Amber Watts has been finding bookkeepers for Houston companies for more than a decade. What’s her takeaway? Smaller companies are the ones that need bookkeepers with the highest skill level.
“There are limited resources at small companies,” says Watts, a Robert Half metro market manager. “And, in many cases, small business owners aren’t familiar with accounting. They need that support from a good bookkeeper.”
But, alas, good bookkeepers are hard to find in Houston, the largest metropolitan area in Texas.
At the city’s heart is the energy industry, with headquarters for notable names like Phillips 66, ConocoPhillips, Halliburton and Marathon Oil. Add NASA, numerous universities, manufacturers, financial centers and healthcare providers to the mix and you have a city where employers compete heavily for skilled bookkeepers and other accounting and finance professionals.
Can’t keep a strong city down
Starting wages in Houston run about 7 percent above the national average. The city’s unemployment sits even with the national figure (both at 4.1 percent as of this writing), which is down from a year ago and signals a thriving economy.
Even Hurricane Harvey in August, the costliest natural disaster in the U.S. to date, dampened local economic activity for only a month. By October, the metro area had added 27,000-plus new jobs — more than making up for September’s losses.
Positive economic news is certainly good for business, but it presents hiring managers with additional challenges. As the candidate pool shrinks, this can lead to a dearth of skilled people, especially those with the most in-demand experience.
Bookkeeper salary levels
The projected bookkeeper salary in Houston is $41,500 at the midpoint, according to the 2019 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals. If you’re hiring for entry-level positions or roles in small organizations, wages could be 25 percent less. But be prepared to compete with other employers for new hires with in-demand skills like data analysis — or those applying for full-charge bookkeeping positions with large corporations. In those cases, starting salaries can be considerably higher.
Candidates with professional certifications, such as those from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) or the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB), may also expect higher salaries.
What to look for in a bookkeeper
A bookkeeper’s duties include managing accounts payable and receivable, recording financial transactions, entering data, reconciling accounts, and assisting with financial reporting and tax preparation. Top candidates tend to have the following skills and experience:
- At least three years of experience in general accounting, accounts payable or accounts receivable
- Experience with QuickBooks
- Expertise with Microsoft Office, especially Excel
- Familiarity with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems like SAP and Oracle
- Strong analytical and research skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to handle multiple projects
- An associate’s or bachelor’s degree is preferred, though a high school diploma is the usual basic requirement
Benefits: a look beyond salary
Candidates in the Houston market may field multiple job offers, so it’s crucial that employers offer an attractive compensation package that includes more than just a competitive salary. Benefits and perks — such as flexible scheduling to promote work-life balance — are especially important for startups and small businesses, which must compete with multinational corporations for talent.
For employers, retention continues to be a top priority. Talented bookkeepers and accounting assistants may not be content to stay in these roles for the long term. Discussing their career path, along with getting them the professional development they need to keep their career moving upward, is a great way to keep top performers motivated and loyal.
Hot industries for operational accounting
The demand for accounting and finance professionals is especially strong in the healthcare, real estate, nonprofit, construction and technology sectors. An increased desire for consumer transparency in costs and expenses has led to the need for additional operations staff in the healthcare field, creating yet more competition for experienced candidates.
Hiring in the energy industry had slowed in recent years, but as the price of crude oil inches up, demand is growing again in the Houston market — especially for operational accounting roles.
The need to act fast
The Houston hiring market is active, and even if you're looking to bring in temporary professionals or considering a temp-to-hire strategy, employers need to act quickly to land skilled talent, Watts warns.
“If an employer waits too long on a strong candidate,” she says, “someone else will interview them and make them an offer.”