The first important thing that anyone should consider when picking a career path, or change careers, later on, is whether or not there are prerequisite education or certification requirements. For bookkeeping, there are not, at least in the United States. Because there aren’t any formal educational requirements needed to become a bookkeeper, the profession has a relatively low formal barrier to entry. This is particularly true for small businesses which will naturally have less complex finances than larger companies.
The bottom line is that it is definitely possible to get hired as a bookkeeper for a small business solely because you demonstrate that you’re smart, mathematically oriented, analytical, hard working, and possess at a minimum a basic understanding of bookkeeping and accounting concepts coupled with a desire to continually learn. If you’re motivated to pursue a promising new career, bookkeeping is a great choice because in addition to it’s low formal barrier to entry, every company in the world needs someone to manage its books. High demand with an easy entry is a great combination for new potential career paths.
With that said, realize that absolutely there is still a required set of skills that you must have to be considered to get hired as a bookkeeper. You will have to prove to potential employers that you have these skills to get hired, and the good news is that as long as you are motivated and work hard, you can teach yourself these skills and have a realistic shot at a great new career path.
So, what are these skills that companies look for in bookkeeper? What do you have to bring to the table to be considered to fill this ubiquitous need?
Firstly, let’s go over the more general qualities a small business looks for in a bookkeeper:
1. You must be detail oriented
The entire purpose of having a bookkeeper is to keep track of all financial transactions with impeccable accuracy. Someone who is keen on recognizing things such as missing receipts, or entries which don’t match a bank statement, for example, will do well in this kind of position. Alternatively, someone who is sloppy, inaccurate, and makes periodic mathematical mistakes won’t last very long anywhere.
2. You must have decent math skills.
Accounting is based on math. A good set of books adds up to exactly what happened in reality. A math-oriented analysis is essential to be successful as a bookkeeper. While it’s true that most bookkeeping software does all of the tedious arithmetic for you, it’s never foolproof. Good bookkeepers can see even very small mathematical discrepancies and figure out where the mistake that caused it exists. Accounting mistakes are inevitable, and being able to perpetually find them and correct them is an important part of the bookkeeping job.
3. You must have strong computer skills.
Almost every accounting system is run with computers and specialized software nowadays. Being comfortable and proficient on a computer is a major component of being a successful bookkeeper. Of course, this is generally true for just about any career nowadays, so it doesn’t need much further discussion here.
4. You must have strong analytical skills.
The books of a company create the big financial picture. Many important business decisions must be made based on its books and financial reports. A good bookkeeper will become familiar with the financial patterns of the small business he or she works for and will notice when things seem “off” and investigate them. Maybe sales seem unusually low, or expenses seem unusually high in a given month. You must proactively notice these things and take action to correct any mistakes that are being made running the business.
5. You must have the ability and desire to learn quickly.
No matter how much prior training you have, every bookkeeping job will make you hit the ground running. You’ll have to learn and get used to the particular systems a company has in place to suit its needs. No two places will be the same and are rarely similar. Moreover, if you want to continue to become more useful and increasingly qualified to manage more complex books, there’s a vast field of knowledge to be learned in accounting that’s beyond basic bookkeeping.
Secondly, let’s go over the more specific hard skill requirements that a bookkeeper for a small business must have:
1. A College Degree.
Yes, we just said there are no formal educational requirements to be a bookkeeper, but the truth is that, unless a candidate has an impressive resume with prior experience, he or she will be seldom considered without some kind of collegiate level degree. an AA or bachelor’s degree, particularly in accounting or something closely related such as economics, mathematics, or business, will greatly increase you chances of finding employment. Furthermore, if you have greater aspirations of eventually becoming an accountant, college credit in accounting classes is a formal requirement.
2. Basic Working knowledge of accounting and bookkeeping principles.
Whether you learn it in school or teach it to yourself, you need to understand how basic bookkeeping and accounting actually works. If you don’t have formal education in the field to show on your resume, you’ll need to be able to prove to potential employers that you have this knowledge. Some basic examples of this are the chart of accounts, double entry bookkeeping, debits and credits, invoices, payables, and receivables.
3. Proficiency with bookkeeping software.
Nearly every small business uses specialized computer software designed to maintain the books of a company. If you’re going to do the job, then you’ll have to know how to use it. Quickbooks, for example, is widely used by small businesses and many bookkeeping jobs will require that you be very proficient with it.
4. Proficiency with Excel/Spreadsheets.
Excel is a widely used program that manages and manipulates data in spreadsheets. Just about any bookkeeping or accounting job will require that you be proficient with it. In fact, most any kind of technical job will require experience with Excel and spreadsheets.