Accountants often begin their careers as staff accountants. Staff accountants perform many of the same tasks as accountants. However, staff accountant positions typically require less experience than general accountant jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects accountant and auditor positions to grow 6% from 2018-2028. Professionals can gain experience as staff accountants and eventually advance into these higher-paying positions. This guide includes information about how to become a staff accountant, including the required education, necessary skills, and career resources to help individuals succeed in the field.
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Staff Accountant?
The skills staff accountants need vary by field. However, staff accountants must generally demonstrate proficiency in computer programs and mathematics. College accounting programs help learners develop skills in these areas.
Staff accountants must also have strong financial reporting abilities. Financial reporting involves the communication of financial information. Staff accountants must read financial statements and translate information for individuals outside the field.
Additionally, staff accountants need strong communication skills. These professionals ensure finances adhere to state and federal regulations. They must be able to communicate related issues to other accountants and professionals within their organization.
Staff accountants apply auditing skills to their daily work, reviewing financial statements to ensure compliance with regulations and identifying potential issues. These professionals also use auditing skills for duties such as assisting controllers and maintaining balanced budgets.
Since staff accountants work with financial and tax programs like Microsoft Excel and QuickBooks, they need strong computer skills and a familiarity with relevant programs.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Staff Accountant?
Staff accountant positions, along with accountant and controller roles, require at least a bachelor's degree. Aspiring staff accountants often earn an undergraduate degree in accounting or finance. However, most business-related degrees help students gain the skills necessary to become staff accountants. Full-time students typically complete bachelor's programs in four years. However, students in accelerated or asynchronous online programs may graduate more quickly.
While not required, staff accountants can pursue a master's degree in accounting to stand out in the job market. A graduate degree can also help candidates secure more competitive positions. Some schools also offer accelerated, five-year bachelor's and master's in accounting programs, and online accounting students can even earn both their bachelor's and master's degrees in around four years. Some staff accountants hold a master of business administration with a bachelor's in accounting.
Students who undertake an internship during college may have an easier time entering the workforce directly after graduation.
To stand out to potential employers, candidates can complete an accounting internship. Internships provide practical experience and teach learners about accounting software, financial reporting, and auditing. Students who undertake an internship during college may have an easier time entering the workforce directly after graduation.
Staff accountants may pursue the certified public accountant (CPA) credential. Although staff accountant positions do not usually require this certification, it demonstrates expertise and a commitment to the field, often leading to better job opportunities. Additionally, employers typically expect staff accountants to begin studying for the CPA exam during their employment.
Staff accountants generally need 4-5 years of education, in addition to 6-12 months of internship experience. After securing a job, staff accountants typically become CPAs. Studying for and taking the four-part CPA exam generally takes about a year. Candidates must complete all four parts of the exam in an 18-month period.
Staff accounts typically become CPAs 5-8 years after beginning their education.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Staff Accountant?
Aspiring staff accountants should earn a degree from an accredited college. Although no degree guarantees any specific position, a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for staff accountant roles.
Most staff accountants hold a bachelor's degree in accounting. However, candidates can also pursue degrees in areas such as business administration and finance. Some schools also offer accounting specializations, which prepare students to work in specific industries. For example, an environmental accounting degree can lead to positions in nonprofit organizations.
To qualify for the best staff accounting positions, individuals can pursue a master's in accounting or business administration. Although staff accountant positions do not typically require a master's, a graduate degree can increase a professional's marketability.
Staff Accountant Career Development and Credentials
Employers sometimes require accountants -- including staff accountants -- to obtain certain professional credentials. This is especially true if workers aspire to hold senior accountant or controller roles. The section below covers common certifications, continuing education, and licensing requirements for staff accountants.
Certifications and Continuing Education
While staff accountant positions do not typically require CPA certification, most employers expect staff accountants to study for and take the CPA exam while employed. CPA certification is crucial for accountants, and few staff accountants fail to eventually pursue this credential.
Becoming a CPA before applying for staff accountant jobs can make you more attractive to potential employers. However, CPA candidates must pass a rigorous exam that can take up to 18 months to complete. For this reason, employers do not necessarily expect entry-level staff accountants to hold this certification.
To maintain status as a CPA, professionals must complete either 80 hours of continuing education every two years or 120 hours of continuing education every three years.
Staff accountants can also pursue the certified internal auditor and chartered financial analyst credentials.
Credentials and Licensing
Because general accountants typically have much higher earning potentials than staff accountants, professionals rarely remain in staff accountant positions for the duration of their career. While CPA certification is the most important credential for staff accountants, those who plan to work in another state or industry can consider additional credentials and licenses.
For example, staff accountants who secure positions with global companies may need to obtain the certified management accountant or chartered global management accountant credentials.
Learn More about Staff Accounting and Take the Next Step Today
American Association of Finance and Auditing
Since it was established in 1978, AAFA has connected all types of accountants and financial professionals with career opportunities. AAFA operates across the entirety of North America.
American Institute of CPAs
The AICPA supports current and aspiring CPAs. The organization offers credentials and certifications, along with continuing education opportunities.
The Institute of Internal Auditors
Based in Lake Mary, Florida, the IIA is an international organization that advocates for professional auditors. The IIA provides certifications for staff accountants who focus on auditing.
National Association of Professional Accountants
NAPA provides continuing education opportunities and resources to help individuals prepare for certification and licensure exams. The organization delivers resources for staff accountants at various career stages, including students.