Ask the Expert: What Should I Know When Looking For a Job as a Controller?


If you’re an experienced accountant with strong interpersonal skills, you might consider moving up the corporate ladder and looking for a job as controller of your organization. If you think you’ve got what it takes, you could be on the cusp of an excellent career move. According to the Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide, the controller is one of the top in-demand accounting and finance positions. Even better, controller salaries are expected to increase up to 4.3 percent this year.

But is the role of controller right for you — and are you ready? To provide you with insight on what you’ll need to consider, we interviewed Carrie Lewis, Vice President and Recruiting Manager at Robert Half, based in New Orleans.

What’s unique about this position?

According to Lewis, controllers play a significant role as an organizational point of contact. Not only do they communicate with internal departments, such as finance, payroll, IT and human resources, they also routinely interact with external counterparts like banking representatives and auditors. Because they don so many caps throughout the day, they need to possess first-rate interpersonal skills along with a strong background in accounting and analysis. Additionally, while a controller doesn’t necessarily need an IT background, he or she needs to be able to talk tech.

What’s the career path for a controller?

Typically, a controller will have — at bare minimum — seven years of experience. Lewis notes most professionals start out as staff accountants. From there, they work their way up to senior accountants and on to accounting management and staff supervisory roles.

What education, experience and skills does a controller need?

Regarding education, Lewis notes ideal candidates usually come from an accounting background and that four-year accounting degrees are strongly preferred, even over finance or business degrees. In addition, while certifications aren’t necessary, a CPA can set you ahead of the pack — even if that pack includes MBAs.

Clearly, communication is a must in this role, as are leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Additionally, compliance experience is huge, which should come as little surprise in today’s intense regulatory climate.

Controllers should also have outstanding analytical abilities. Lewis states that companies “don’t just want reporting. They want a controller who can make those numbers tell a story. They need to be able to dig in and figure out where these variances are coming from and make recommendations on how to change them.”

This insight is also reflected in the survey responses from the Salary Guide. Based on the replies of CFOs polled, trends indicate that as big data impacts organizations of every size, companies are shifting from report-based functions to those that center around analysis.

If you think you measure up to these skills and requirements but there are no openings right now at your company, take a minute to check out the opportunities in your area to become a controller. You can also use the Salary Calculator to see what competitive salaries look like in your region.

Have you recently begun your new position, or are you looking for a job as a controller? What have you found to be unique about the role? Share your job search insights in the comments section.