Bookkeepers track all cash flows, billing, and lines of credit that affect their companies. They must be detail-oriented and tenacious; they have to track down and rectify any discrepancies, however small, in the company accounts. Most bookkeepers work as internal accountants for small firms that do not have an accountant on staff. They have a large amount of responsibility to the company, and sometimes (particularly at the end of the year and around tax-preparation time) have to work long hours in order to do their job properly. The majority of bookkeepers work for smaller firms. Many become involved in financial tangles mid-stream-they find themselves deciphering records from up to a year before they were hired. Bookkeepers must be flexible and able to adjust to unusual circumstances.
Many bookkeepers we talked with mentioned that the most difficult part of their jobs was not maintenance of financial records, which accounted for a good 50 percent of their time, but communication with the other members of the same company. “You have to keep track of everyone’s activities, and nobody thinks it is important to keep the bookkeeper apprised every day of what they’re doing.” This lack of smooth transfer of information has led many companies to buy bookkeeping software so that each employee can keep track of her daily activities and a bookkeeper can then assemble all the information and verify its accuracy. Computer skills are growing in importance in the industry, and even those who are already familiar with the double-entry system of bookkeeping mentioned that knowing how to use this software is considered a strong point by employers. Many small firms aren’t used to being run as businesses and many find keeping track of all interaction difficult at first. Bookkeepers must communicate their needs clearly and follow up with consistent requests for similar information. Those who enter the field with an open mind find that being a good bookkeeper “makes all the difference in the world when the boss looks at what direction he wants to take the company.” The statistics and data bookkeepers compile are “snapshots” of the daily activities of the company that make up its history.
Bookkeepers are financial recordkeepers, much like accountants, but they are not required to be accredited by any organization or institution. As a positive, they have less of a fiduciary obligation than an accountant and therefore less liability; however, they are paid commensurably less. They usually maintain the records of a single company rather than having many companies as clients. No specific educational requirement is required to become a bookkeeper, but prospective employers favor applicants with finance, record-keeping, or business majors. Basic coursework in accounting is very helpful for those entering the field, but on-the-job training is neither unusual nor discouraged. With the increasing simplicity of accounting software in the workplace, less and less formal accounting training is required for these positions. The work requires attention to detail and a good method of keeping track of constantly fluctuating items, which leads most bookkeepers to adopt the double-entry method of accounting. Much of a bookkeeper’s work involves not only the entering of information, but the review of information and the reconciling of accounts. While some people remain career bookkeepers at one company, most rotate between companies or leave the field altogether for supervisory or managerial positions.
Bookkeepers become accountants and inventory control experts at a higher rate than any other profession. Those who leave the record-keeping industry altogether use their bookkeeping skills to understand various tasks within an industry, then move to positions of managerial control. The people who take this route, however, usually supplement their bookkeeping skills with courses, seminars, or second positions where they can demonstrate their management ability.