Position descriptions: Which career path is right for you?

Aug 11, 2011

Within public accounting, you can work for any‐size firm, ranging from a large, international CPA firm to a small local accounting practice. Within the firm, you can work in such areas as audit, tax, and management consulting.

The same holds true in business and industry, where you can choose careers in companies of all sizes, working in diverse areas such as financial accounting and reporting, management accounting, financial analysis, and treasury/cash management. Within government, you can create a path to success at either the federal, state, or local level. Non‐profit organizations and education also offer many diverse opportunities

While the path to success varies for every individual, there are traditional routes that most people take to "get to the top."

The following are descriptions of typical paths of progression within a large‐ and medium‐size public accounting firm and company (accounting and finance positions). Keep in mind that these paths are simply examples and should not be interpreted as the sole way of reaching the top. Professionals who possess knowledge, experience, and expertise above and beyond typical accounting and financial technical skills are in the best position to excel in their careers.

Public Accounting:

Staff Auditor (1‐3 years) performs the detail work of a financial audit under the supervision of a Senior. Staff Auditors will often start to direct small audits at the two‐year level.

Tax Staff (1‐3 years) prepares tax returns, researches tax questions, and counsels clients on tax problems under the supervision of a Tax Senior and/or Tax Manager. Management Services/Consulting Staff (1‐3 years) provides a variety of consulting and management advisory services and reviews the integrity of client systems under the supervision of a Senior or Manager.

Senior Auditor (3‐6 years) works under the general direction of an Audit Manager. Responsibilities include the direction of audit field work, assignment of detail work to Staff, and review of their working papers. Also prepares financial statements, develops corporate tax returns, and suggests improvements to internal controls.

Tax Senior (3‐6 years) works under the general direction of a Tax Manager and/or Tax Partner. Prepares or reviews tax returns for individuals and organizations, researches tax questions, offers suggestions for tax planning, and studies law for potential tax savings.

Management Services/Consulting Senior (3‐6 years) works under the general direction of a Manager and/or Partner. Performs and/or supervises detailed consulting assignments involving various functional areas (computing, personnel, marketing) within client organizations.

Audit Manager (6+ years) supervises Seniors and Staff. Responsible for audit program approval, personnel scheduling, audit working papers review, financial statement disclosure footnote approval, day‐to‐day client relationships, determination of billings for engagements, and training and evaluation of Staff and Seniors. Achievement of this level is critical to long‐term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.

Tax Manager (6+ years) directs and reviews Staff and Senior Tax Staff, approves corporate tax returns prepared by Audit Staff, and is available to Audit Staff for consultation. Also performs tax planning and preparation for individuals, estates, trusts, and small businesses and researches unusual tax matters. Achievement of this level is critical to long‐term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.

Management Services/Consulting Manager (6+ years) maintains direct contact with corporate personnel. Responsible for internal control procedures, operational control procedures, operational budgets, business financing, analyses of projects or departments, and a variety of special purpose studies. Achievement of this level is critical to long‐term success within a CPA firm, since it is awarded only to those with Partner potential.

Partner level is coveted since only about 2% of all persons entering CPA firms will reach this plateau. The financial rewards are significant. The Partner normally purchases equity in the firm and therefore shares in all profits. Typically, a professional must be a CPA to become a Partner. In larger firms, an equivalent position of Principal is available to deserving specialists who are non‐CPAs. An Audit, Tax, or Consulting Partner is typically responsible for overall client‐related activities.

Senior Partner performs all the duties of a Partner. The achievement of Senior Partner is obtained as a result of longevity with a firm and expert handling of instrumental accounts. The title of Senior Partner may also be attained through participation as a member of the Executive Committee, which is responsible for developing the firm's policies, planning activities, or providing day‐to‐day management and administration of one or more branch offices or regions.

Corporate Accounting:

Staff‐Financial Accounting & Reporting (1‐3 years) works under the direction of a Senior Accountant performing detailed work assignments in one or several of the following areas: receivables, payables, payroll, property, general ledger, and financial statements.

Staff‐Management Accounting (1‐3 years) works under the direction of a Senior or Manager in collecting detailed cost data. May be responsible for preliminary cost analyses and report preparation.

Staff‐Tax Accounting (1‐3 years) works under the direction of a Senior or Manager in preparing returns or various schedules for review.

Staff‐Internal Audit (1‐3 years) works under the direction of a Senior or Manager in conducting compliance audits and tests internal controls and information systems.

Senior‐Financial Accounting & Reporting (3‐6 years) supervises the work performed in one or more of the general accounting areas such as receivables, payables, or financial reporting. May also be responsible for special reports and analyses involving financial data.

Senior‐Management Accounting (3‐6 years) is typically responsible for a segment of the overall management accounting system and is often assigned special or project cost studies. Senior‐Tax Accounting (3‐6 years) is responsible for one or more of the following areas: federal, state, and local income taxes; sales tax; property tax; or payroll tax.

Senior‐Internal Audit (3‐6 years) supervises the testing of internal control and accounting information systems. Frequently conducts statistical samples of document approval, performs special tests to uncover defalcations and performs operational audits for profit improvement recommendations.

Financial Accounting & Reporting Manager (6+ years) assists the Controller and is often charged with responsibility for one of the functional areas such as financial accounting or budgetary planning and control. Will coordinate and direct the work of personnel involved in detailed accounting entries, internal financial reporting, and financial statements.

Management Accounting Manager (6+ years) directs staff responsible for developing and modifying the management accounting system. Develops product costing techniques, institutes cost control measures, insures timely and accurate labor, material, and overhead reports, supervises the undertaking of special cost studies, and periodically reviews allocation of overhead costs.

Tax Manager (6+ years) reports to the Controller and directs the staff responsible for determining the organization's liability to various taxing authorities for income tax, licenses, sales tax, property tax, and payroll tax. Also analyzes the effect of tax accounting alternatives and studies laws and regulations to ensure correct application of new tax measures.

Internal Audit Manager (6+ years) directs the staff responsible for systematically sampling the adequacy and the reliability of the internal control systems. Makes recommendations for changes as needed, and ensures that company policies and procedures are followed and establishes the proper techniques to discover and prevent fraud. Also selects areas of concern for operational auditing.

Assistant Controller reports to the Controller and assists in the supervision of day‐to‐day collection and interpretation of accounting data. Oversees statutory and management reporting functions, though scope varies with firm size. Prepares detailed journal entries and account analyses. May assist in tax return and financial statement preparation.

Controller functions as the Chief Accounting Executive responsible for organizing, directing, and controlling the work of the accounting personnel in collecting, summarizing, and interpreting financial data for the use of management, creditors, investors, and taxing authorities. As a member of the top management team, helps develop forecasts for proposed projects of the organization, measures actual performance against operating plans and standards, and interprets the results of operations for all levels of management.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is typically designated Vice President―Finance. The CFO advises the President of the organization with respect to financial reporting, financial stability and liquidity, and financial growth. Directs and supervises the work of the Controller, Treasurer, and sometimes the Internal Auditing Manager. Other duties may include maintenance of relationships with stockholders, financial institutions, and the investment community. Frequently, the CFO is a member of the Board of Directors and/or the Executive Committee and as such, contributes to overall organization planning, policy development, and implementation.

Financial Management:

Staff‐Financial Planning/Analysis (1‐3 years) works at the direction of a Senior or Manager in performing various financial or budget analysis. Assignments are in one area or several, including profit planning, capital expenditures, investments, cash flow budgeting, and acquisitions.

Staff‐Cash Management (1‐3 years) performs daily cash management functions such as covering checks. Assists in preparing cash flow reports and forecasts. Works with bank staff on various issues.

Staff‐Credit Analysis (1‐3 years) works under the direction of a Senior or Manager in collection activity and credit approval practices.

Senior‐Financial Planning/Analysis (3‐6 years) supervises the staff in performing financial/economic analysis of new projects and analyses of merger and corporate growth policies.

Treasury Operations Analyst (3‐6 years) assists manager in analyzing the investment market and cash position of company. Prepares detailed cash flow reports and forecasts for company.

Senior‐Credit Analysis (3‐6 years) supervises in collection follow‐up, operations, management of credit approval practices and analyses of collection/audit activity.

Manager‐Financial Planning/Analysis (6+ years) directs the staff responsible for performing analyses in several functional areas including profit planning, capital expenditures, acquisitions, and budgeting.

Assistant Treasurer (6+ years) directs the staff in cash management activities including forecasting and investing. Primary contact for banking relations issues. Analyzes the investment portfolio and market to determine the most beneficial cash position for the company.

Manager‐Credit Analysis (6+ years) directs the staff in collection follow‐up, operations and management of credit approval practices. Provides detailed analyses of collection/audit activity to upper management. Sets standards to be followed in granting credit and collecting.

Treasurer directs the functions dealing largely with the receipt, disbursement, and protection of cash, the preservation of company assets, and the investment of surplus funds or pension and trust funds. Determines the optimal cash position for the organization and sets short‐term investment policies. Governs overall credit policy, negotiates loans, arranges insurance coverage, and maintains banking relationships.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is typically designated Vice President―Finance. The CFO advises the President of the organization with respect to financial reporting, financial stability and liquidity, and financial growth. Directs and supervises the work of the Controller, Treasurer, and sometimes the Internal Auditing Manager. Other duties may include maintenance of relationships with stockholders, financial institutions, and the investment community. Frequently, the CFO is a member of the Board of Directors and/or the Executive Committee and as such, contributes to overall organization planning, policy development, and implementation.

(SOURCE: Accounting & Finance Salary Survey and Career Planning Guide, SourceFinance)