Senior accountants take ownership of reporting costs, productivity, margins and expenditures for companies and organizations. Unlike junior accountants, they generally do not have to perform administrative tasks such as data gathering, balance sheet population or updating journal entries.
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Utilizing hands-on accounting experience and an in-depth understanding of accounting principles and company practices, senior accountants perform complex accounting activities and financial analyses. Their day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Analyzing complex financial reports and records
- Making recommendations based on analysis and status of reserves, assets and expenditures
- Reviewing journal entries of junior accountants to ensure accuracy
- Training and mentoring junior staff
- Performing variance analyses and preparing account reconciliations
- Assisting with financial and tax audits
- Documenting and monitoring internal controls in support of auditing team
- Coordinating more complex accounting projects and initiatives with other members of the accounting and finance team or with other departments
In some instances, senior accountants liaise between junior accountants and accounting managers and directors, serving to enforce and monitor compliance with company-wide accounting policies and procedures.
Related jobs: Accountant, CPA, tax accountant, accounting manager, public accountant, senior staff accountant
In order to advance from a junior accountant to a senior accountant, professionals must demonstrate expert knowledge of accounting principles and familiarity with GAAP, as well as an ability to grasp company financial policies and protocols. To excel in the position of senior accountant, and to put yourself in a position to advance, you need to possess these attributes as well:
- Highly detail-oriented and organized
- Ability to meet a constant stream of deadlines
- Proven ability to work both independently and collaboratively with different levels of employees
- Superior analytical and problem-solving skills
- Familiarity with accounting software and programs
Senior accountants enjoy competitive salaries across the country and across all industries – and their salaries are on the rise.
According to figures in our 2014 Salary Guide, which are based off real wages and hiring metrics from across the country, senior accountants will make an average salary of $75,220 in 2014. This is a significant increase (more than 9 percent) from 2013, when senior accountants made an average annual salary of $67,484. Your actual salary will vary depending upon your location, job market competition in your area, company size and other factors. On the high-end of the spectrum, some senior accountants will make as much as $92,862, while others will make about $59,026.
The increase in salaries is being driven by a number of factors, including a nationwide focus on compliance and a shortage of qualified accountants in the job market. In addition, renewed confidence in the overall economy is prompting accounting experts to explore their career options – options that include taking better-paying jobs and asking for raises.
Senior accountants typically have more than three years of general accounting experience, either in a public accounting firm or in a private corporate environment.
At a minimum, senior accountants must hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, math, business administration, or a related field. However, a master’s degree in accountancy is required in many cases.
While a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license is not always mandatory, having one could help give you an edge in your job search.
When interviewing for a senior accounting position, expect to be gauged on your knowledge, past performance, analytical skills, technology proficiency and communication abilities. Here are some questions you may hear:
- Could you describe your experience in preparing management accounts?
- Have you ever managed a complex project within a tight deadline? If so, tell me how it went, what you did to ensure its success and what you learned from the experience?
- How do you stay abreast of the latest changes and trends in accounting?
- How have you managed or mentored junior staff?
- How would you handle a situation in which you find a major error committed by a junior accountant? How would you handle the situation differently if the error was committed by a manager or supervisor?
- How would you handle recommendations that you did not agree with?
- Can you describe your familiarity with Microsoft Excel?
- What software and tools are you familiar with?
To be a successful senior accountant, you must keep your skills sharp and current at all times. That’s why joining a professional association – and taking advantage of their professional development, networking and educational opportunities – could prove beneficial to your career.
Here are some esteemed and well-respected groups and associations dedicated to accountants:
- The National Society of Accountants (NSA)
- The Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals (IMA)
- The American Accounting Association (AAA)
- The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)
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