What does a controller do? A controller oversees an organization’s daily accounting operations, including the accounting, payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable departments. The controller also helps guide a company’s strategic financial decisions, and is therefore integral to the financial health of the firm. If you’re aiming for this role, you’ll want to research controller salaries, skills and responsibilities so you’ll be well-prepared to compete for this senior management position.

First, to better understand what controllers do and the expectations they must typically meet, take time to review some current controller job openings. You’ll likely find that the responsibilities for controller roles often include the following:

  • Preparing financial forecasting reports and financial statements (internal and external)
  • Maintaining accounting records, including general ledger, payroll and taxes
  • Reconciling accounts
  • Coordinating audits
  • Managing budgets
  • Recommending financial performance benchmarks
  • Communicating regularly with (and often reporting to) the CFO
  • Overseeing accounts payable and receivable departments
  • Ensuring income tax compliance

Staff management duties are often part of the controller’s job, too. And, in some companies, a controller may be the only accountant in the organization.

Qualifications for controllers

Candidates for controller jobs should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business, but preferably an MBA. They should usually have at least seven years of experience in the accounting field, and some public accounting experience is often required.

Many controllers have several professional certifications, such as the CPA, chartered global management accountant (CGMA), chartered financial analyst (CFA) or certified management accountant (CMA).

Other qualifications that employers look for in a controller include:

  • Working knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
  • For public companies: Knowledge of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
  • A strong work ethic
  • Advanced knowledge of accounting software and financial analysis
  • Attention to detail
  • The ability to multitask
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Managerial abilities
  • Interpersonal skills, including collaboration and communication
  • Integrity

The specifics of what a controller does can vary across different companies, but fundamentally, controllers should possess a solid understanding of an organization’s accounting operations and job functions. Controllers are considered the advanced technicians of the accounting world, so they should have the skills to evaluate the effectiveness of accounting software, systems and processes, as well.

Trends in controller salaries

The Robert Half Salary Guide lists the role of controller as one of the hottest jobs in finance and accounting. What might you expect to earn as a controller, provided that you have the skills and experience required for the specific job and employer you’re targeting?

You can find the salary midpoint (or median national salary) for a controller in financial services and in corporate accounting in the latest Salary Guide. (You can also find out what controller salaries are typical in your area.)

Keep in mind that many employers will also offer bonuses and other incentives to accounting and finance executives like controllers. So, depending on the organization you apply to, and trends in your local job market, you may earn compensation that is higher than the median national salary for the controller position.