How to Hire Competent, Trained Accounting Personnel

Bookkeepers and accountants, like all other employees in a business, should have the skills and knowledge needed to perform their functions. You shouldn’t try to save a few bucks by hiring the lowest-paid people you can find. What good is meticulously collecting source documents if the information on those documents isn’t entered into your system correctly?

Here are some qualifications to look for when choosing the right people to enter and control the flow of your business’s data and for making sure that those people remain the right people:

  • College degree: Many accountants in business organizations have a college degree with a major in accounting. However, as you move down the accounting department, you find that more and more employees do not have a college degree and perhaps don’t have any courses in accounting — they learned bookkeeping methods and skills through on-the-job training.

    Although these employees may have good skills and instincts, they may tend to do things by the book; they often lack the broader perspective necessary for improvising and being innovative. So you want to at least look twice at a potential employee who has no college-based accounting background.

  • CPA or CMA: When hiring higher-level accountants in a business organization, you want to determine whether they should be certified public accountants (CPAs). Most larger businesses insist on this credential, along with a specific number of years’ experience in public accounting.

    The other main professional accounting credential is the CMA, or certified management accountant, sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). Unlike the CPA license, the CMA designation of professional achievement is not regulated by the state. The CMA is evidence that the person has passed tough exams and has a good understanding of business accounting and income tax.

  • In my opinion, a business is prudent to require the CPA or CMA credential for its chief accountant (who usually holds the title of controller), or a business should regularly consult with a CPA in public practice for advice on its accounting system and on accounting problems that come up.

  • Continuing education: Bookkeepers and accountants need continuing education to keep up with changes in the income tax law and financial reporting requirements, as well as changes in how the business operates. Ideally, bookkeepers and accountants should be able to spot needed improvements and implement these changes — to make accounting reports to managers more useful, for example.

    Fortunately, many short-term courses, home-study programs, and the like are available at very reasonable costs for keeping up on the latest accounting developments. Many continuing education courses are available on the Internet, but be sure to check out the standards of an Internet course. States require that CPAs in public practice take 30 to 40 hours per year of continuing education in approved courses to keep their licenses.

  • Integrity: What’s possibly the most important quality to look for is also the hardest to judge. Bookkeepers and accountants need to be honest people because of the control they have over your business’s financial records. Conduct a careful background check when hiring new accounting personnel.

    After you hire them, periodically (and discreetly) check whether their lifestyles match their salaries. Small-business owners and managers have closer day-in and day-out contact with their accountants and bookkeepers, which can be a real advantage — they get to know their accountants and bookkeepers on a personal level. Even so, you can find many cases where a trusted bookkeeper has embezzled many thousands of dollars over the years.

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