How to Become a Controller - Career Guide & Jobs


A career as a controller could be a great fit for you if you’re an organized, team player who excels in accounting, and are not intimidated by the thought of providing complete financial support to an organization. 


This field can offer excellent pay, a chance to put your skills in accounting, organization, and personnel management to use, as well plenty of room for career advancement.


So, if you'd like to know more about the ins and outs of a career as a controller, then read on; we’ll fill you in on the details, including an overview of what you would be doing for a living, how much you could earn, and what you’ll need to break into this profession!



Education Needed to Become a Controller

Typically, you will need an undergraduate degree in one of the following fields to become a controller:


• Accounting

• Business Administration

• Finance


Some employers however (such as Fortune 500 companies), will want you to have a master’s degree in one of the above areas, or a professional accounting or finance designation in addition to your bachelor’s degree. 





Controller - General Job Description

As a controller, you would essentially be responsible for all of the accounting operations of an organization. This includes the preparation of periodic financial reports and maintenance of an accounting records system.

You would also be responsible for ensuring that the organization’s reported financial results are accurate, and comply with generally accepted accounting principles or international financial reporting standards (if applicable).



General Job Duties

Although your specific responsibilities and duties could vary from one job to the next, you would likely be responsible for the following:


• Coordinating the preparation of the annual financial report

• Implementing or maintaining a system for management cost reports

• Calculating budget variances and reporting significant issues to senior management

• Implementing or maintaining a system of controls over accounting transactions

• Ensuring that bank reconciliations are performed

• Ensuring prompt collection of accounts receivable

• Providing external auditors with all necessary information and documentation

• Maintaining an organized system of accounting department policies and procedures



Certification for Becoming a Controller

Industry certification in accounting, notably the CPA credential, is often a requirement for controllers in larger organizations. 



Experience Needed

Having experience in another business or financial role (such as General Manager, Loan Officer, Accountant, Securities Sales Agent, Financial Analyst, or any number of similar roles) is a great asset to if you want to progress to the role of Controller.


Not only is this generally the preference of employers, it is also helpful for developing the many skills you’ll need to effectively perform the duties of a controller.





Skills and Traits Needed to Succeed

In order to advance to the position of controller, and succeed when you get there, you need to be able to demonstrate a certain set of skills, including:


A firm grasp of the numbers: The most basic competence you must have is a strong understanding of all functions of the typical accounting department, including accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll and clearing. You must also be able to answer tough questions and manage workers in your department.


In-depth knowledge of financial functions: You should be comfortable negotiating contracts and insurance policies, reviewing invoices, and meeting with tax advisers and auditors. Being able to plan, implement, and monitor internal financial controls is also very important, so you can step in and help with the administration of financial planning and reporting.


Ability to keep up with the details: Perhaps one of the most important skills you’ll need is the ability to stay organized. You’ll have to keep up with so much information, often tracked in complex spreadsheets, that orderliness is critical to your success, and ultimately, the financial success of your organization.

Excellent communication skills: These skills are crucial, as you must be able to relay complex and dense financial analysis and advice to upper management in an accurate and easy-to-understand way.


Getting along with co-workers: People and business skills such as the ability to work with a team, solve conflicts and negotiate successfully are very important. 



Who Employs Controllers?

As a controller, you could be employed on a full-time basis by any organization that needs someone who can monitor the policies and procedures of the accounting and finance departments, set budgets, provide guidance on complex tax and compliance issues, and contribute to the financial strategy discussions of the company.


Organizations that have such needs can be found in virtually every sector of private industry, as well as in government and the non-profit sector. 



Average Salary Level in This Field

The salary level you could earn as a controller can vary, depending on the following factors:


• Your level of education

• Your level of experience

• The size and type of your employer

• The industry in which you work

• The region in which you work

• The scope of your job duties


Controller Salary - Canada (Alberta only): According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Financial Managers occupational group earn an average salary of $106,744 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada from reliable sources at the time of writing (June 3, 2019).


Controller Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Financial Managers occupational group is $115,320 per year.



Job Postings - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "Controller" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Work Environment for Controllers

Work Setting: You would likely work in an office setting. Depending on the needs of your employer, you may be required to travel from time to time in order to meet clients, visit facilities, or attend meetings.


Working Hours: In all likelihood, you would work normal, weekday working hours. You hours could vary widely however, depending on your level of responsibility within an organization, as well as during certain times of the year. For example, you would most likely work overtime at month-end, quarter-end and year-end.


Working Conditions: You would spend a good deal of your time looking over digital or paper documents and reports. You would also spend some time during the day attending meetings with departmental managers and other staff. Your work would be quite demanding, especially during month-end and tax season, when there are financial reports and tax-returns to oversee the completion of. 



Career Advancement Possibilities

Displaying competence and a good work ethic can afford you plenty of career advancement options, including:


• Moving into the role of Finance Director, or Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

• Moving into accounting practice or consultancy

• Moving into specialized areas, such as audit, tax or treasury

• Taking on a similar role in another company, or moving to a smaller company that has better opportunities for advancement or ownership



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or are in the same sector of industry, as this one:



Budget Analyst

Chief Financial Officer


Finance Manager

Payroll Supervisor

Treasury Manager




Please consult the following resources to learn more about the various aspects of this occupation.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Financial Managers.” (n.d.). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 7, 2019.

Management:Financial Managers.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 7, 2019.

Career Guides:How to become a Financial Controller.” Tom Bunkham (n.d.). website. Retrieved November 7, 2019.

Features:Career Focus: Financial Controller.” (n.d.). ACCA website. Retrieved November 7, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Controller

Scholarships in our database are sorted by major. Scholarships relevant for the education needed to become a controller can be found on the pages listed below. 


Accounting Scholarships

Business Administration Scholarships

Finance Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful (or are necessary) for working in this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: