How to Excel at Your First Accounting Job

Accounting curriculum teaches the necessary practices and methods of the accounting profession. Advanced courses also cover more advanced issues such as mergers and acquisitions and business law. But what will your first job be like? What are the deciding factors for promotion?

Steve Bragg, CPA and Accounting Author, describes the expectations for staff accountants and the factors that determine who is promoted and who stays put. According to Bragg, it is not a simple question. Personalities, corporate culture, and a myriad of other aspects play into a person’s career track. Below, Bragg describes the commonalities among staff accountants that go on to higher positions.

Solving Problems

A staff accountant’s job is clerical. A manager hires a staff accountant if his job has become too cumbersome or simply to delegate clerical work. Perhaps a staff accountant his hired to solve a particular problem, such as improving the aging report. An excellent staff accountant makes the supervisor’s problem go away by calling overdue accounts to improve the aging report and ensuring that all the work is done at the end of the day. In other words, the manager always feels comfortable directing questions to the staff accountant without having to babysit.

Minimal Training

An excellent receives one training session, takes careful notes, and does not come back to have the training repeated. While managers may give voice to “ask me anything,” it is usually preferable that a staff accountant figure out problems on their own. While a manager would like to be kept in the loop regarding issues that affect the department, it is best for employees to solve problems by asking a coworker.

Fixing and Preventing Errors

A competent staff accountant does not create errors. Not only that, a good staff accountant takes the time to correct and prevents errors. When such errors are discovered, an excellent employee learns how it happened and takes steps to prevent future similar errors. This means the staff accountant may be correcting and preventing errors caused by others without assigning blame. This is the best way to learn the system comprehensively, with all its flaws. Someone known as a “fixer” is someone ready for promotion.

Continuous Improvements

Moving on to management positions from a clerical position requires that you first master the procedures and systems in your department. At this point, an excellent staff accountant can begin to recommend improvements to the system. Many new employees make the mistake beginning this step too early before they have entirely everything they need to know. A good indication of arriving at this step is when coworkers and other supervisors come to you with questions. Any recommendation should be comprehensive and thoroughly studied, complete with contingency plans. The first recommendation will be the most important, as it will be the first thing upper management sees of your abilities.

An excellent staff person ready for promotion is usually incredibly obvious. While there are several other factors that may play into your promotion track, Bragg recommends that the recommendations above are common in all types of companies.


About Sara Huter

Sara Huter has over 15 years experience in the banking and energy industries, and over 10 years as an adjunct professor. Her work has been published for, the International Directory of Company Histories, the Encyclopedia of Business Insights: Global,, and Find out more about Sara at her Google+ Profile.