as bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), along with accounting associates and accounts payable clerks. This official body projects a decline of 8 percent for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerk positions between 2014 and 2024. This decline is estimated to result in the loss of about 148,700 bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerk positions during this 10-year period. Changes in technology that make accounting practices more accessible for unskilled workers are expected to influence this downward trend.

Career Trajectory

Accounting assistants often receive more complex tasks and greater responsibilities the longer they work in their positions, especially if they have only a high school diploma.

After several years of working with a single company, accounting assistants often transition to junior accountant roles. This transition may require more formal education.

Accounting assistants who have a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field may advance to a role as a staff accountant, an auditor, or an accounting manager. After obtaining CPA certification, accounting assistants may also work as certified public accountants (CPAs).

A job as an accounting assistant is an excellent choice for people who have a passion for accounting, finance, and business practices. The role can offer a valuable stepping stone into more advanced accounting positions or serve as a fulfilling career for anyone who enjoys being a key part of an accounting team. Start your search for an accounting assistant job today.