"Bookkeeper" is a fairly broad job description. The duties and responsibilities of a bookkeeper can vary significantly from one company to the next, depending on factors such as the size of the business and the way duties are distributed among employees. Regardless of the company, most bookkeepers handle the fundamental aspects of a firm's financial record-keeping.
As the name implies, a bookkeeper maintains a company's books, meaning its financial records. A bookkeeper's job description is likely to include recording financial transactions, such as checks written and received; managing accounts payable and receivable; reconciling bank statements; updating the trial balance, profit-and-loss statement, and balance sheet; managing payroll; invoicing clients; making federal and state tax deposits; and completing annual tax forms, such as W-2s and 1099s.
The smaller the company, the greater the bookkeeper's responsibilities may be, because there are fewer employees to manage the different components of a company's finances. At a large company, different people might be in charge of different categories of the firm's finances, such as accounts payable, accounts receivable or payroll. At a small company, a single bookkeeper might handle all of the financial functions, although certain complex tasks, such as preparing annual tax returns, may be handled by a certified public accountant.
Applicants who are familiar with at least one bookkeeping program, have knowledge of double-entry bookkeeping, and possess strong numerical abilities are likely to be the most desirable candidates for a bookkeeping job. Being a bookkeeper does not necessarily require any special training, and it does not require a college degree, though a bookkeeper with a college degree may earn more. For someone who is good at math and reasoning, and who is concerned with accuracy, the tasks involved are simple enough to learn on the job.
Attention to Detail
Some bookkeeping jobs can be tedious. If the position has been unfilled for some time or the previous employee neglected his duties, the new bookkeeper may spend a great deal of time updating the books and possibly untangling intricate webs of someone else's past mistakes. Bookkeeping can also involve large amounts of data entry on an ongoing basis, depending on the volume of a company's financial transactions.
Career Entry and Salary
Someone who is interested in a career in accounting may want to get a job as a bookkeeper first to test the waters. Accounting jobs often require a special degree, such as a bachelor's degree in accounting, and in some cases a CPA designation -- both of which involve a significant investment of time and money. Bookkeeping is akin to an entry-level accounting position, and often has few barriers to entry. As of 2012, the median salary for bookkeepers was $35,170 per year, or $16.91 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you'd like to be a bookkeeper, but don't feel your experience matches the job description, try applying for an entry-level position as a bookkeeping clerk or accounting clerk. You may be able to get a job like this by using an employment agency if your overall skills are strong, even if you don't have prior relevant experience.
2016 Salary Information for Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks earned a median annual salary of $38,390 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,640, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $48,440, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,730,500 people were employed in the U.S. as bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks.