Whether working in a Big Four accounting firm or a non-profit organization, entry-level professionals can jump start their accounting career by becoming accounting associates. In most cases, this role performs accounts receivable and payable functions, as well as tax preparation, auditing, advisory and financial transaction activities.
Accounting associates are staff accountants who support senior level accountants and auditors with administrative, bookkeeping, clerical, accounts payable and accounts receivable duties. They are responsible for receiving, processing and recording customer invoices using accounting software and systems. Associates cut checks, code payments, type memos, prepare accounting reports and maintain accounts payable and receivable ledgers. These professionals also process sales contracts, employee expense reports, salary information and company time sheets. Accounting associates frequently communicate with vendors, customers and different departments in their organization to resolve outstanding payments and clarify issues related to accounting policies and procedures.
Accounting associates should have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a similar major. However, some employers may accept candidates with a high school diploma or associate’s degree if they possess two or more years of accounting work experience. Students studying accounting take courses in mathematics, financial accounting, management accounting, statistics, macroeconomics, business law and communications. Master’s degrees and MBAs in accounting are also available for students who wish to build their educational credentials. Accountants that file financial reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are required to earn Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. However accountants can also acquire Certified Management Accountant, Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Information Systems Auditor designations (See Resources).
Regardless of rank or level, accountants deal with numbers and complex figures on a daily basis. As a result, these professionals must be strong in math, statistics and data-entry. Employers require that associates possess a basic knowledge of computer applications such as Microsoft Excel and Access, as well as general accounting principles and standards. Proficiency in written, oral and interpersonal communication is also beneficial, as this position works in teams and independently. Other skills helpful in accounting associate positions include project management, bookkeeping, accounts payable and accounts receivable work experience.
Salaries for accounting associates fluctuate based on factors such as geographic area, sector, education level and years of experience. PayScale reports that accounting associates in the United States earn an average base salary between $38,227 and $51,106. The report also states that average bonuses for accounting associates range from $989 to $3,232. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) “Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition,” accountants and auditors made a median salary of $59,430 as of May 2008.
Although the BLS forecasts that accountants with CPA certification and advanced degrees will have the best job prospects, overall job growth for the accounting field is expected to rise 22 percent through 2018. Increased government regulation around accounting practices, as well as companies’ migration towards adopting International Financial Reporting Standards will drive job growth for accounting and auditing professionals. International commerce, accounting standards, and mergers and acquisitions will also drive demand for candidates with accounting and auditing expertise.