Looking to Hire a Staff Accountant? Start With the Job Description

By Robert Half July 17, 2017 at 7:00am

When you're down a staff accountant, everyone has to work harder. From handling accounts payable and accounts receivable to taking care of journal entries and general month-end accounting duties, the extra financial tasks begin to add up in a hurry. That means management will need to hire as soon as possible, and the most efficient search all rests on a solid staff accountant job description.

When an accurate job description is used as the basis of the job posting, it will make the hiring process and subsequent onboarding go much more smoothly. The job description offers a snapshot of an open position — the general duties involved, the experience and educational requirements needed and the personal attributes necessary for success. It also:

  • Gives candidates a clear idea of what's expected of them if hired
  • Helps the hiring managers review resumes and evaluate candidates
  • Offers a performance benchmark after candidates are hired
  • Helps prevent hiring mistakes

When hiring a staff accountant, the job description becomes especially important because the role can vary considerably from one company to another, depending on its size, corporate culture and industry. The secret to creating a solid job description is to make sure it accurately describes the position and your company. A generic job description won't do.

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Here’s how to prepare a solid staff accountant job description.

1. Cover your bases

A great job description will immediately answer most of the questions potential hires have about the position and prepare them to make an informed, targeted application. Use this checklist to make sure you've included all of the important components of a good job listing:

  • Job title — This should be in language potential employees are searching for, such as "Staff Accountant," rather than "Level 4 Senior Staff Accountant / Party Planning Committee Director."
  • Job summary — Before listing the key responsibilities, give a very brief summary of what you're looking for that really grabs the reader.
  • Department and supervisor — Such as "Supports the sales department, reporting to the CFO."
  • Required skills and qualifications — Share what accounting experience you expect a successful candidate to have, including any degrees, certifications and technical skills. 
  • Additional desired skills — List other desired traits you'd love to see, such as good soft skills or advanced software skills.
  • Salary range and benefits — Even if you don't make pay information public, it's important to set a salary range before you start recruiting so you're prepared for salary negotiations.
  • Location — An important detail that is often overlooked is to be sure to share where the employer is located. Job applicants want to know what kind of commute they’d have.
  • Company overview — Give a one-paragraph summary of your company, what you do and what makes you different. This is the chance to sell your firm as a place to build a career.
  • Recruiter contact information — Note who interested accountants should contact to apply and how best to reach that person. Specify if you require any information beyond a resume and cover letter.

2. Outline the job duties

In this section, you’ll specify what duties you expect employees to perform on a daily basis. Explanations of duties should be concise and worded with verbs at the front. This will decrease any confusion about what actually needs to be done, because it will clearly state employee responsibilities. Long, complicated sentences increase the risk of key information getting lost or being misconstrued. Here are two examples:

An entry-level staff accountant will be required to:

  • Prepare journal entries
  • Help with field work for financial and operational audits
  • Research and correct account discrepancies
  • Reconcile and balance general ledger accounts

More seasoned staff accountants will:

  • Analyze and reconcile internal general ledger accounts and bank statements
  • Maintain the general ledger chart of accounts
  • Help with the evaluation of internal controls
  • Review general ledger accounts
  • Prepare and adjust journal entries
  • Post monthly, quarterly and yearly accruals

3. Keep it focused

The best job descriptions are easy to understand and reflect a sense of priorities. Aim to capture the primary and essential duties, rather than giving a laundry list of occasional duties. Present duties in a way that enables candidates to visualize the role and determine whether they can see themselves truly fitting into the position. 

To cover the waterfront, some are tempted to include the phrase, “Perform other duties as required.” But that catchall only causes confusion, so it’s best to avoid it.

4. Don't recycle

In the rush to staff key financial positions, managers sometimes fall back on existing job descriptions or previous job ads. But consolidation of duties and technology advancements may have caused some accounting duties and requirements to change. Keep in mind, too, that you want the job description to be forward-looking. You're not just filling a vacant position but are trying to strategically satisfy your company's changing needs. Be sure to seek input from key employees who will work alongside the new hire. They can help you fine-tune the job description as far as including primary requirements and responsibilities.

5. Be realistic

A staff accountant job description shouldn't read like one for a C-level finance executive. Hiring mistakes are often the result of job descriptions that overstate or understate what a position entails, or that state expectations that are out of line with the typical skill set of candidates for a particular role. For instance, it might be nice, but not essential, to hire someone who has earned the CPA credential. The truth is, you may have a difficult time attracting someone with a CPA for a staff accountant job, but it's totally in line to require a bachelor's degree. You could, however, say something like, "Ideal candidate will be motivated to acquire further accounting education."

Also, make sure you present a candid picture of the position, whether it sounds positive or negative — for example, "good potential for advancement" or "periodic deadlines require long hours."

What's the purpose of a staff accountant job description? For employers, it's where you first formally establish your hiring criteria. It's a valuable recruitment tool, and it puts forth exactly what skills and credentials are needed, as well as the duties of the job of staff accountant.

Later, of course, the job description has a different sort of value. Have you ever heard an employee say, "That's not in my job description"? While this may sound like someone not willing to go the extra mile, it's important to note that an accurate job description can help your team members more clearly understand the specifics of what they’re expected to do.

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