Controller Job Description (Salary, Duties, Skills, Certification & More)

By Jeff Gillis

Controller; the job title alone sounds powerful. And, to be fair, the position is. In the world of finance, the controller job description covers an upper-level role. Sometimes, they go by “financial manager.” In other cases, they are the “chief financial officer” or “CFO.”

That’s right; a controller can be part of the C-suite. It all depends on the size of their company and the organization’s unique needs.

But many people don’t understand exactly what the job entails. Unless you’ve already headed down the path, the controller duties might be a bit of a mystery. Luckily, we’re here to shed some light on this amazing position.

What Is a Controller?

Alright, let’s start with the basics. A controller’s main responsibilities focus on managing (or controlling) an accounting department or a company’s entire financial life. When it comes to accounting operations, controllers reign over that domain. They are the subject-matter experts the organization relies on to keep things in order. And, when it comes to money, that is critically important.

Usually, the controller duties go far beyond a typical accountant job description. Controller is a senior role with leadership responsibilities. But they aren’t fully removed from account management. In most cases, they do a bit of both, keeping a watchful eye over the operations while also handling some of the nitty-gritty.

What Are a Controller’s Duties & Responsibilities?

Alright, it’s true that the controller job description above is incredibly vague. Luckily, by taking a deep dive into a controller’s responsibilities, the picture gets a lot clearer.

Now, it’s important to remember that every role is different. A lot of factors influence what controller duties look like, including the size of the company, the organization’s industry, how many employees are in the accounting or finance departments, and more.

However, there are some aspects of the role that are fairly common. Here’s a look at some of the most common controller duties and responsibilities:

      • Collecting and consolidating financial data
      • Supervising accounting and finance departments
      • Creating strategic plans for financial operations
      • Preparing financial statements, both internal and external
      • Ensuring compliance with applicable rules, laws, and regulations
      • Coordinating external auditor activity
      • Providing company leaders with insights for decision-making purposes
      • Managing budgeting and forecasting processes
      • Coordinate procurement activities
      • Establish and maintain financial controls
      • Assess and improve accounting procedures
      • Evaluate and select accounting software solutions
      • Identify, develop, and monitor KPIs
      • Manage regulatory reporting
      • Screen, hire, train, and retain accounting department employees

What Skills Do Controllers Need?

If the idea of taking on a controller’s duties is appealing, then it’s time to look at the next piece of the puzzle: your skillset. Controllers need the right mix of capabilities. That way, they can handle all of the ins and outs of the job.

While the exact skills that a company may consider must-haves will vary, many are universal. Certain core knowledge areas have to be covered. Otherwise, you won’t do well in the position.

Here is an overview of the controller technical skills and core knowledge areas most employers want to find when they look over candidate resumes:

      • Regulations, laws, and rules
      • Economic principles
      • Financial reporting
      • Data analysis
      • Project management
      • Employee management
      • Federal and state tax procedures
      • Accounting functions – payroll, accounts payable, and accounts receivable
      • Budgeting
      • Procurement
      • Forecasting

Okay, let’s say you have those technical capabilities covered, putting you at the front of the pack. That isn’t all you’ll need if you want to excel in the job. Without the right soft skills, you won’t shine in the position.

Soft skills are representations of how you navigate the working world. Usually, they define critical traits that are connected to success in the role. Plus, they may outline the kind of personality that can mesh with the company’s culture, something that is also crucial for success.

Here’s a look at the soft skills all aspiring controllers need:

Controller Education, Training, Certification

In most cases, the road toward becoming a controller starts with a Bachelor’s degree, usually in a subject like finance, accounting, business, statistics, or economics. Without that, you’ll have a really hard time getting the time of day from the hiring manager, let alone a job offer.

However, in some cases, even that plus a slew of experience won’t be enough. Some companies view a Master’s degree as being an appropriate minimum. This is especially true for larger corporations with complex financial operations.

With the Master’s route, getting a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) or Master’s of Accountancy (MAcc) is usually the clearest path. However, anything in an appropriate specialty area could work, including economics.

Technically, controllers don’t have to have any certifications. However, some employers may prefer candidates with them. As a result, having a few can strengthen your position, increasing the odds you’ll land an interview and, potentially, the job.

Here are a few certifications that can help your controller resume stand out:

JEFF'S TIP: While certifications or higher-level degrees might not be musts, they do make a difference. As members of upper management, the number of opportunities available is limited. Often, it’s wise to take extra steps that can help you stand out from the crowd, especially if you’re aiming at a popular employer. By advancing your education and showcasing your skills, you become a more attractive candidate in rule-driven, process-oriented roles like being a controller.

Controller Salary

Alright, let’s say that everything above sounds pretty sweet. You’re interested in the controller job description, but you’re still missing a critical part of the equation: pay. After all, money is always something, so it’s smart to look at what a controller salary looks like. So, let’s dig in.

A controller is a type of financial manager. That means the median annual salary comes in at $129,890. Not too bad, right? In most cases, that will come with a nice benefits package, as well. It would be shocking to see a controller that doesn’t at least have medical and retirement plan access.

And, if you land a position with a major corporation or mid-sized organization in a city with a high cost of living, you could see pay rates far above that. Over $200,000 a year is certainly possible if you land the right job.

But before you run off and splurge on a solid gold nameplate for your desk, it’s important to understand that you could make less. At a smaller company or when you first accept a controller job, you could come in near the bottom 10 percent of earners, putting you closer to the $68,000 mark.

What You Need to Know for Your Job Interview

Once you have the education you need and develop the right skills, there’s still a hurdle in your way. You have to shine during your controller interview. If you can’t showcase your skills, traits, and accomplishments, you won’t land the job.

Luckily, with a bit of preparation, you can be at your best. How do you get ready? Well, you should start by reviewing the controller job description. You’ll learn a ton about what the hiring manager needs to find, giving you some clear talking points to cover.

If you want to add some spice to your interview answers, wander on over to the company’s website. Review the organization’s mission and values statements, and look for details about recent achievements.

After that, spend some time with the controller interview questions. You may be able to use accountant interview questions, too. Couple those with some financial manager and leadership interview questions, and you’ve got a solid mix.

Finally, you’ll want to prepare for the behavioral interview questions that you’re probably going to face. They can be a bit tricky, mainly because they don’t have “right” or “wrong” answers, at least in a traditional sense.

So, how do you get ready for them? By having a solid strategy. Combining the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method to get started. Together, those techniques will help you craft meaningful, engaging, story-driven answers. That makes it more likely that your responses will be relevant and interesting, increasing the odds that they’ll provide the hiring manager with genuine value.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, the controller job description is an impressive one. It means overseeing all of a company’s financial operations, and that’s a big deal. If you think the position sounds right for you, then take your career in that direction. Use the information above to plot your journey, allowing you to start off on the road to becoming a controller.

Check out our other “job description articles” if you’re exploring career options:

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.